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Frugal Living: How to Save Money by Living Without a Car

Updated on June 12, 2014

Extreme Frugality: Go Car-Free

Almost everyone I know owns a car. For many people, cars and car-related expenses are the most expensive parts of their budget besides rent or a mortgage. If you are trying to cut expenses, you are probably doing things like using coupons, turning off more lights when you leave rooms, going on fewer vacations, eating out less frequently, downgrading your cable, and more. There are many wonderful, useful websites about how to live frugally, but what would happen to your budget if you completely cut out a large expense? Do you own anything (or pay for anything) that you think you couldn't live without, but really... you could?

Depending on your area, this unecessary expense could be your car. If you live in a city and have access to public transportation, you could probably live without your car. I live in Boulder, Colorado, which is really just a large town, but I do not need a car here either. Boulder has a wonderful public transportation system, a myriad of bike lanes and bike paths, all of which make it possible for me to live car-free.

My cycling isn't quite as intense as this!
My cycling isn't quite as intense as this!

How Do You Get Around?

My car-free lifestyle began when I started college in Boston and continued when I remained there after graduation. In Boston, a car is more of a liability than an asset in many ways. Drivers are notoriously fast and reckless, the roads are laid out in completely nonsensical ways, and there is nowhere to park. The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA, or "T" for short) is a subway system that runs all over the city. The MBTA also offers bus service. If you work and live in Boston, and can depend on friends with cars when you need to "get out of dodge," then living without a car is easier than living with a car! Even families with children choose to go car-free in Boston. It's not unusual to see moms, dads, and a bevvy of children crowding onto the T.

Bikes and buses are my transportation now. Buses in Boulder are extremely reliable and follow their schedules to the minute. If your bus is running a minute fast, it will pull over and wait for a minute so it will arrive at its next stop exactly on time. Boulder is also extremely bike friendly; almost all roads in town have bike lanes on them, or extra-wide multi-use pedestrian sidewalks which easily fit walkers and cyclists. In addition to bike lanes, the bike paths in Boulder are simply incredible. They form a sort of bike highway (complete with merge signs, caution signs, and road signs) that completely covers the town. As long as it isn't snowing or raining (hard), you can bike to work, to the grocery store, and to pick up your kids from school.

Other bike-friendly cities include Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Minneapolis, Minnesota and Austin, Texas. You can check out more bike friendly locations here.

A bike path in Somerville, MA.
A bike path in Somerville, MA.

Errands By Bike?

"You don't have a car?" I'm often asked. "How do you get around?" The answer? Easily! I have a bus pass for bad weather, and a bike for all other weather. The bike paths allow me to get to work more quickly on my bike than if I were to drive. As far as errands go, those do take a little longer. I typically go to the grocery store every day or every other day, and only buy what I can carry. While this gets annoying sometimes, I tend to look at the extra time as extra exercise.

Errands without the added annoyance of parking are great. I can lock my bike to any convenient object - an official bike rack, a tree, a fence. Bicycles are so accepted in Boulder that there are usually racks in front of every store, or at the very least, within easy proximity of a store.

Besides Boulder, there are many other U.S. cities that are conducive to living without a car. Seattle jumps to mind, as well as Portland, Oregon, Madison, Wisconsin, and Austin, Texas (hometown of Lance Armstrong!).

How to Save Money on Your Car

The easiest way to save money on your car, of course, is to get rid of your car altogether!

Besides being fast and exercise-inducing (I hate running, so it's a good thing I bike!), living car-free is extremely budget friendly. I have never bought a car, saving me thousands of dollars. I don't have to pay for car insurance every month (also saving me thousands), or pay for car repair (hey... which could also cost thousands!). Oh yeah, and gas! I don't pay a cent for gas, either. The worst problem I encounter on my bike is a flat tire. To repair that, I buy a new tube and change it myself ($4). The front wheel of my bike was stolen once, which was awful - but it was my own fault for not locking it properly. $90 later, I will always lock my bike safely, or better yet, bring it inside with me. True, bikes do get stolen, but you can minimize your risks by parking in a safe location (with lots of people around), and not leaving a very expensive bike outside. Many people in Boulder that are serious cyclists (not me!) own a fancy, expensive bike (which did cost thousands of dollars) for long rides, and another, cheaper commuter bike for in-town trips and errands.

What about kids? I don't know if I could continue to live car-free in Boulder (or anywhere else) if I had children. I think I would like the convenience of hopping in the car, or the safety of being able to rush to the hospital or my child's school if I had to. I might be willing to try living car-free with a new baby, though I may not stick with it!

All in all, living car-free is right for me. If you want to save money, exercise more, reduce your carbon footprint, live green and more, you could try living car-free too! Even if it seems too difficult, after you think it through you may discover that it is, in fact, very doable.

*If you would like to donate your car to charity, there are numerous organizations that will give you a tax deduction for doing so. Click here to read about how to donate your car to your favorite charity.

Just gorgeous!
Just gorgeous!

How Car-Free Are You?

Could you live without your car?

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    • profile image

      Manny 6 months ago

      One car family in downtown San Diego. Originally from NYC, so inherantly I am opposed to having monthly payments for a car. Gas not so much because it similar to a monthly metro pass. Despite the fact that a car allows me access to gorgeous beaches and beach cities in Socal, the montly payments is hard for me to accept.

    • hazelbrown profile image

      hazelbrown 5 years ago from Central PA

      Thanks toomuchmint! Boulder is really proud of the bike system. We're even participating in a bike rental program that's a lot like ZipCar but for bikes. There are bike racks with about 10 bikes each at major parts of the town and you can swipe a credit card and rent a bike for a day or a month. It's cheap too! Yay, biking! :)

    • toomuchmint profile image

      toomuchmint 5 years ago

      Very interesting hub hazelbrown! I never would have thought of Boulder as a good car-free city. It's exciting to hear areas built as big towns can be as friendly as major urban areas. It's all about mindset and public commitment. Thanks for the information!

    • hazelbrown profile image

      hazelbrown 6 years ago from Central PA

      Hi thougtforce! That's a brave decision! I too miss the independent feeling of driving sometimes. You'll have to write a hub to let us know how it goes. Thanks for stopping by!

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 6 years ago from Sweden

      Since we have decided to have only one car from now on this was just what I needed to read today, The reason is that I go by buss to my work most of the time anyway so one car is usually home standing on the drive way. But it is a feeling of independence to be able to take the car if I want it and to be able to drive where I want on my free time. But I know I can do that anyway it just takes some time getting use to the new conditions. Great hub with an important message!


    • hazelbrown profile image

      hazelbrown 6 years ago from Central PA

      Thanks froch! I agree, if I bought a car today I would definitely drive around just for the heck of it!

    • froch profile image

      froch 6 years ago from Tychy

      Living without a car is the time you buy it. For a years I was not car-user and I did not to use it. When I bought to lazy to go anywhere ;-)

    • hazelbrown profile image

      hazelbrown 6 years ago from Central PA

      Hi jennm13,

      Yeah, one car between two sounds tough, especially when you want to go to different places! If you're thinking of moving anyway, it wouldn't hurt to check out places that are more bike/bus/subway friendly!

    • jennm13 profile image

      jennm13 6 years ago from Broken Arrow, OK

      Between my husband and I, we have one car and he uses it all the time...I'm thinking we need to move somewhere so I can get around easier.