Does it still make sense to own a car? Let’s find out…

So, I was recently figuring out whether it still makes sense to own a car in South Florida in a world where Uber & Lyft are so quick to give us a ride?

SPOILER ALERT: If you drive less than 9,000 miles per year, then sell your car. If you drive between 9,000-10,000 miles per year, then it is a wash. If you drive more than 10,000 miles a year, then keep it and use Dave Ramsey’s free car for life method.

For many of us who work from home or many seniors who live in the South Florida area, we may not drive as much as others who are driving to and from work. Many South Floridians lease their vehicles or grossly underuse their personal car. With car ownership comes many expenses; loan payment, oil changes, insurance, parking, tolls, repairs, new tires, etc.

But what if you ditched your car and put that money to work in the stock market or into a savings account which you used to pay for your Uber/Lyft rides? And once a month rent a car for a long weekend for your longer excursions.

So, let’s break it down. Keep in mind, these are general figures as sometimes traffic will be heavier or lighter, car prices are different for all and gas prices change often.

COSTS OF A LYFT AND CAR RENTAL

A rider in a Lyft going from Delray Beach to Fort Lauderdale Airport will pay around $40, including tip, for a regular Lyft ride (you can save more by choosing a “shared” ride). This comes to about 83 cents per mile for a 45-minute ride. The fare is heavily weighted toward the number of miles in a trip and the time is a small portion of the fare (about 26 cents a minute). There are potential other fees (platform fee, tolls, service fee, minimum fees, etc.) so, whereas the cost per mile and the time portion add up to about $1.09 per mile, the real figure will come in at around $1.14 per mile. At $1.14 per mile and driving of the course of a year to the tune of 9,000 miles, the total cost comes in at $10,260/year for your Lyft rides. Then, let’s say you want to travel once a month out of the area, so you want to rent a car. That will come in at around $120/month or $1,440/year. When added to your Lyft rides we come in at $11,700 total ground transportation costs. This is a high figure because if you are smart, you will use rewards programs offered by credit cards and internal company rewards; you will not pay as much because you will be getting dozens of free Lyft rides as well as several free days of car rentals. But that is a blog post for another day as I am a rewards junkie for which rehab is not needed.

So, how much does it cost to own and operate an average car in South Florida and is it less than the $11,700/year we found using Lyft and occasional car rentals?

COSTS OF OWNING AND OPERATING A CAR

As of this writing, the average cost per gallon of regular gas is $2.54. The average car gets 23.6 miles per gallon these days. The average car purchase would come in at around $30,000 and after 5 years will be worth approximately $20,000 ($167/month depreciation) — if you are fortunate. According to NerdWallet.com, the average person is spending $500/month on car loan payments. This seems excessive and in my example, I would say the monthly car payment would be around $350/month. Since we are assuming this is a new car, maintenance will be minimal for the first few years and will escalate over time; but let’s average it down to about $34/month over the full five years. Insurance in South Florida runs about $1,185 per year.

Many of these expenses can be mitigated or exaggerated depending upon one’s own personal circumstances. For example, one could buy a new Tesla and while the maintenance costs would be near zero and have no expense for gas and oil, it would have much higher acquisition costs. On the other side, one could buy a used car for $20,000, escaping some of the depreciation costs, but they will tend to have higher maintenance and fuel costs — especially if they purchase an SUV or truck. One may have perfect credit while another will have poor credit, greatly affecting their acquisition costs and insurance costs. The point of this exercise is to average things out.

The fuel costs come in at a little more than 39 cents per mile and over 9,000 miles during the year amounts to $3,543. Now we add in the monthly costs above (maintenance, depreciation, insurance, parking, tolls, cost of purchase, etc.) and we come to a final total of $11,340 per year.

CONCLUSION

If one is driving less than 9,000 miles per year, ditch the car, use Uber/Lyft and seek out the wide array of rewards programs available to drive down your costs even more. If you drive between 9,000-10,000 miles it is pretty much a wash financially. If you drive over 10,000 each year, then get a quality used fuel efficient, low maintenance car and pocket the savings over owning a gas guzzling, high maintenance truck. Use this link to get a free Lyft ride on me!

The question an ultra-low mileage per year car owner needs to ask themselves is do I want to get rid of the convenience and freedom car ownership provides by ditching the car to save money? Those savings could be put into an interest-bearing account or growing in a brokerage account, increasing one’s net worth while not having to deal with the hassles of car ownership. With a Lyft or Uber usually less than 5 minutes away, perhaps it may be a good idea to ditch the car or at least get rid of a second car which is being underutilized.

It’s still a tough decision as most of us saw buying our first car as a right of passage and gave us a strong sense of freedom. It may be hard emotionally to go without a car, but for many, it may be a great idea. If you are going to keep your car or are thinking of buying a new car, I strongly urge you to use Dave Ramsey’s free car for life method of car ownership.

June 2019 permanent portfolio update

Here we are with another update of the Permanent Portfolio and it has been performing well. Overall, it has increased in value of 159% with an annualized return of 27.47% (inclusive of dividends). During the same time frame, the DOW has increased in value by 50.7% and the S&P has increased by 39.6%. The relatively small original investment in Bitcoin (3%) has taken over a disproportionate percentage (41.1%) of the portfolio due to its dramatic rise over time. The portfolio’s worst performers have been investing in the Swiss Franc (a loss of almost 9%) and silver (a loss of over 6%). Besides Bitcoin, the best performers in the portfolio are NVR (108%), PayPal (over 213%), and the New Zeland Dollar (over 51%).

As said in the intro, this portfolio is designed to remain static (no trading) while also keeping one’s tax bill and fees to the lowest levels. I feel it would have been prudent to have trimmed the Bitcoin investment so it didn’t “take over” the portfolio with its wild swings. But we’re in for the long haul on this one, so it will be interesting to see its progression. Next update will be on the four-year mark – August 21, 2019.

See the portfolio page here.

Another day of gratitude

I am so humbled by the graciousness and kindness in this world. Recently, I had an issue with my back which caused me great pain and caused me to stay home for a couple of days. On day three, feeling better but looking like a disabled 90-year-old man, I went out about my day even though I was still in some pain. Internally, I laughed at how I must appear to others because otherwise, I am an able-bodied man, but this day I was hunched over, clearly in some kind of discomfort.

Strangers were incredibly nice and accommodating to me. They took an extra minute to hold doors open for me, at Dunkin Donuts a customer made sure I got my On-The-Go order okay, someone asked if they could help me over a step, etc. I must have looked pretty bad, I thought.  It also gave me a sense of peace that people from all walks of life were willing to help out a stranger who appeared to be in some distress. It is great to know the general public is willing to help out others, even in the smallest of ways.

As well, that day happened to be my birthday, yet none of these strangers knew. The day was spent on the phone quite a bit, as friends and family wished me a “Happy Birthday”.

After reflecting on my time on this planet, I could not be more fortunate. True, I have a myriad of “problems,” but they are temporary and I feel true compassion for those who have real problems and perhaps those problems are not so temporary.

It is easy for us to get frustrated, angry, and host a number of other negative emotions when dealing with challenges, it is also important to keep those emotions in perspective. While having negative emotions is human, keep them temporary and exchange them for positive emotions. What are you grateful for? How fortunate are you to be able to…?

I don’t know. Just feeling fortunate for the life I have been given and the life I intentionally lead. I am so grateful for my friends, my family, and the strangers I meet each day. All of these experiences have shaped my life and have offered me great gifts.

Thank you!

CELEBRATE TERM LIMITS DAY IN WEST PALM

WHEN: 4:15-6:15 p.m., Wednesday, February 27

WHERE: Corner of Sapodilla and Okeechobee Boulevard

Tomorrow is the first-ever National Term Limits Day! Celebrate with us by meeting us in downtown West Palm Beach between 4:15pm and 6:15pm to let the world know.

February 27th is National Term Limits Day in honor of the ratification of the 22nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 22nd Amendment was established by Congress in reaction to President Roosevelt’s election to an unprecedented fourth term in office. Traditionally, Presidents had followed America’s first leader, President George Washington, who stepped down after his second term.

Though Congress proposed the amendment for Presidential term limits, it conveniently forgot to establish term limits for itself.

On this day, we will reignite the flame of freedom in honor of Washington and ask that you join us in doing so. We’ll have plenty of signs to wave (or you can bring your own) and then cap off the evening at O’Shea’s pub in downtown West Palm Beach weather permitting.

RSVP on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/384870878976417

How much does a Lyft driver make when renting a car to drive?

UPDATE:  On April 29, 2019, Lyft lowered its per mile compensation to drivers to offset high insurance costs of their Express Drive program. As a result, I can no longer recommend this program except in extreme circumstances where you only want to net $10-13/hour and have no other means for a vehicle. Under the current rates, drivers are paid $0.664 per mile if they use their own car and $0.488 if they rent the car through Lyft’s Express Drive. Depending upon the vehicle you choose to use to drive (I recommend a Prius or other high MPG, low maintenance car), then you should use your own car or buy a car specifically for the purpose of driving. That way, you can write off the entire cost of the car purchase offsetting your tax bill — even if you finance the car. That, in addition to other deductions, should eliminate any income taxes most drivers have for at least the first year of driving.

 

So, we are back with another experiment. This time revisiting one of my favorites — LYFT driving. You may remember, back in late 2015 I did an experiment trying to learn how much those driving their car for Lyft were actually bringing home after expenses. These days, you do not even need a car in order to drive for Lyft…or Uber, for that matter. Both companies have agreements with rental car companies so potential drivers can rent a car instead of using their own car or if they do not own a car. This opens up additional opportunities for those seeking to earn money with Lyft.

We’ll get into some of the experiences I encountered while driving, the finances, as well as weighing the positives and negatives renting a car through Lyft’s Express Drive Program. Scroll down to the section that interests you most. My Lyft/Hertz rental car is due back on Thursday; will I turn it in or keep on with the fun?!?!

Drivers for Lyft are as varied as the riders. Some drivers are actually millionaires or well-off people (some retirees) seeking to find something to do, while others are just normal people needing to get income and have been living paycheck to paycheck. You have the freedom to go on or off the driving platform at will, so this is a great choice for those seeking to maximize the freedom of their time. Use this link to start driving for Lyft!

Spoiler alert: Renting a car through Lyft’s Express Drive only makes sense if you are doing this full time. Everything mentioned herein relates to South Florida driving and “based” out of Southern Palm Beach County. This blog post is also only based on two weeks for the experiment. Situations may be different in other cities.

POSITIVES and NEGATIVES to RENTING

POSITIVES

  • No wear and tear on your own car (driving 200-300 miles each day is typical for a full-time driver)
  • Ability to earn money when one does not own a car
  • Most of your costs are that of gasoline and car washing
  • All insurance and maintenance are included with the rental cost — minus tire flats and should you end up with a cracked windshield. As well, there is a $1,000 deductible on the insurance.
  • Make at least 100 rides each week will bring the cost of the rental down to about $95 per week (from $237)
  • Freedom to work your own hours as well as start and stop from any location in South Florida
  • Unlimited miles and the ability to use the rental vehicle for personal use
  • No long term commitment
  • Tax deduction of 58 cents per mile (includes all miles while on the platform not just when the passenger is in the vehicle)

NEGATIVES

  • Somewhat limited availability of rental cars, as well as the variety of vehicles available (this is not a typical Hertz car rental arrangement)
  • Cost – if you do not meet a certain number of rides, then you are on the hook for the entire $237 per week rental cost
  • Need to travel to/from Dania (near FLL) to pick up and drop off the rental car
  • $250 deposit (refundable)
  • Limited to only driving on the Lyft platform and NOT Uber with the rental car

FINANCES

OK, so let’s see if all this makes any sense to do. When I first learned about this rental car program I could not understand how anyone could earn money renting a car as a driver. The results show that if one is driving casually or to supplement their income by driving part-time, then I do not recommend renting a car to drive for Lyft. Driving part-time, you are not likely to meet the threshold to qualify for $140 per week of rental rewards which would make your per hour net not worth doing, in my opinion.

I took on this experiment again after reading some drivers were making only $5 per hour and yet would read elsewhere $35 per hour. Additionally, I head up a Meetup discussion group where one question posed was, “What was your favorite job?” I had to admit that my stint in 2015 driving for Lyft was the most fun way I had earned money in my 50 years.

You are not going to get rich driving for Lyft, but you will earn an average income. The average Palm Beach County resident earns around $50,000 per year and this is within range of a full-time, quality Lyft driver — at least from my experience.

So, let’s assume you are driving a minimum of 45 hours per week and preferably over 50 hours each week. This amount of time would be typical for a regular job. The advantage here is you have the ability to go on and off the driving platform at your whim. The least busy day of the week in South Florida seems to be Wednesdays. Lyft shows this through their demand graphs and I have confirmed this myself. Much to my surprise, my busiest day of the week is Sunday. If one is considering driving, I would recommend driving six days a week and taking Wednesday’s off. By law, you are only allowed up to 14 hours a day to drive, no matter how you split those hours up during any 24 hour period.

The bottom line is you can net $800 to $1,000 per week driving through Lyft’s Express Drive program. Your costs are the gas and the rental car. If you are trying to determine your net per hour, it comes in at between $15 to $20 per hour. This can increase if you drive a more fuel-efficient vehicle and choose to drive in the evenings, assuming you have the temperament to deal with drunk people. I am super nice to riders and have a gregarious personality; however, dealing with the logistics associated with picking up drunk riders is an experience which I have little tolerance.

The rental car I was able to choose was a 33 average miles per gallon Hyundai Elantra. If one was able to get a Prius (50+MPG) for example, your net margin would obviously be greater. Another consideration is you are able to write off as a federal tax deduction all the costs of rental including operational costs or take the 58 cents per mile deduction (see your tax professional).

If you are facing a large tax bill before taking on this endeavor you may want to consider foregoing the rental car program and buying a Prius or other 50+ miles per gallon vehicle as you will likely be able to write off the entire purchase cost of the car. If this is a factor, make your decision after consulting your tax professional as everyone’s tax liabilities are different due to their personal situations.

EXPERIENCES

WOW! So, the experiences…one could write a book. If one is looking for variety, freedom, and fun, then driving for Lyft is for you! You will pick up people from all walks of life and take them to all sorts of places — it truly runs the gamut. If you like people and you like driving, this could be the profession for you.

You can drop off someone in a lower income area and next pick up an individual who owns a $5+ million home. I truly appreciate the upper-income people taking a regular Lyft as, unless they have requested a “Lux” or “Lux Black” Lyft, they do not know if you’re showing up with an average car or a little Corolla. They are the most down-to-Earth wealthy people and like everyone else, are just looking for a nice ride to their destination.

Just like there is a wide range of riders, drivers do not know if they are going to be on Palm Beach or Key Biscayne. They could be at the beach one moment, then way out in horse-country the next.

I guess the biggest change from 2015 to now with regard to riders is that back then, about 40% of my riders were recovering addicts. This time around it is rare to pick up those in recovery. I never had a bad ride with any addicts, so I do not care, it is just an observation. Most people seeking a ride are mostly going to work, going to the airport, or are doing the “walk of shame.” During this experiment, I was going out at 5 a.m. so early morning experiences may be different than 5 p.m.

Sometimes, you end up being somewhat of a psychiatrist. During this experiment, I had a man my age start crying in the back seat as he opened up about how his life has changed recently. One of my first rides was a 20-year-old girl who had gotten herself in a very difficult situation at a Super 8 motel that I “rescued” her from. Rescue is a valid word for what happened which is similar to another rescue I did for another single girl in 2015 in Fort Lauderdale during my prior experiment.

Another time during this experiment, I picked up a 30 +/- year old man on Sunrise Blvd in front of an apartment complex for which he exited after hooking up with a girl overnight. He seemed like a super nice guy and we had a great conversation during his ride. I was shocked to see I was dropping him off at his waterfront home, where the yacht at the dock in the back was bigger than his large multi-million dollar home.

Often, a driver has riders who work for billionaires in $20+ million homes. I had a ride yesterday for the chef of a well-known billionaire who I was glad to see honoring the NDA (non-disclosure agreement) he signed as a condition of his employment. Not that I was asking for any information, but it was a welcome contrast to an experience I had with a staff member for a South American billionaire who spouted out all kinds of awful details about the family.

Then sometimes you just have rides where people are engrossed in their phones and choose not to communicate with the driver, which is fine. After all, Lyft is somewhat of a utility. Overall, drivers are there to serve and offer the best experience for the riders. Some riders want to talk, others do not, and that is OK.

The funniest experience during this 2019 experiment happened just the other day. I picked up a young gentleman at his house in the Eastern part of Delray Beach and he was going to a bank out on Jog Road, then heading back to his house. I thought he was going to sign some papers, as there are EIGHT other branches of this bank that were closer to his home, but I quickly learned he was only going there to withdraw cash from its ATM! While at the ATM, he discovered he didn’t have any money in the bank, so he spent the time on the way back to his home on the phone with the bank trying to understand why he doesn’t have any money. Shouldn’t he have checked his balance before he left his home? Shouldn’t he have used an ATM closer to his home to save on the cost of the Lyft? The ride cost him over $20 and though I felt bad for him, I think I know why he didn’t have any money in the bank that day.

Here are a couple of examples of where I drove during a couple of the days:

Permanent Portfolio Update

Update 12/31/2018: (link to permanent portfolio page)

We thought with the last market fluctuations and it is the end of the year, it would be good to do a quick update/comparison with the portfolio compared to the DOW and the S&P. Since the start of this portfolio (August 21, 2015) it has risen just over 80% while the DOW has risen 34.5% and the S&P has risen 23% over the same period.

The portfolio remains strong with an average return of over 26% per year.