About one year from today I will turn in my 2010 Toyota Camry and complete the terms on my lease. And then I will have a decision to make: should I buy a new car or try to live life in America without a vehicle?
Buying a vehicle is expensive. I don’t have the money to buy a car outright so I’d have to finance something. That means I’ll be paying monthly payments that include interest (unless I find 0% financing). I’ll also have to pay for gap insurance as well as taxes, title and license fees. Once I have the car I’ll continue to pay for insurance, gas and maintenance.
When you add everything together, I’m probably looking at a minimum of $500 a month just for the ability to get from A to B.
But is it realistic to live in a huge city with limited public transportation options (Dallas) without a car? Here are the main considerations I’ll have to take into account if I want to go car-less.
Can I Get to Work?
For most people, the most important factor in determining if they need is car is their ability to get to work. I am lucky because I work in IT and have the ability to work from home pretty often. However, I will need to go in the office and need to find a way to get to work on those days.
I could buy a bike and ride it to work, but my new apartment is 11 miles from the office goes through some rough neighborhoods. It would take some training for me to make that trip twice a day.
I could take public transportation, but right now it would take about an hour each way. They are opening a new section of light rail soon, but I’m still probably looking at a 30-45 minute commute. The nice thing about that is the ability to do work while on the train/bus. It sure as heck would make writing daily posts a lot easier.
Finally, I can borrow a car or take a taxi if I really need to get to work. Remember, I’m probably saving about $500 a month from not having a car, so I can afford a taxi ride very now and then.
Can I Get to Fun?
It’s less important, but a car is also useful to get places for shopping, entertainment, and other activities. These things are usually done in groups, so I’ll usually have the opportunity to get a ride from someone else, although I will feel compelled to give people money for their trouble.
However, between rides from friends and public transportation, there is a good chance I can do most of the activities I want without the use of a personal car.
While it’s definitely possible to go without a car as I’ve just explained, I have a feeling I will still buy a car. I’ll probably purchase an old used vehicle when my lease is up and minimize my costs as much as possible. Saving money is great, but convenience is also pretty awesome and being able to go where I want when I want is probably worth $500 a month to me.
It’s just too bad I’m not willing to get a motorcycle. If you can accept the safety issues, they are cheaper than cars or SUVs and much more convenient than public transportation. It’s just that whole dying a horribly slow and painful death on the side of the road thing I just can’t take a chance with.
Readers: If you have a car, could you give it up? If you don’t have a car, what’s the hardest thing about not having one?
I live in the burbs and there is absolutely no way I could go without a car. If I lived in a bigger city, like NY or Chicago, then I would ditch my car and only use Zip Cars to get around when I need to.
I turned in my leased Acura in December 2010, without replacing it. Hubby and I had tried the one-car bit for a month in September and found that as long as his job was close to home, we could easily share.
We did this for seven months (we live in Plano, he worked in Plano, and I work in Carrollton, so about 12 miles commute for me, and I dropped him off and picked him up every day) and it worked fine. But when he changed jobs to Irving, we really HAD to buy a car. Fortunately, I had been saving like crazy and was able to buy a good lease return with low mileage, and pay for it with cash.
Having only one car between us was inconvenient, but we get along really well, and we knew we were doing it for a reason, so it worked while it worked. But then, once his job moved, that was the end of that! And I really, REALLY like having my own vehicle. I probably wouldn’t do it again, unless I really just had to.
If I were single and living in DFW, I probably would find a way to have a car, even if I didn’t use it all that often. And don’t be riding one of those motorcycles! They’re way dangerous!
That’s exactly what I thought: buy a used car and drive it as long as possible. Do some research before about gas mileage and reliability to pick a model (or several to choose between).
It’s great that you’re even considering this!
While we’ve always had at least one car for our family, not using our car is probably the number one reason we were able to retire early. While saving, we biked to work 8 miles (each way) at least 3 times per week (I actually lost 20 lbs doing this after moving to the US) and we set up our lifestyle to prioritize biking. The cost of commuting is much higher than most people think.
Now, we live in a smaller town and can bike everywhere. We made new friends here and spend most of our time within a 5 mile radius of our house. We chose to do this and moved in order to make it happen. Biking around also makes you feel alive and happy and more in touch with your surroundings. You get places and get exercise at the same time – it’s pretty much the most awesome thing you can do. 🙂
You can also choose to purchase a less expensive used car to reduce your costs. We have a fairly new Scion Xa that we bought for $8,000 used.
I guess my point is, if you make it enough of a priority, you can make it happen. Many people discount this idea as not being possible, but it’s always possible if you decide that it can be done!
P.S. You should get a bike and a used car and see how much you can bike. You’ll be surprised at the great shortcuts you find and the fun times you can have on a bike.
From 03-09, I did not have a car, and it was awesome. ( I was a student though) I will say that the biggest pain in the ass, hands down, was the grocery store. Very tough biking to the store and biking back with all your food – you really had to plan what you buy. As far as everything else, I lived in a town with good transit for 4 of those years, and a small town for the other 2. However, I was aware of the fact I didnt have a car when I was looking for places to live, so I was willing to pay a bit more. I bought a car in 09, then a new one in 2010 – now I walk to work, but still have the car because it’s almost paid off. If I needed the cash I could sell it and be fine, but I dont need the cash so I’ll just keep it.
If I were you, i”d give biking to the office a try a few times this summer – while 11 miles isnt an insignificant amount, it’s really not that bad on a bike either – could help you keep in shape when p90x is done.
Great story and advice, Jeff!
By the way, a bike trailer makes biking to the grocery store pretty easy. We have one for our kid that we bought for $100 off craigslist (a fancy Burley one) and we also use it to haul groceries as well.
Sometimes our kid sits in it surrounded by groceries and he munches on food on the way home. 😉
I agree that the $500 month is worth it for the freedom it buys. Taking transit and biking is idealistic, but not always very practical, especially if you lead a busy life. I think a lot depends on where you live and how good public transit is. Some people are lucky enough to live somewhere that they really can bike everywhere they need to. Others can take public transit directly to work without it taking very long.
I actually considered this very same decision, but the job I might get is not accessible via transit. I would have to bus part way there and then walk a good 30 minutes. While that would be great exercise, I just couldn’t do it on a daily basis.
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to survive without a vehicle. We live out in the sticks, about 10-12 miles away from our workplaces. There is no public transportation near us so the only way we could get to work without a car is to bike. Which would be fine on the way there, cuz it’s all downhill, but it would suck on the way back. I also wouldn’t be able to race mx, and I’m not willing to give that up at all.
I didn’t buy a car when I first moved here for my job and that was a great decision. I spent quite a few months using Zipcars as necessary.
I couldn’t imagine driving to work – I walk. I primarily use my car for sports (they’re not really bus-accessible from where I live, which is convenient to work, or from where I work) and to visit my parents. I don’t put on a ton of miles, but it is cheaper than using Zipcar for the heavier-usage months of the year and there are things (e.g. sports) that I do now that I wouldn’t have done had I not bought the car. I don’t drive a ton now by a lot of people’s standards, but I’ve put an average of about 400 miles per month on my car since buying it.
By waiting (about 8 months after moving), I was able to save up enough to pay cash for a new car.
Does your girlfriend have a car? Could you share her car and taxi the remainder of time?
A used Honda Fit that is a few years old might serve you quite well – fuel-efficient and maintain their value well, IIRC. In the meantime, can you save up some money to replace the car? Or does that come after paying off your student loans?
Have you thought about moving closer to work? I have only 5 years to retirement, so it is not a choice for me. I hope to go down to one car when I retire.
We lived with no car for 3 months in 2010. It was doable, but not convenient. We joined Zipcar and used that when we really need wheels. Currently, we share one car and it is much nicer than having no car at all. We still take public transportation pretty often so we don’t spend that much on gas.
We live on an acreage (40 acres), so a vehicle of some kind is necessary. I was thinking just yesterday that motorcycles might be better, as they have much better mileage. Then I thought about how I’m kind of scared of them and they’re really only good in the summer (and part of the spring and fall), so we’d still need a truck or a car (4WD) for over half the year. And we want to have children at some point, and I don’t know that a motorcycle is all that practical once there are babies in the picture. So I concluded that maybe one motorcycle, for my husband, might be good (he does work in the city, after all, and it’s half an hour away), but I kind of need a car or truck since I do the majority of the grocery shopping and will be the one ferrying children about.
Definitely depends where you live and on your lifestyle.
We have the best of both worlds I think – one car between two (and he recently got a motorbike as well). It works because I can walk or bus to work (and if I need to get around at work, which is rare, there are taxis and staff cars); I’m not super social and don’t have a ton of regular extra-curriculars; and I’m halfway decent at planning and organising (http://eemusings.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/the-art-of-the-one-car-household/).
Have you considered car share schemes or a scooter?
I agree with some of the above posters that you should try the ride a few times in the next year to see what it is like. Don’t just think about the ride taking time, you also need to consider cleaning yourself up at work and changing when you get there. I try to bike 2 or 3 times a week to work (4 miles each way) and always factor more time because when I get to work then I have to clean up and get dressed for work.
I just wrote about how I manage without a car! http://gradbudget.blogspot.com/2012/04/ditch-car-to-save-money.html
You could try out the public transportation a few times before your lease ends just to see how it goes. You never know if you’ll really miss your car until you give it a try!
I do without a car every day for every thing ! I don’t mind biking 20,25 minutes to go to the dentist on the other side of town, I like it. And the feeling when you pass a car… just great !
I am building myself a trailer right now, hopefully it will be up soon and I will finally be able to carry watermelons from the grocery store.
Kevin, on a decent road bike 11 miles takes about 30 minutes depending on conditions. You should give going without a car a shot for a month and see how you like it. Plus it will give you content for your blog.
Save up and buy a car, with no loan! It’s easier than you think. Your insurance will be much lower and you can put that extra few hundred dollars towards your race. As a personal finance blogger, I would expect you to follow the buffet rule: nice, older used car with no payment.
“taxi ride very now and then.”
should be “every now and then.”
Can you do a write up comparing buying a car every 10 years and buying one every 3 and or 4?
ie if a car (mine) is $55,000 new, and at 10 years is worth $5k, you’ve spent $5,000/year for transportation + repairs / work / etc.
If you buy NEW every 3-4 years you are ALWAYS under warranty, and original tires / brakes…. so if you are spending $5k/year regardless, why not just keep spending $5k/year for a car (if that’s your budget)… because… it would be CHEAPER and you’d always have a new car, under warranty…. while maintaining your $5k/year budget…
I’ve run the scenarios a few times, and even if it is $300/year more or so, that’s less than TWO tires for my car… so… I’m interested in your opinion on if this works.
Definitely can’t give up my car. It’s a requirement for my job. Plus, where I live, there is no public transportation and in Texas if you want to get anywhere you really have to drive.
As much as I would like to bike to school, intern and work, it’s impossible for me. Unfortunately, I will not be giving up my car anytime soon. I would opt for a bus pass, but the locations are all spread out. As of right now, I am saving up to purchase a hybrid or an electric car without taking a big loan.
I actually wrote about this the other day. 🙂 My husband takes our only car (for the last 2 years, we’ve been down to 1 car) to work 5-6 days a week, so I’m pretty much stuck at home all the time.
The first year was the hardest for me, but it gets easier. The thing that sucks the most is when I need to run errands and don’t have the car. Being stuck at home royally sucks, but given the choice to have my own car again or save 500 bucks a month—hands down, I’d save the dough. 🙂
I have a car – I have always had a car due to the weirdness of the public transportation in Vancouver/lack of it in my old town. I couldn’t go without one right now, because I work, live, and go to school in different cities. The hardest thing about having my car is the $700/month cost that comes along with it!
But I thought you were all about leasing cars? Didn’t you write a post on that a while back? Would you not consider leasing another vehicle?
YES! And, we have! Now, we live in a metropolitan city with transport which leads to the ability to get around. But, it might be possible for others, as well. I suppose it depends on where your job is, etc. No more gas, insurance or repairs, Yay!
I’ve given up my car and while it saves me a lot of money I do miss the independence it gave me – I get sick of living to a train schedule and only leaving or getting back when it wants me to and not when I want to leave.
If I lived in a city or had public transportation, I would cut back/give up my car. But as it stands now, without it, I couldn’t get anywhere. Well, I could use my bike, but it would take me too long to get and from work. Plus there are some roads that I’m not interested in riding a bike on.