Let’s rewind 5 months. My partner and I are sharing a quaint little apartment in graduate housing. We’re both in the middle of our PhD programs. Spring is in full swing.I remember sketching out tentative plans for the summer. Beach days. Springs days. River days. And then, out of the blue, he gets an offer to move with his advisor to a new state to finish his degree program.Fast forward to today. We are locked into two apartments. One for him in Texas, one for me in Florida. Two places to call home. I’ll be staying in the same small apartment in graduate housing while he completes his degree across the Gulf of Mexico.The move is challenging personally and financially, but we decided together that we would cherish these new beginnings, rather than resent them for any temporary hardship they may cause. After all, a lot of good can be forged from tough times.The move has made us think a lot about our ideal neighborhood. The place we would like to settle down and call home. In the not-too-distant future, we will be moving again (but to be together, rather than apart).What type of neighborhood exactly? Well, we do get a lot of property envy watching HGTV (Property Brothers, anyone?). But our next home will not be a 4-bedroom, 4,000 sq. ft. suburban family home in the country (much to my Mom’s chagrin). Instead, we’ll be looking for a pad in a “20-minute neighborhood.”
The 20-minute neighborhood
What if you could access all of your basic needs with a 20-minute walk, or less?That’s the main idea behind a 20-minute neighborhood: your home is no more than a 20 minute walk from work, play, and your basic needs and services.This idea isn’t new. It was mainstay before cars, when you had to walk out of necessity. The reasons for the renewed interest is that it’s finally gaining support from community development agencies, and has become a reality in some pilot cities around the US. For example, in Portland, Oregon. In 2010, Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Director of Planning and Design Susan Anderson spearheaded a strategic plan to make 20 minute neighborhoods a reality.My partner and I didn’t grow up dreaming about these types of neighborhoods. But there are some specific reasons why a 20-minute neighborhood would fit well into our frugal, active lifestyle.
Cut transportation expenses
This is no surprise. Right now, I’m fortunate that most of my basic needs can be met with a 20 minute walk. I live within a 5 minute walk to the gym, and a 20 minute walk to work and the grocery store. However, not all of my basic needs can be met with a <20 minute walk from the apartment. So, I have a car. And I buy car insurance. And a car decal. And car maintenance. And of course, gas. Reducing or eliminating these would be a boon for our finances.I don’t have to do any financial analysis to know that my wallet and my health are in better shape when I walk or bike, rather than drive. And yet, driving is a natural part of my weekly life. And unless hyper-efficient cars become more accessible, cutting the car is a big priority. I cringe thinking about the number of hours I’ve spent behind the wheel this year.The goal of these types of neighborhoods isn’t to put BP, XOM, or CVX out of business. Rather, they are intended to make walking or biking a real, sustainable option for those that want it. There are definitely days where life rears its ugly head and driving is the better option. If I’m running late, if it’s pouring rain, or if I have to bring a large load to work, I’m going to take the car. Plain and simple. There are just some things that I’m not willing to sacrifice, like being on time or having dry clothes.
Increase our health-span
Because what’s a dividend worth if you’re not alive to enjoy it? The reason why I am an income investor is because I expect to be able to use that income to cover my partner and I’s future expenses. Our combined crossover point hovers close to $1500 bucks per month, meaning we need $18,000 per year to keep a roof over our heads, feed ourselves, pay fees, and have a little fun.It’s not enough to be alive. Being well is a key component of my income investing plan. Each day that I’m well is a day I can soak up information about the world and plan my next investment. That’s why I set running goals and track my workouts.An upside to living in a 20-minute neighborhood is that we would have walkable access to tracks, soccer and baseball fields, picnic areas, playgrounds – you name it. Right now, the best park in our town is more than a 20 minute walk. It has an awesome winding trail around its circumference, a huge pool and slide, a playground, and there are always people grilling and picnic-ing on the weekends. We would go more often if it were accessible.
More time to spend where I please
With our basic needs within an arm’s reach, we’d be able to spend less time on traveling and more time on things that give us pleasure. We have a lot of side projects that we want to get going. I’m counting at least 2-3 web based projects that we have notes on and have started to varying degrees – but none of them are finished. And then there are apartment projects, little DIY things here and there, that we would like to do. Not to mention, I have a bookshelf full of brand new books that I bought with great intentions, but haven’t read. In other words, I have a lot of use for spare time.My partner and I have a running joke that “we don’t understand how people do it.” We often feel like we are just barely surviving keeping the house in order, getting errands done, working on school, spending time together, and crafting our future together. And we don’t have kids. We don’t have pets. We don’t have any serious medical issues or critically-ill family. (We have a lot to be thankful for.) But even though we are able to live below our means now, we aren’t very efficient at it. A lot of time and energy goes into planning our weekends just to get by.We are our worst critics. Sometimes I have to remind myself that plenty of highly successful, independent, creative individuals are also limited to 24-hours each day. Like Dolly Parton, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Elon Musk. Although their wealth has completely redefined their access to resources, allowing them to structure their affairs in ways I can’t even fathom, I get some solace from this thought, however naïve it is.From my perspective, there isn’t a straight line from ‘20-minute neighborhood’ to ‘more time’ to ‘more productive’ to ‘more success’ or even fulfillment. But I do see how it could help us shave time off car-commutes. Time that we could instead spend together, cooking while the other works, reading while the other gardens. You get the picture.
Join a tight-knit community
Another stated purpose of these neighborhoods is to foster real community. I call it ‘in-it-togetherness.’ Since everyone is walking to the parks, stores, banks, and library, you’re more likely to bump into someone. Barring an auto accident, how likely are you to run into someone on your way to grocery shopping this weekend? Even if it just amounts to nonverbal recognition, the sense of familiarity is enough to increase satisfaction.Overtime, it’s possible that the nonverbal recognition evolves into meaningful conversation and friendship. The idea with the 20-minute neighborhood is that this is more likely to happen if movement is a large part of the community’s daily life activities. And since community is one of our values, we will actively seek it out in our next move together.
If you would have asked me five years ago where I want to live 10 years down the road, I probably would not have said that I want a small, cute apartment, in a friendly neighborhood, close to local music, local businesses, and a park. But I place value on these things, and I realize that not everyone does. And so what works for me may not be ideal or preferred by everyone.This idea may be most well-suited for temperate climates, but I think it’s a possibility for many neighborhoods, with proper planning and design. Since weather/climate impact the livability of a 20-minute neighborhood, it’s another situation where you cannot take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. For example, the summer heat in Texas or Florida alter the requirements for a neighborhood compared with Washington or Wyoming.There are other considerations that have become important to us, too. Like living in a neighborhood in a state with no income tax. There are seven of these: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Right now, saving on income tax is huge because I make close to 14k a year, excluding my small but slowly growing dividend income. We can’t guarantee that our next move together will be to one of these states, but it’s on our minds.Can all of your basic needs be met with a 20-minute walk or bike from your home? Would you want to live in this kind of neighborhood environment?