When anyone asks me what my dream car would be, my honest answer answer is to not need one. I realize I could get to “not needing one” now if we were willing to move to the center of the city, but my hope is for some day our public transportation system to have gotten good enough that being without a car five or six miles away from downtown is completely reasonable.
Our roommate now doesn’t drive (and has yet to actually get a driver’s license), but he is a single guy and is able to get around much easier. Even so, he does have to rely on ridesharing part of the time because the buses don’t run as late or as frequently enough for all his needs. With a young child who is in different places throughout the week while we’re at work, it’s near impossible to get around without a car, though I try to make it happen at least once a week (though I don’t get to run the six miles to work these days).
I say I’d love to not have a car, but for now, having once makes our lifestyle significantly easier and more efficient when dropping him off at my mother in law’s would mean leaving the house a good three hours before I need to be at work.
That said, there are a lot of reasons not to own a car, or if you do, to drive it less. Since this is something that is yet to be my personal experience, I’m going to turn this over to Lily from Merry For Money and The Frugal Gene to explain (rant) about why she and her husband have gone the no car route. In her situation, I absolutely would too. Definitely a spot where she leaves me in the dust when it comes to environmentally – and financially – superior choices.
Sustainable Living: The Anti-Car Family
Hi, I’m Lily! Here today to give you a car rant. Feel free to headbang to it if I’m preaching the choir. Thanks for reading!
My husband and I discovered the relevance of living car-free before we discovered what personal finance even constituted. I discovered personal finance, frugality, and FIRE all from within the same source which was, of course, Mr. Money Mustache.
We’ve always lived a little oddly compared to the average American. It was like a part of me that has always felt alienated finally found a “home” within the financial independence community.
I knew three things about cars:
1) Our lifestyle did not need one,
2) They’re sneaky on the budget, and
3) If you let me behind the wheel, there’s a 78% chance I will harm something/someone.
Why We’re Anti-Car
Cars are so costly yet for some strange reason, Americans are addicted to them! We’re a very smart and developed country but our relationship with automobiles and infrastructure is oddly backward.
There is a point of view that Americans are car-obsessed and although this stereotype depends highly on the geographic region, there is bits and pieces of truth to that everywhere.
For example, my family lives in a sizable, metropolitan city, but our very next door neighbors traded up their cars twice in the last 3 years when they already had shiny 2015 model cars before.
It was even more unnecessary to me because they both work from home (like I do) and both their cars are usually sitting parked and unused all day.
There is an Enterprise Rent-a-Car within a 15-minute walk from us. There are several active car sharing programs around, about every five to ten blocks. Not to mention three robust bus routes within a few blocks too that will take you up and down the town. There is no shortage of short term leasing options.
It’s not always the amenities that aren’t there, it’s also because people simply aren’t willing to make the change of giving up their convenient, yet pocketbook saddling, automobiles.
To make it clear, I DON’T guilt people for owning cars at all.
There are going to be days where the public bus will smell like feet. Or it comes twenty minutes late on the day you have an important appointment. There are a few days a year where it’s raining so hard you have to shell out twenty five dollars to rent a car.
Cars are awesome because you get more control over your own schedule. If you wait for the bus, you are on the bus drivers schedule and all the passengers that share the route.
The car-free lifestyle will suck on occasions. But my husband and I are made of thicker material than that. We’re don’t need our own metal carriage all the time just because water is falling from the sky. We might not always get a seat on the bus but that’s why we were given legs.
That $500 dollars PER month we save from living car-free makes it more than worth it. We want to save our money, grow it, and STOP working many, many years sooner.
Making Car Ownership Less Expensive
There are lots of ways you can make full-time money with your car if your budget’s bottom line is lean. It can take the financial load off car ownership as long as you have a functioning automobile, but cars are still expensive.
I typed in why cars are so expensive into Google and the conclusion of the very top result about why cars are expensive:
“The reason why today’s cars are so expensive is that they’re good enough that people will strain and strive to pay for them. In short, they’re worth it.”
How is that for a depressing answer? Good enough for what? The environmental repercussions? Stagnant traffic of wasted fuel and time? The backward infrastructure? The predatory lending that dealers use to target at-risk populations?
This is the crazy obsession that permeates a good portion of us. But I know not everyone loves their cars! Plenty of people think of them as unfortunate necessary leeches on the budget. I totally get that.
If you are privileged enough – some employers offer buses for their employees directly but that’s beyond rare for the lucky few.
For the normal people, going car-free means hour long commutes plus multiple bus transfers every day just to get to work. That’s the modern working norm.
Even with a car, gas is expensive, maintenance is costly, and roughly 107 million Americans have to take out loans to buy a car.
Cars are expensive, wasteful, and yet so very popular for all the wrong reasons.
How Cars Got Us Here
We got here because the U.S. government and ideals of the decades past did not incentivize proper urban (and suburban) planning. Living with constant separation and segregation of things is what we have today.
American infrastructure is a mess. Our highways and freeways are in shoddy condition. Streets and roads are expensive to maintain from a taxpayer perspective too: about two trillion dollars worth of repairs are expected in just the next ten years.
The Boomers wanted affordable 5 bedroom, 3,000 square foot McMansions. They wanted more and more things to put in those McMansions. So they built outwards.
Per our personal example, in the mega-chain malls — we have a Home Depot and Costco in the middle of nowhere, which is right next door to each other BUT you must have a car in order to go from one building to another because they build thigh-high barriers in between the stores.
“It’s the American way!” joked my husband.
He has long been desensitized to this craziness growing up in a hyper-typical American suburb. It bothers me that this doesn’t bother most people – this is weird — it is WEIRD!
We were driving in a rental car, waiting at a freeway stop light for three minutes to go the store next door when we could have simply walked over in about thirty seconds if it was actually allowed.
Why isn’t it allowed? Why would you build a sealed five foot cement barricade around the entirety of each store?
Cars Make Us Fat…and Polluted
Cars are a necessary evil and not everyone can always afford “the costs.” The real costs go beyond just financing too, what about our overall exercise and body health? The average American gets in less than 4,000 steps a day! Living car-free lands my husband and I about 10,000 steps a day. Add that daily difference up, in a year, you will see a very different health report.
Cars are a costly frill that is made necessary to so many Americans who could have otherwise saved that money instead of spending it on gas…and then pumping it out onto poor Momma Earth….which we all inhabit…and so far, no backup planet yet. We’re lousy tenants on this planet.
Conclusion (Though I Can Rant Forever)
See, I told Angela that I was going to have a very uncomfortable rant. Everybody is allowed to have a pet peeve and owning a car is mine.
I just don’t understand lose-lose-lose-lose situations and why going car-free still raises eyebrows.
Car SHARING should have been an early and more established initiative from the get-go but company profits demanded Americans to BUY more cars.
And accessories…how many Americans actually need 3-car garages?
But help bring small changes to what is ingrained into our culture makes me happy. Things are getting better, although not at enough of a pace. Modern city planning today is definitely more sensitive to walkability, transitbility, car sharing etc. so we are seeing a hopeful positive change for our kids.
People are becoming more conscious about their food sources, animal welfare, and proper chemical pesticide regulations. I hope an automobile revolution is to be next.
We are creating a more popular model than the suburban isolation from the 70s, 80s, and 90s models. There’s a focus towards “mini urban village/hub” styles and the tune-in on connectivity I hope will make primary car-ownerships obsolete someday.
If you view car ownership as a contribution to a necessary social evil (like I do) I always encourage public transit or carpooling to minimize the impact.
I walk to the bus in snow and rain happily (stubbornly) because I consider my action as a “personal” picket sign against what I believe is incorrect. As long as I feel like I’m doing the “right” thing, moving my feet a little more isn’t going to bother me.
– Lily, Merry For Money