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How to Live without Owning a Car

Updated on November 4, 2014
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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?

Maybe.

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?

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My "car"
My "car" | Source
I can carry a lot of groceries in these bags!
I can carry a lot of groceries in these bags! | Source
G & F 41112 Industrial Safety Vest with Reflective Stripes, Neon Lime Green
G & F 41112 Industrial Safety Vest with Reflective Stripes, Neon Lime Green

Whether you're walking or biking, added visibility helps ensure you're safety.

 
Wald 135 Front Grocery Bicycle Basket (14.5 x 9.5 x 9, Silver)
Wald 135 Front Grocery Bicycle Basket (14.5 x 9.5 x 9, Silver)

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.

Live Simply

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?

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    • Natashalh profile image
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      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      I agree - today's world leaves many people with little choice but to use a car at least every once in a while! But there are certainly other ways to meet basic transportation needs, as you well know.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 4 years ago from Northern California

      Great Hub! I am big on using alternative transportation, mostly due to the cost of gas, and being afraid of getting in a wreck (just because I've been a passenger in two crashes and am not keen on accidents!). I walk, bike, and love taking the bus and trains. However, I just can't give up my car completely because it's great to have the ability to be spontaneous without having to map out a public transit route, worry about biking in the dark, etc. I use my car maybe twice a week and it works out great. Paying for car insurance and maintenance isn't my favorite, but it's not the end of the world. Great Hub!

    • profile image

      Tatiana 4 years ago

      Yes, I let you use it when I need it. :p

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for sharing, Wesley. You're right - sometimes having a car is important, but, in the right place, it really is not needed. Glad you're enjoying the car-free life in China!

    • Wesley Meacham profile image

      Wesley Meacham 4 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Very interesting hub. I've owned a car most of my life but moved to China about two years ago. I've not had a car at all during this time. I walk between home and work and most places that I go. For places that are fairly far away I usually take the bus. If it is late at night or if I have a lot to carry I get a taxi. There are times when I do miss having a car but it doesn't really bother me. It's a big expense and it is so easy to get around the city without one that I don't need it.

      Voting up and sharing.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Absolutely. If you're near the things you need, having a car day to day is unnessicary. I used to live where I could easily, within 10 minutes, walk to work, the grocery store, the bank, the pharmacy - everything.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      In the 1970s times were much like now and I found myself in a position of being out of work and hard to keep up a car. Without a car many things become difficult, like taking clothes to the laundromat when the washer breaks down. However, I met people who do without cars but change their lifestyle and where they choose to live. One is to pick a location near trnsportation. Also be where shopping is convenient. the people I am thinking about chose to live in downtown Chicago where they could do much on foot and had access to public transportation. When they traveled they rented cars.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      I thought about getting a scooter, but we have a lot of bridges near where I live and scooters aren't very safe on the bridges.

      It is amazing the things you can do without when you need to. Things you might have never thought about not having before suddenly become (mostly) easy.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 4 years ago from Thailand

      Up and awesome. I hadn't considered this until I came to Asia. Most of the time I use a scooter, which costs almost nothing to run.

      However, when I went the South Korea, I found they drive on the wrong side of the rode (like the US ha ha ... PS, that was a joke if any Koreans are reading). Anyway, the idea of driving or riding on the right made me go without a car ... which was only really missed in the deep winter! Saved a lot that year though :-) and found public transport to be more sociable.

      Shared, up, awesome and useful.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you, BuyaBiz.

    • BizVT34 profile image

      BizVT34 4 years ago from USA

      Good Hub, thanks.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Ahhhh. I see.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I would sell it if my hubby would let me -- Alas, he is into ESPN sports!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Do it! Sell your TV and you'll be how surprised how fast you don't miss it =)

      Thanks for stopping by, teaches.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I have often wanted to follow your lifestyle, Natashalh. I am would be perfectly happy without a TV and other electronic media. I am not sure about the car, but I am considering a scooter in the future. Interesting share on this topic.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      I agree, sometimes you really need a car, but if you live in a city, dealing with a car can be more difficult than not having one! A TV, though, is optional, no matter where you live!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      I love the ideas that you shared. However, when you live far away from things you do and there is not public transportation you need a car. Saving money, walking, riding bikes are good reasons if you can. You can also live without TV and get used to it after a while.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      I bet having a Prius saves you a lot! That's great. I agree - not having a car just isn't realistic in some situations.

      I understand being apprehensive about not even having access to a car, but even choosing not to use a car you could drive saves you money (and helps you get in better shape). Around-town driving is harsh on cars, and produces terrible gas mileage, so choosing to bike or walk for errands can be good for you and your car.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 5 years ago from Hudson, FL

      You are my kinda girl :) I don't have cable, a toaster, or microwave. I would looooove to get rid of my car. I feel so apprehensive, though. I think always having one makes me nervous to be without it. Does that make sense? We just moved to a place where there is a bike/walking trail that leads to everything. You've got me thinking now . . . thanks!

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Were I a city dweller I would definitely dump the car. I'm not though. Every trip is at least 10 miles round trip and most are twice that - it isn't bicycle or walking distance. Especially in 100 degree heat or with snow on the roads.

      On the plus side, the insurance and daily costs for my Prius are nowhere near the average. It helps.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      As long as a used car is in decent shape, it can offer great savings. Buying anything out of pocket is always a great choice! Lending money is a business and businesses make a profit on it because the customer ends up paying so much more than the sticker price.

      I have rented a car for longer trips for several years now. I actually recently returned rental I'd used for a week!

      Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you also enjoy a tv-free life. I love not having a television.

    • Janis Goad profile image

      Janis Goad 5 years ago

      Food for thought, here, Natasha, great ideas in your hub.

      I own a car, but I never buy a new car. I buy used cars, which I pay for, so I don't have car payments, and I save on taxes. I still have insurance and gas, though.

      I have car-free friends who invest part of their savings into renting a car for the weekend, for shopping or recreation, and they still save money over the year.

      I live television-free, too--there is not much there that I care to see. I read news, and watch movies on the web. I read books--the library is free!! And I write and go for walks instead of sitting in front of the TV. I love a TV-free lifestyle.