5/6/2011 1:01 PM ET|
Save $10,000: Go car-free
Gas prices are rising again. Going car-free might be easier than you think. How does saving $7,000 to $12,000 a year sound?
When I got rid of my car almost two years ago, I wondered if I would miss it. Surprisingly, I don't.
Another thing I don't miss? Watching gas prices creep back up.
I gave the Chevy Cavalier to my daughter and her husband for their move to Phoenix. Abby has a chronic illness and I couldn't stand the idea of her waiting for a bus in 115-degree heat. To me, the decision was simple: She's sick, I'm not. So I handed over the title and keys, asking only that they remember this when picking out my nursing home.
Going car-free would be good for me, I figured. Obviously I'd save money on auto insurance, registration, gas and related costs. I'd get more exercise. Best of all, I would no longer have to worry about maintenance, parking hassles or cleaning bird poop off the windshield.
Not that I wasn't apprehensive. How much time would walking or riding the bus steal from my already crowded days? Would hunting down good bargains be possible without the ability to drive from store to store - and if not, would my frugal lifestyle be compromised?
After 21 months, I'm happy with my decision. I feel better, for one -- I've lost weight, and walking has been a great stress reliever. The exercise produces endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that are not only legal, they're free.
More to the point, adding up my auto-related expenses during that final year of ownership was quite a shock. Having a vehicle is the biggest single expense in many people's lives. Dropping it can have a huge impact on the bottom line.
Ditching the wheels isn't for everyone; more on that later. But if you're considering going car-free even some of the time - and I suggest that you do - then read on.
Initially I'd thought about buying a replacement auto. But I live 1.3 miles from most of the services I need - library, post office, supermarket, bank - and near several bus lines that will take me anywhere else. So why did I think I needed a vehicle?
Saving $600 to $1,000 a month
Ads that trumpet "Only $199 a month!" aren't telling the full story. The American Automobile Association does an annual car-ownership cost study based on seven points: fuel, tires, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, license/registration/taxes and financing. Here are AAA's most recent per-year costs:
- Small sedan: $7,619
- Medium sedan: $9,717
- Large sedan: $14,241
- Minivan: $10,716
- 4WD sport utility vehicle: $12,598
Of course, these are just averages. Costs do vary - in either direction. Leadfoots and lousy drivers pay more for insurance. If you drive a vehicle for 250,000 miles (yes, you can make your car last that long) you'll have fewer car payments than those who trade up every three years. Those who neglect routine maintenance risk having small problems morph into expensive mega-breakdowns.
But I agree with the basic premise of Balish's book: It costs a lot more to own a car than you might think. Although I hadn't had a car payment since April 2004, I still paid out nearly $1,500 in auto-related expenses during my last year of ownership.
In her column "The real reason you're broke," Liz Weston notes that some middle-class families have two car payments of $400 to $500 apiece. With $800 to $1,000 due each and every month, "it doesn't take a major disaster, like a job loss, to send them over the edge."
The payments alone add up to $9,600 to $10,800 per year in that case. This doesn't include insurance, tags, fuel, oil changes, etc.
Look at those annual ownership numbers I mentioned. Divide them by 12. Think what an extra $634 to $1,049 a month could do for your bottom line.
"If you're constantly broke and can't figure out why," Weston says, "the answer may be sitting in your driveway."
Walk softly, work steadily
When I ditched the vehicle, I got a $111 refund from my insurance company. Theoretically I was also saving an average of $41 per month on fuel and oil. Initially I spent all that money (and then some) because an old case of plantar fasciitis flared up in a big way. Sturdy walking shoes and custom-fitted arch supports took away the pain and, as a bonus, improved my posture.
The arch supports are almost two years old and still working their magic; this was money well-spent. I wait until my favorite shoes (Rockports, if you care) are on sale and buy them through a cash-back shopping site for additional savings.
My best guess is that I walk at least 1½ miles a day - occasionally less, often a lot more. Much of that perambulation is around my neighborhood on errands to the supermarket, library, post office or bank. In other words, the places I'd be tempted to drive to if I still had a car, even though some of them are less than a mile away. Generally, I look at this as multitasking: doing errands and exercising at the same time. When pressed for time or not feeling well, I sometimes take the bus.
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You'll ride the bus with nut cases and criminals...probably get mugged walking to work. Blame the collusion between government, car dealers, insurance companies and oil companies for our lack of an effective mass transit network.
But for those who think it can work for them, another option for when you need to rent a car is that many airline mile programs (as well as various credit card point programs) let you use your miles for free or deeply discounted car rentals.
Cities like Arlington, Va. are getting on board with going car-free, holding contests for those who share their experiences when going car-free for 30 days. Check out "Car-Free Kyle" on Facebook; his blogs are a hoot!
I've since moved to Arlington, and just calculated the cost and time to get to work. It would be 1.5 hours, rather than my current 35 minute commute, and cost more for the commute than I currently pay in gas, which doesn't make sense.
I completely agree that being car-free works for a good number of people, and Donna readily acknowledged that it doesn't work for everyone. I think the article is a good reminder that, depending on your situation, it's not necessarily a NECESSITY to have a car, but rather a convenience.
Occasionally, I take a cab. Last time I took one, I had to get downtown quickly. It was about $28, then I took a bus home. That was two months ago.
Car insurance would cost me at least $50 month, plus gas and car maintenance.
Sometime I take a cab home from a place nearby, if I have a heavy load, and don't want to get off the bus and walk into my apartment complex. It's about $7. I've not done it in about 3 months.
I can get on the bus and go all over town, then take a bus as close to home as possible and call a $7 cab home.
There are also alternative drivers who advertise about half cab rates in Craigslist. Sometimes I have used on of them
I might get a scooter.
If I ever really need a car, I can rent one for a day.
My biggest need is I am a diet colaholic. I usually drink 2 liter drinks. I can get 4 in a luggage carrier. Still heavy.
But, I bought a Sodastream machine a few months ago and am occasionally using it. It comes out to about the same cost, really.
However, I am experimenting with slow fermentation with about 4 tablespoons of sugar in a 2 liter bottle, then adding the Sodastream Sodamix diet stuff. I've occasionally done it a few times, but it's slow. Nevertheless, the big bottles will eventually ferment. The sugar turns to carbonation. If you drink real sugared soda, use more sugar and the fermentation is faster.
The other thing is to get heavy stuff delivered. I just had a refurb computer delivered from a local computer dealer about 20 miles away. Delivery was about $12, a lot cheaper than car rental.
Plan your larger purchases carefully, and spend enuf at places like Target, Walgreens, & CVS online to get free shipping. Wal-Mart (yukk!) seldom has free shipping, but the rates are low.
I had a $35 heater delivered free from Home Depot back in December. They occasionally run free delivery on selected items, but you usually have to spend $250 to get free delivery.
These are ways to cut your transportation expenses, still get what you need, and have more time for yourself!
Our recent ancestors loved the Wells Fargo deliveries. We are partially going back in time, with ebay, etc., and it's good.
Fine article, Donna.
While we cannot live without our car we do save more of the daily, take-it-for-granted car appointments for just a single (or double) day filled with those trips.
As someone once told me, "A lot of little animals make a big pile of manure."
Savings is savings.
This is a good article. In the past year my household has become a 1 car family. If you decide to get rid of your car or go down to 1 car this is a life style change, (for us a better change) it is something to think about before doing, like the article said it's not for everyone. I do walk a lot and have invested in a great pair of shoes with arch supports (very important) and a shopping bag with wheels for those days I need to go to the store for something.
Your post, unfortunately, is just one big straw man. Of course you "need" a car. You made the choice to live 30 miles from your job. Have you ever considered NOT driving 60 miles a day to get to work? Granted, it's not possible for everyone to live close to their job. Some people hate the city, others buy a home, then find a job. That said, if you're really four miles from the nearest bus stop, you're probably way out in the exurbs--a potentially needless sprawl which is yet another happy byproduct of our fixation with the car. I don't know your situation and for all I know you have no choice. But a lot of people do. You don't always need a car.
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