- Personal Finance
How to Live without Owning a Car
Economizing by not Owning a car
A house complete with a picket fence, a dog and two kids to play in the yard, and a car (or two) in the garage - that's the American Dream, right?
Since the housing market bubble burst, the news has been filled stories of 'underwater' home owners and people finding it hard to fulfill the American Dream. Recently, news stories have started to pick up on a new trend: for many, the American Dream has changed. A lot of 20-somethings, and even young 30-somethings, have seen a lot of bust in the housing market, but not much boom. NPR has done several stories on young people's unwillingness, or inability, to purchase a home, and has deemed us "Generation Rent." Many people who did expect home ownership, or who even used to be homeowners, are now also forced to rent. Many more are being forced to economize in innovative ways. Here is my biggest money-saving tip: don't own a car. If you have one, sell it. If you don't have one, don't buy one unless you really, really need it. Not want it - need it. If this seems impossible, discover my tips for how to live without a car. As someone who hasn't owned a car in several years, I assure you that it is possible.
The True Cost of Car Ownership
Car ownership is expensive. Not only are they very big-ticket items, but you also have to spend money on insurance, gas, upkeep, and taxes. This is how much a car costs the average American:
- 2012 average new car price - $30,000, according to NPR
- 2012 average annual car insurance - $1,001 for a low-risk driver, according to AAA
- 2012 average cost of owning a car, insurance included - nearly $9000, also according to AAA
If you worked full time at minimum wage, before taxes you would bring home less than $14,000 a year, which means if your car cost you an average amount, you would have less than $4000 to cover all your other expenses!
Would you consider living without a car?
Whether you're walking or biking, added visibility helps ensure you're safety.
Hanging bags of groceries from you bike's handlebars is difficult and dangerous, but this front-mounting basket is easy to install and large enough for a shopping trip.
How Live Without a Owning Car
For some people, living without a car isn't a realistic option. Anyone who needs to respond quickly to phone calls, like a doctor, first responder, or other emergency services personnel, legitimately need a personal vehicle. People who live out in the country and have no other realistic transportation options probably also need a car. However, most urban and suburban dwellers do not need cars. It may take you a few extra minutes to get from place to place, and it may even make you sweat a little, but you can survive without a car.
Walk. You may not want to walk 10 miles to work, but why not walk to the bank, the grocery store, or whatever else is nearby? The average adult walks about 3 miles an hour, so a 1.5 mile walk should only take you about 30 minutes. Just bring a tote bag or backpack to run errands and do light shopping on foot. Most Google aps, and Google Maps, now contain a 'walking directions' option that helps you find a safe walking route to your destination.
Bike. I am a huge bike advocate! Biking is far faster than walking and, depending on your city's traffic, it might be faster than driving. By attaching a bike rack with bags or a crate, or a large handlebar basket, you can easily take care of more heavy-duty errands and shopping. Plus, you will save money on gas and get in better shape! If you're unfamiliar with the bike basket options, hubber mullberry1 has put together a great guide to the various types of bike baskets. I've written several hubs on bike commuting and basic bicycle safety as well as hand turn signals, so make sure to check these out before hitting the roads.
Public transportation. Many cities have easy to use, inexpensive buses, trains, or subways. Buses may take longer than a personal vehicle, but they are far less expensive. Look at your local public transportation's website to check for value passes, or even free rides. A lot of buses and trains allow you to purchase a monthly commuter pass, but some offer passes good for unlimited rides for 24 hours. Other cities give free rides to local students, including college students, or seniors. Most public transportation systems today have very detailed websites that help you decipher complicated routes and schedules, so you don't even have to be a map or chart genius to ride the bus. Just make sure to brush up on your commuter bus etiquette so you avoid irritating other passengers!
Borrow a car. This is what I've done for a while. From fantastic roommates who let me use their cars on occasion to, now, a sister who lets me use her car if I need it, borrowing a car can be a solution if one of you only occasionally needs the car. Of course, you should make sure that you're covered on the car's insurance and that you don't take someone's car when he or she really needs it, but borrowing a car can be beneficial for both parties. In our case, my sister and I both benefit. She lives five or six miles away, but would have to pay high garage prices to keep her car at school. She can park it at my place for free and, in return, I drive it when I need to. Her car needs always take priory over mine (since it's hers!), but I'm not completely stranded. Be careful, though, driving another person's car can lead to conflict and drama, so it's best to keep your usage or his/her car to a minimum and always remember that you are the guest. You must keep the car clean, return seats and mirrors to their original position, and provide more than a replacement amount of gas.
Carsharing. The carsharing, or car-sharing, movement has gained momentum across the world because it offers greater savings than owning a car or taking a taxi, but is more flexible than a traditional rental. Unlike a traditional rental, you can 'rent' a shared car for a period of hours (or even minutes), which makes the service perfect for people who only need a car sometimes. Frequently, shared cars are parked in neighborhoods and are accessible, once reserved, at any time during the day. Need a car for 30 minutes to buy a big bag of dog food? Simply reserve a nearby car, pick it up, and park it when you're through. Carsharing is not recommended for anyone who needs to commute to a full-time job, but if you want access to a car without car ownership. If this idea is new to you, look at carsharing.net to learn more and look for a carsharing organization in your area.
For some, living simply is a necessity. For others, it's a joy. As fellow hubber billybuc highlights in his series on how to live simply, making a commitment to scaling back can make you happier and healthier, and save you money. Choosing a life without car ownership does all of the above. Each of the listed choices save you money, biking and walking are way better exercise than driving a car, and public transportation offers you non-drive commute time to catch up on reading, working, or napping. I not only don't own a car, but I also don't own a television, a microwave, or a toaster. And that's the way I like it. I'm healthier, have more free time, and a save a lot of money by skipping these items!
Are you ready to do it? Can you live without a car? If your immediate answer is no, stop and think for a minute. Are you answering no as a knee-jerk reaction, or can you really, truly not cope without being a full time car owner?