Thrifty Living: Get on your bike to make big savings

Trading in the Tube, or your car, for a bicycle is one of the easiest ways to make an instant saving on your weekly expenditure. If you live in London, for example, a season ticket for public transport is likely to cost you somewhere between £1,000 and £2,000 a year – and if you're commuting in from further afield, you could easily be paying much more.

Even outside the capital, you're likely to be spending hundreds of pounds a year on buses and trains. If you're using your car to commute, there's maintenance, tax, insurance and depreciation to take into account as well. Although cycling is not cost-free, it compares very favourably to all other modes of transport, and is much more healthy for you.

Getting started

Before you can start saving, you will need to spend some money – by buying your bike. And it usually pays not to go for the cheapest bike in the shop – especially if your commute is of any length. A good quality second-hand bike will tend to last longer than a poor quality new one – and it's possible to pick one up for as little as £150. Check sites such as gumtree.com, ebay.co.uk and loot.com. You can pick up new bikes for less than this, but then you are likely to spend more on maintenance costs.

If you really want a new bike, one way of keeping the cost down is to find out whether your employer takes part in the "Cycle to Work" scheme, which allows you to buy a bike tax-free and to pay for it in monthly instalments over a year. For higher-rate taxpayers, you could end up getting a bike half-price. Ask your employer if they offer the scheme, and if they don't, see if you can drum up some support for it among your colleagues. It won't cost your company anything to join.

On the road

Sustrans, the cycling charity, says that the average cost of maintenance for a bike is around £75 a year, although you may need to spend more than this if you're cycling every day. Taking care of your bike helps keep the costs down. Storing it out of the rain, cleaning it regularly and oiling all the moving parts makes a big difference.

A basic service can cost you anything from £20 to £150 – depending on what sort of state your bike is in – and it's worth getting your bike checked out at least twice a year.

However, if you really want to save money, consider going on a bike maintenance course to learn how to service your bike yourself. The CTC, the cyclists' group, organises courses that cost between £100 and £300. Visit ctc.org.uk/maintenance for details.

Reap the rewards

If you're bold enough to make most of your journeys by bike, the savings can be enormous. However, just carrying out some of your commute by bike can put cash back in your pocket. For example, a season ticket from Brighton to London – including a pass for London buses and Tubes – costs £3,440 a year. However, by cycling the London leg of your commute (ie from Victoria station to your work), the ticket will cost £320 less – as you won't need the additional Tube and bus pass.

And once you've started cycling, why not get rid of your gym membership too? It could save you another large sum every year. Two rigorous workouts on your bike each day is more than enough exercise for most people – and combining your workout with your commute saves time as well.

Finally, you don't need a car for the school run or the shopping. Child seats are available for bikes, as well as clip-on child's bikes that allow your little ones to ride in tandem with you. You can even buy bike trailers for bringing home the shopping.

Case study: 'Cycling saves me money and keeps me fit'

Bronwen Moss, a 29-year-old doctor from London, started cycling to work last August after her car packed in and she decided she couldn't afford the bill to repair it. "I'd just got a job that was only three or four miles away from where I live, and I decided that cycling to work would be cheaper and easier," she says.

As well as saving her money, she says it's also been great exercise. "I get 30 minutes exercise each way every day, which is pretty good," she says. Without much cash to spare back in the summer, Bronwen picked up a bike that still works well for only £120.

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