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
51 thoughts on “The Anti-Car Family (Guest Post By Merry For Money)”
here’s comes lily, charging in full speed ahead! our cars have been paid off for years and i estimate they still cost about 285/month. insurance is almost half of that. i could do a 10,000 word rant on filthy dirty insurance thievery. we live in a very walkable neighborhood but i need a car to commute to work. freezer winter temps and snow cause this need. thankfully i rarely drive anywhere except to/from work.
Yikes, why is your car insurance still so expensive?? We don’t pay near that much, but we do have USAA which really keeps the price down.
we had usaa until a few years ago. they must steal a lot of cars in buffalo. it’s around 125/mo for 2 cars. i remember when i moved here from a very safe/nice place across the state mine went way up about 17 years ago.
Yeah, I know some areas are waaaaay higher in terms of insurance. I have family in Detroit and their insurance costs are crazy high.
Hahaha my rant guns ablazing!! Is Metromile available in your area Freddy? If you drive less than 10,000 miles a year it’s worth it to pay by the mile instead of regular insurance with tgeir magical scam formula. I’D LOVE to hear about that insurance rant. I love those!!!!
I think it’s great that you can go without a car. Living in a small town, everything is within walking distance and we do try our best to walk to where we need to go as often as possible. However, there are time when we need a car. Living in Northern Ontario the winters are extremely cold, so walking during those months isn’t an option and the commute to work for my husband is 50 kilometers so that’s also not walkable. I think it would be nice to one day not need a car, but for now it’s a necessary expense for us.
Yeah, your winters are nuts. I definitely think even those of us who do have cars can do a much better job using alternate methods of transportation a decent amount of the time – which it sounds like you do as well 🙂
Ooof understable. Our winters are mild and we don’t have snow too often. It’s also still a city so in a pinch you can order grocery delivery within a 2 hour window, something I take for granted.
Hmm oh yeah, no salting/sanding roads probably factors quite a bit into our cheap insurance out here.
We live in a similar city with good public transportation, but we still need a car. I drive my son to school, soccer games, and various activities.
We only have one car so that’s better than a lot of households.
Once our kid is grown up, then we probably won’t need a car anymore. Hopefully, self driving car will be available then and we can do more ridesharing. I enjoy taking a road trip once in a while too. I guess we could rent for that.
One car is still a heck of a lot better than two (or more). And I agree – even where we live now I could get by without a car if I didn’t have a kid.
I’m headbanging hard over here!!! I have a pet peeve with friends that tell me they ‘need’ their car while it also sits there unused for months at a time…this usually coincides with them complaining about not having money to do X *facepalm*. We are incredibly lucky that we had the opportunity to design our life around being carfree. It seems like the usual order of decisions is 1. My work is here 2. I *want* to live here so to bridge that gap I need a car. Instead we chose where we live based on where we had to go (work for a time until we started working from home and walking distance to downtown Seattle). If you flip the decision making it can help a lot. Thank you for writing this rant. You eloquently expressed what’s in my heart.
Yeah, like so many things, people make the default decision without actually stepping back and looking at all angles. In your shoes I would absolutely not own a car.
This post is awesome and inspiring! We have worked hard to reduce the amount we drive by walking to and from school, bike commuting to work some of the time (about half the time), biking to soccer games and walking on the rare occasions we go out to eat. The biggest issue where we live is that the bike situation in my community is very unsafe. For example, my daughter swims at the YMCA, 2 miles from our house. We should bike back and forth from practice every day. We have experimented with it on a weekend (less traffic to contend with) and walked bikes across at safer intersections but it is still so sketchy with no extra space for bikes. I’ve started attending local bike coalition meetings and hoping to help change things that way, but our car driving culture is so ridiculous and folks in their vehicles are such aggressive a-holes at times. If they were nicer, more people would ride bikes, and the traffic conditions would improve and be less stressful but we have such a mountain to overcome there. I’m hoping our collective efforts will start to make a dent! In the meantime, my little family will keep doing our part.
I love that you’re taking steps to change the biking situation locally! My city recently did some safety updates on the main hill to my house and it had made a SIGNIFICANT difference to how safe I feel running/biking that road.
Repping so hard on this Liz! The fight feels so fruitless some days. In the exact neighborhood we live in, there’s aren’t even sidewalks for us. Much less bike paths. I went to an urban planning meeting and was met with the most smug, uncaring, punchable city rep who cared nothing about improving infrastructure. Why would he? He doesn’t live in the area. He’s there only because the city had to send a minimum of one person to not be a joke.
Part of why I’m on the volunteer board I’m on (okay, actually two of them) – I get to have a larger impact on the cities I spend the most time in (and where my son will grow up).
We did make one other huge change – I bought a used 1st gen Nissan Leaf 3 1/2 years ago to experiment with having an electric car (and we have solar) so despite feeling disgust driving to the Y on a daily basis, I feel better because it’s in an electric vehicle. The range sucks and gets less over time and range anxiety is real. We try to drive the electric vehicle anywhere we can and my partner and I trade the cars back and forth trying to use the Leaf whenever possible and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. We even plan ahead to find chargers and though it can be a slight hassle at times, I find it meets our needs 90% of the time. I’m hoping those Chevy Bolts with much better range are cheap in 4 years!
Those Chevy Bolts are sooooo nice!!
Crap I stayed up until 3AM, crashed, just woke up and missed my FIRST COMMENT window 😂 wow this was such a rant. Thanks for letting me guest post Angela!!!!
When my husband and I have a baby in the next few years, we might have to fold. But we’ll see. It’ll be hard with multiple older kids, aging parents, and a dog. But I’ll be taken there dragged and screaming in rebellion!!
I don’t think replanning the city or infastrure is going to happen any time soon-soon so the next step seems to be affordable, driverless rentable cars :[
If anyone is in a comfy metro city, look into Metromile (cheaper insurance by the mile if you drive less than 10k kiles a year), and look into Wazepool to cut down on car costs. 🙂 For occasional use, Lyft has prepaid $300 for 30 car rides as a ride pass.
“Definitely a spot where she leaves me in the dust when it comes to environmentally – and financially – superior choices.”
Ohh my god can your newsletter be any more flattering and untrue 😂😂 I tried one of those zero waste months and my husband said I was doing it wrong 🤷
You completely missed the first comment window 😉
I keep meaning to look into metromile… I wonder if it would be cheaper than USAA? I should definitely talk to my mom about that too because she puts on MAYBE 3k miles a year.
And completely true! I have a car, you don’t. You win 😜
Father With Cents has a Metromile review (spoiler he loves it as a SF driver haha.)
It’s a flat $40/month fee and 5 pennies per mile. So *bad math* it could be around $600 vs the $1400 national average.
I’m not sure about bundles though, I know alot of people get their home and auto bundled for at a “discount.”
Hmmm. So then it starts more than what we pay for with USAA lol
Unfortunately we don’t have Metromile anymore and went back to Geico since we drive a more nowadays and they raised their rates for us because MwC had a car accident last year.
But I still recommend Metomile for those who drive less than 10k miles a year because it will definitely save some money for your car insurance. Like what Lily said, you can spend as low as around $600 a year.
I’m in a somewhat unique situations of having chronic fatigue, so I can’t just bike or walk rather than take the car. Or I could but I’d probably use up all of my energy for the day on that errand. Add to that Arizona’s insane summers and… Alas a car is a necessity for me to function. That said, I try to streamline my errands and keep said errands to a minimum, and I work from home so I don’t have to use the car every day. So that’s something. I hope.
That’s a big something! Just like everything else, there is no “one size fits all” approach. And I’m definitely careful not to only show an ableist perspective or one that works only for people with high incomes (some situations with low income earners require a car as well due to finding cheaper housing / shift work that doesn’t align with transit, etc).
Of course Abigail! I folded for a week when I had a heel infection, we def needed a rental car that week.
Oh I didn’t know you lived in Arizona!! I’ve layover in NM and Nevada before, it’s like going into an OVEN in the summer. It’s hard to imagine life without a car there. Pretty sure the sun is more dangerous at that level than I am to earth 😂
Amen to all of this. I think you saw my recent post on the insanity that America has created by focusing on cars with our zoning and infrastructure. And that insanity creates untold death and injury every year.
I’m glad you don’t drive if you tend to harm things. I wish others self-policed like you do 🙂
Lastly – “There are going to be days where the public bus will smell like feet.”. Such a Lily line.
Some day the United States will have a better transit system with better zoning… some day…
Yesssssssss I love that post of yours! I wish you wrote it before I wrote this so I could have quoted you!!!
Ya know, I know someone who has edit abilities in this post… 😉
I would really love to be car free and did a lot of public transit before we had BwC but with another baby on the way, having a car makes it much easier to get around places. We do try to minimize are driving by just have one car so we don’t to worry about spending extra for gas, insurance and cut down the smog.
What I would like to do when our kids gets older is ride our bikes more. There are so many people around SF using bikes nowadays that I wouldn’t be surprised that within the next 10-15 years you would see more commuters opt for biking than driving around the city.
I read a while back where Copenhagen now have more bicyclist than drivers so it would a nice if more major cities would be more bike friendly and that would mean more people thinking of driving less or not even owning a car at all
Yep, even fifteen years ago Copenhagen had 30% bike commuters! (And another 30% transit/pedestrian) Awesome and inspiring to see.
The modern attitude and design concepts towards urban planning needs to move back to putting people first and cars second. The zoning bylaw in so many places is that you must provide x number of parking spots or you can’t build. In our charming little community it is a weird mix of big parking lots even though it is an incredibly walkable town. We are trying to work our way back down to just one vehicle (our daughter drives as well and uses one) and will get there soon as I travel a fair bit for my freelance work and is a requirement.
As for being able to do this in small rural communities, well unfortunately I don’t see car free happening anytime soon even though I want us to shift our car usage immensely. I brought this up recently in a community group discussion and was challenged by many people, they did bring up good points but I am sure we can work through them.
It is SO hard to get communities on board for fewer parking spaces. Not impossible though – I should DM you about my day job some time 🙂
I still think over a good lunch would be the best way to chat 🙂 I can do a walk on for the Coho next time you plan to be in Port Angeles
Let’s make it happen!
I don’t have a car and when people give me that shocked look, I always just shrug my shoulders and say, “well, walking keeps me skinny.” Amongst other things, it forces me to exercise literally every day
I definitely have a heck of an easier time hitting my step goal on the days I leave my car at home.
Lol so true! That’s exactly what I say. And I say I average about 10,000+ steps a day which is 365,0000 steps a year (well over twice the amount of the average American.) I think this sort of stuff will pay off in the long term health wise.
As someone who does have a car some days are freaking HARD to hit my step count. It’s never a problem when I can leave the car at home 😄
I totally agree with your point that many people, especially in urban areas, do not need a car. This really shouldn’t be a huge issue and people should be accepting of this choice!
However, as you mentioned, a vast majority of America just isn’t equipped to handle people going without cars. I hope we can improve cities infrastructure in the future so that way going car-less is easier and more normalized!
We’re moving that’s way, at least!
Agreed; It’s going to be sooooooooooooooooo expensive 🙁
Having lived both car-minimal and car-dependent lifestyles, I can say that having the choice to have and use a car is a privilege. I loved only having one car and rarely using it when we lived in a major city with good public transportation. I’d walk my baby a mile and a half to the grocery store and haul back my groceries in the stroller basket/on my back. (A good urban stroller that is sturdy and folds up easily is a lifesaver.) Fast forward years later and now we have two cars, one of which we bought brand new (although it’s a Chevy Bolt, hooray for EVs). Living out in the middle of nowhere, we need our cars to haul trash, travel for work, and (God forbid) get to the rural clinic if we have a medical emergency. Car-optional life here would be possible, sure, but carries its own risks. There’s definitely a rural/urban divide angle to this car-free argument. If I were back in the city, I could be convinced to shed those cars and go back to walking and taking public transit.
Having the choice to have and use a car is absolutely a privilege! And to be honest, our state actually has better rural transit than most areas in the country. Still not easily doable to be totally car free out of the cities though.
You two are making me so jealous right now. 30%! Amazing.
Loved you use the word privilege, it really IS. Cars are a big expense monthly. But home prices are much higher in urban centers. But a home = appreciating asset. Car = liability. So that monthly difference adds up in opposite directions which divides the line bigger.
LILI, DON’T YOU TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH MY CAR!
I wish I lived somewhere that we could get away with having one or no cars. That just isn’t possible where we live. So far we have fought the urge to move out further and stay close to the city where I work. You definitely make a lot of good points and if incentives were different maybe we could get away with fewer cars. Great post!
(Please find it in your heart to forgive me.)