The Experiment – Spending Money to Make Money

Sometimes you have to spend money to make money

One of the most perpetual lies people tell each other is that you have to spend money to make money. Many entrepreneurs, for example, believe that they should invest a lot of money and effort into their business before it will take off even though there’s no empiral evidence to support this claim. While I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t spend money to make money, I am going to do so anyway. In fact, I already did.

The image at the top of this post probably spilled the beans already, but I invested in a brand-new road bike. Of course, a bicycle is just as much an investment as keeping a balance on your credit card. The two-wheeled technical marvel depicted above requires a running tab at the local bike shop to keep up with maintenance alone, for example.

Trek Madone 2.5Still, I consider my shiny matte black new Trek Madone 2.5 an investment. It’s an investment in myself, in my health and in my hobby.

I’ve written before about expensive hobbies and non-essential spending, so I’m not going to rehash the arguments brought up in that discussion. However, it’s safe to say that putting money towards avoidable expenses like hobbies is an essential part of financial independence because they help you to fully enjoy life, at least in my book.

Another topic I’ve touched upon earlier during a discussion on the advantages of living car-free is the benefit of bike usage. Indeed, riding your bike instead of burning fuel to go places leads to improved health through better physical fitness – not to mention the huge savings.

It’s true that a hobby or two and good health are major assets to have on a personal level, but that still doesn’t make my new bike an investment. The return on money spent isn’t monetary in value, but rather a difficult to grasp notion of life enjoyment.

Enter my employer.

Because the Belgian government wishes to incentivise commuters to jump on public transportation networks and cycle to work, our legislative has since long introduced a system that many Belgians make good use of: a bike renumeration. Basically, you can apply for a fixed fee for each kilometer you ride to work on your bike.

In my case the fixed rate is set at €0.21/km. While that doesn’t sound like much, keep in mind that my daily commute is about 65 kilometres both ways. That’s €13.65 each day I take my bike to work. Still not worth it? To put that number into perspective, I strongly urge you to read this post in which I explain how much I earn by the hour after taxes – spoiler alert: it’s less than €13.65.

Now, riding to and from work every day simply isn’t an option for me. There’s early and late meetings, telecommuting and bad weather, just to name a few things that would keep me from cycling to work five days a week. For my 2015 goals I have nevertheless set myself a target of at least 50 bike commutes. At the moment I’ll smash that number easily since I’m averaging two days already.

Let’s assume I manage to bike to work 100 times every year by factoring in holidays and the like. That’s €1,356 earned simply by peddling on a luxurious piece of kit rather than sitting on my lazy bum in the train.

Still not convinced?

That’s why I’ll be conducting this very experiment and report about it on my blog. Intuitively we all feel that a return of €1,356 on a €1,583 investment in the first year alone is a good deal. However, there’s recurring maintenance costs to take into account – and like I said, this type of bicycle requires a running tab even if you take good care of it.

Over the coming months I’ll report on both my expenses and the money earned from riding to work so you guys can follow along. That way maybe you’ll find that cycling to work is a good idea for you too if you have access to a similar renumeration scheme like I have.

Until then, I already consider this entire setup a win-win situation. On the one hand there’s a high chance that I’ll make money by biking to work, while on the other hand I could fall short but at least I’ll have reduced the overall costs of my previously expensive hobby.

As Charlie Sheen would put it, epic winning!

48 Comments

    1. Kate,

      I definitely think so! Let’s hope it turns out well.

      65km round trip is far, but doable. I have been in much better shape in the past, but I still manage to ride at 30km an hour on average. Over time I hope to get that number up to reduce my travel time to work.

      Best wishes,
      NMW

  1. This does sound interesting. Sadly, my work does not include such a incentivising scheme for cycling. though it must be said that I have deliberately lived close enough to work so I can walk in!

    I look forward to reading your updates on this one. Should be fascinating!

    1. DD,

      Too bad your employer doesn’t offer a similar scheme because it’s awesome if you enjoy biking. Walking to work isn’t too big of a punishment though. Great job living so close to the office!

      I’ll post an update regularly and include detailed information in my income and expenses reports to make sure you guys can follow along.

      Best wishes,
      NMW

  2. Absolutely fantastic, but the Italian that’s in me doesn’t understand how can the government know how many kilometers you drive each day? Do they rely on good faith and self declarations?
    In any case I’d do it myself if I could get paid for it! 😛

    1. Stalflare,

      Since the employers pay for the €0.21/km it’s up to them to check if I’m actually riding to work as much as I am saying I am. My employer relies on good faith and does a distance check when you first apply for the programme. Of course, it’s possible to cheat the system, but I think people will find out quick enough if you’re not completely honest.

      Cheers,
      NMW

      PS: big fan of Florence, beautiful city and countryside!

      1. Ciao NMW,

        Aha! Very clever system 🙂 I am impressed!

        As to Florence I am totally in love with “her”.
        In the end I came back to live here even if that mean taking a huge paycut (wages here are crappy compared to where I was living before: UK , Japan, North of Italy)… But “she” is well worth the paycut! 🙂

  3. Wow, that is very generous and a great way to make money and stay healthy! Good luck and look forward to reading your updates – 65km is a big distance, in fact, it’s more than the distance that I drive to work!

    Our company has a ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme which gives you tax savings (on the value of the bike). I don’t take advantage of it as my journey to work can’t be cycled – only one mile is normal road, the rest is motorway.

    1. Weenie,

      Awesome deal, right? I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw how much you get paid for riding your bike to work. If you factor in the distance I have to travel it quickly amounts to a ton of money each month.

      A tax savings scheme for bike purchases sounds like a pretty sweet deal too if you can take advantage of it every single year – although you don’t need a new bike every year. Too bad you don’t haver proper roads to the office… Driving on the motorway isn’t something I’d recommend. 🙂

      Best wishes,
      NMW

    1. Mr. FSF,

      Win-win for sure! I love my new bike and the extra income is icing on the cake. 🙂

      Cheers,
      NMW

    1. Eurfi,

      Ha, that’s true! Apart from the fact that I prefer high quality equipment, the cheaper bikes don’t last as long. As a result, they’re more expensive over the long-run. I believe I’ve found a sweet spot with regards to price, quality and longevity.

      If I’m able to ride to work most days during June and July, I’ll definitely aim for 100 instead of 50. Next year it’ll be 100 for sure!

      Cheers,
      NMW

  4. That’s pretty cool that the government is paying you to ride to work. It’s a win-win situation for you. You get paid and you get to improve your health. 65 km commute each way? Damn! How long do you think the commute will take you? Is the commute relatively flat? I used to bike to work here and there and the commute distance was about 20 km and it’s uphill both ways. It was tough when you’re tired at end of the day.

    Just a thought, does it make sense to move closer to work so your commute distance isn’t as far? Perhaps this could also save some rent money?

    1. Tawcan,

      There’s a lot to say about the taxes in Belgium, but one thing they’ve got down are cycle incentives to work – really happy about that!

      Sorry if it’s not properly stated in the text, but it’s a 65km round trip (so in total). That’s about 32km each way, which is more doable than 65km each way.

      The commute by bike takes me a little over an hour, taking into account the traffic during the last 5km. I specifically look for hilly roads since I like driving up and down instead of flat road, so you won’t hear me complaining there. Besides, at the end of the day I’m mainly mentally tired but still have all my physical strength. This way I’m both mentally and physically tired, which results in good sleep.

      Moving closer to work makes sense from a distance perspective, but not from a social or financial point of view. Staying put where I currently live is the best option!

      Thanks for the input – it’s great to rethink your choices once in a while.

      Best wishes,
      NMW

  5. You could do the maintenance on your bike yourself. It’s not that hard and will save you a ton of money. You can buy the parts cheaper online and don’t have to pay someone to do it for you. Just invest another €100 in a tool-kit and the internet will help with the rest 🙂

    1. Ben,

      True, but I have two left hands! 🙂 Seriously, I’m not that good at maintenance. I am, however, trying to learn a thing or two and I always keep my bikes super clean. Switching out a tyre or new brakes won’t be a problem, but when drive trains or cassettes need changing I’ll need help from a bike shop.

      On top of the maintenance cost you should also factor in the cost of parts. I find that most of my components don’t come cheap if they need replacing, so it’ll be interesting to see how long they’ll last.

      Cheers,
      NMW

  6. Such a beauty of a bike—and I can’t believe it will be subsidized by Belgium policymakers!

    For the length of commute you face (65 km) I think it makes sense to have invested extra money in a ultra-efficient ride like the Madone. I look forward to reading your updates!

    1. Noonan,

      Looks aren’t the number one priority for me, but when I saw this beauty I knew I had to have it! The matte black looks even better in real life.

      Exactly! I’m going at least 5km/h faster with my new Madone compared to my old ride. That’s a massive improvement simply through bike components – pretty crazy if you think about it. I can only imagine what happens when you have top-of-the-line stuff!

      Cheers,
      NMW

  7. NMW,

    Sweet ride. That is cool you get some cash for riding to work. Man if that was the case, I’d do it to my job, assuming I did not have to carry a crazy amount of stuff to a job… Right now I have around 100 lbs (45.5 kg) of equipment in my car! So maybe one day in the future, when I don’t have all that stuff for my project.

    – Gremlin

    1. Gremlin,

      Thanks, pal!

      Carrying around a lot of tools or equipment is not really an option with this kind of bike. Carrying my laptop and some notes around is something I try to avoid as much as possible, for example.

      I can’t imagine having 45kg with me on any type of bike to be honest. Hope you run into a new project in the future, so you can cycle to work as much as you like.

      Cheers,
      NMW

  8. I am so interested to see how much you will save. This hobby can get expensive if you let it, but I think you got everything under control. Also at the same time you are getting some good exercise which is good so its definitely a win-win type of situation. Good luck and keep us posted.

    1. Petrish,

      The best part about cycling to work isn’t that I’m going to save more money, I’ll simply be making more money! My usual commute by train is paid for by my employer too, so cycling will only result in more earnings instead of more savings.

      Road cycling does indeed becomes as expensive as you want it to be. Thankfully I don’t feel the need to ride a €5000+ bike!

      Cheers,
      NMW

  9. I agree that this can count as an investment. A very nice one indeed. Next time please invest in a Dutch bike please.

    1. OJ,

      Too bad Dutch bikes aren’t the kind of bike I was looking for. I don’t think a single Dutch manufacturer makes proper road bikes like the one I just bought?

      Cheers,
      NMW

  10. Winning. The bike has got to be one of the world’s greatest inventions. Congrats on all the future money you will be saving! And I’m digging that matte black. 😀

    1. Jason,

      Ha, epic winning indeed!

      I’m a big cycling proponent. They’re just such awesome and versatile tools. Infuse them with new technologies and materials and the sky is the limit to what you can achieve with bikes.

      The matte black looks bad ass, I love it! 🙂

      Thank you for dropping by,
      NMW

  11. Great investment NMW! I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a bike and riding to work, but actually enjoy my train ride where I can read or do other things on the way to work. But an incentive like this would probably be enough to tip me over the edge and give the bike riding to work a shot! Good luck, look forward to seeing those return on investment figures!

    1. Jason,

      You bring up a good point. One of the main reasons why I enjoy my train ride to work lies in the fact that I get to read the news or just doze off a little more. However, I can’t look past the fact that I enjoy cycling and could get paid for it!

      Cheers,
      NMW

  12. That’s quite the incentive – is it a taxable amount or is it after tax? either way the health benefit is not taxable 🙂 – I just hope you have bike lanes and don’t have to ride in traffic.
    I agreed with Ben above that DIY maintenance is a good idea if for no other reason than getting to know your ride better.

    1. The amount is not taxed here in Belgium. My commute is 16km each way and try to do it about 3 times a week so that makes about €76 extra income each month.

    2. Gcai,

      It’s a flat rate after tax since it counts as non-salaried renumeration. That’s why I call it government subsidised, even though many people don’t think it is. And like you said, the health benefit isn’t taxable anyway, so win-win!

      I have pretty good bike lanes and country roads to work, so I won’t be stuck in traffic or between cars until the last 4-5 kilometers when I enter the heart of Brussels. Even then there’s a cycle lane the entire way to work.

      Maintenance is something I will have to become better at since I have two left hands. I explained to Ben already that changing a tyre or breaks won’t be a problem, but switching out the drive train, cassettes or derailleur might be a little to challenging for the time being. Practice makes perfect, I guess!

      Best wishes,
      NMW

  13. Wow, the US needs to get on board with this. I have a 50+ mile (~80km) commute two ways. Converted to USD (assuming they didn’t change the actual pay rate per mile and just slapped a dollar in front of it) would be an additional $16.80 every day! Then, assuming around 260 work days a year, that would come out to $4,368 minus bike-related costs. So … $4,000? Plus I’d be in amazing shape? Yes, please.

    1. FI Monkey,

      When you do the math it becomes even more apparent how great the incentive is! Many people I know, scoff at the 21 cents per kilometer, but they forget how fast those kilometers or miles rack up. At a 50 mile ride you’d be making big money, at least in my book!

      Maybe you should start and advocacy group over there in the US? 😉

      Thank you for dropping by,
      Best wishes,
      NMW

      1. NMW,

        As it turns out, I did not take the job that came with the 50 mile commute, so my previous comment is no longer relevant! (Sorry)

        That being said, I would still advocate biking over driving, especially for short distances but it doesn’t hurt to be extreme once in a while (although I would take California’s current 90+ degree fahrenheit weather into account).

        FM

        1. Fi Monkey,

          Sorry to hear you didn’t take the job, although I’m also happy to hear you won’t be commuting 50 miles every day. Living close to work is a major plus!

          I’m a major supporter of cycling to work. It’s fun, it’s healthy, it’s good for the environment, etc. Even in your scorching hot weather I’d take my bike instead of the car. 😉

          Cheers,
          NMW

      2. Oh, also, I forgot to mention — I love your icon/branding. I’ve been thinking of having someone illustrate me an icon rather than using my generic monkey icon that I got from a Google search. I’ll be sure not to copy yours, but just wanted to let you know.

  14. Excellent investment! In Germany there is a tax scheme that allows employers to reduce the monetary income of their employees and make leasing payments for bikes instead. So you can get a bike for free to ride to work and save taxes on your income at the same time. Unfortunately, my employer does not offer this incentive. Anyway, happy rides!

    1. Charlie,

      It seems like the German incentive follows the same logic as some Belgian employers. A friend of mine receives a new bike from his employer every two years if he cycles to work.

      Let’s hope your employer decides to offer something similar to you too in the near future!

      Best wishes,
      NMW

    1. Vivianne,

      I’m sorry to hear that. While things aren’t perfect over here either, I believe many road users consider cyclists a critical part of traffic. We have tons of bike lanes or even separate roads specifically designed for cyclists, for example.

      However, that doesn’t mean accidents don’t happen. I try to be vigilant and careful, but you can’t control these things. Wearing a helmet is a good idea though!

      Cheers,
      NMW

  15. Why not invest in an e-bike? so u can hop onto the 40+ km/h with an extra toolkit of about 200 euro’s 🙂
    That’s what im going to be doing racing through the forest this summer once my E-bike arrives.

    10 mins drive on the highway with my car of 45 mins on a normal bike or about 20 mins on ebike is what I calculated.

    1. William,

      E-bikes cater to an entirely different audience. I enjoy riding (outside commuting too), so that’s why I chose to purchase a proper road bike. Besides, I ride at 40km/h too on flat land! 😉

      Also, isn’t an e-bike a lot more expensive to maintain? On top of that there’s the electricity costs to recharge the thing. I think I’ll be better off with my road bike in the long-run.

      Have fun on your e-bike, it seems like you’ve figured it all out with the 20 minute commute!

      Cheers,
      NMW

      1. Plus the fact you will be needing insurance when the bike goes faster than 25km/h here in Belgium… (if I’m not mistaking, they are changing the regulations around ebikes)

        1. Ben,

          I believe you’re right. E-bike owners are likely to fall under the same rules as the owners of small motorcycles. That means insurance, helmet, speed regulations, etc.

          Cheers,
          NMW

  16. Looks like a great move: Doing something you really love while maximizing the output of the Belgian salary system.
    Maybe you should install not a speed meter, but an ROI meter on your bike?

    1. Ambertreeleaves,

      Exactly! I was crazy not to take advantage of the cycling incentive sooner. Really glad I pulled the trigger.

      How awesome would that be, a ROI meter on my bike? Ha!

      Best wishes,
      NMW

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