How to save money and live longer...
- 27 Nov 06, 02:30 PM
I’ve had quite a few embarrassing moments since becoming Newsnight’s Ethical Man. There was the time my producer Sara filmed me in the bath (watch here); the day my wife decided to ask about my petrol company shares on my blog, and then there was the day Sara took the family car away. She made the whole family stand outside the house and wave as a man winched our car up onto a flat bed truck and drove it away (watch here).
I’ve owned a car ever since I first passed my test more than twenty years ago, and to be honest my wife Bee and I (and most of our friends) thought we wouldn’t last the first month without it, let alone a year. So – seven months on from that humiliating morning - how have we been getting on?
Take a look at these two photos. That’s my friend Gideon with his daughter Serena and his son Tommy. That’s his Nissan Estate. And there it is again, this time crushed into a small cube on its way to the recycling plant.
So how does Gideon recycling his car have anything to do with my family’s new ethical lifestyle?
I’d love to be able to report that we’ve suffered terribly without the car. I’d love to be able to relate how my marriage is on the verge of ruin, how my children are isolated and lonely and how my social life has collapsed. Sadly that just wouldn’t be true.
In fact living without a car has been so easy we’ve decided to get rid of it permanently. Earlier this month I sold my lovely black two-litre Saab Estate to Gideon for twenty Euros - because that’s how much he had in his pocket when we shook on the deal.
Yes, it sounds impossibly virtuous and yes, writing this I still can’t quite believe we’ve done it. Clearly there has been a subtle greening process during my months as Ethical Man – a sort of “ethical grooming” – of which feeling smug is no small part. But in all honesty living without a car really isn’t that difficult. Not only that, getting rid of it saves us a small fortune.
Just do – as they say - the math. I was spending at least £400 a year on servicing and repairs and thanks to my profession and a couple of knocks my insurance was almost £1,000 a year. Chuck in petrol, depreciation (have you seen how prices have collapsed in the second hand car market recently?) and the fistful of parking tickets we were picking up each year and I reckon I am a good three grand a year richer without the car.
So how do we get by? Well it isn’t complicated: if we want to go somewhere we walk or cycle or take a bus or tube (or very occasionally a taxi) instead – simple as that.
Yes it takes a bit longer, and sometimes you just don’t bother doing things because they are too much hassle. It is also true that we live near central London and are very well served by public transport. And yes, eagle-eyed Ethical Man viewers will have noticed that we’ve got a clutch of young children, and may have concluded that we probably don’t get out much anyway – and that’s probably true too. But the bottom line is that it’s just not as hard as you’d think.
Which is not to say that there aren’t times when you really need a car. The occasion that really stands out is when we went on holiday in France with my entire close family during the height of this summer’s heat wave. Bee described the situation with atypical understatement - watch it here.
That’s why I flogged the Saab to Gid so cheap. The deal is this: Gid gets the car at a knock down price, and in return we get to borrow it back for up to six weeks a year. The idea is that so long as it doesn’t clash with Gid’s plans, we’ll get to use the car for the occasional weekend away and maybe a holiday in the summer. So we’re not giving up driving completely, but we won’t be able to just leap into the car if we feel like a curry or need to buy a pint of milk.
Not only that, thanks to our car share arrangement Gideon got his car recycled – up to 95% of the average car can be reused these days – and we got to film it.
But Sara is a tough taskmaster. She felt that giving up the car just wasn’t enough. She reckoned that if I was planning to get behind the wheel again then I’d need a bit of re-education and booked me an ethical driving lesson.
It was arranged by the Energy Saving Trust, which has all sorts of handy driving tips on its website. But the key is pretty straightforward: drive a bit more slowly.
So here’s my eco-driving tip: set the display constantly to show the fuel consumption. Then do what you can to set your own personal best.
We drove down to Dorset for the weekend by way of celebrating our new transport arrangements. I’ll be honest, normally I would barrel along the motorway at eighty miles an hour. This time I kept to a much more sedate speed, never exceeding seventy. The impact on our fuel consumption was spectacular. Instead of about thirty miles to the gallon I managed to top forty mpg. That’s a huge improvement – around 150 extra miles out of a full tank and because I wasn’t constantly overtaking, it was much less stressful.
So there you go, ethical living can save you cash, and help you live longer. And you can’t argue with that (or can you?)