This guest post from Tammy Strobel is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes. Tammy blogs about simple living at RowdyKittens, and is the author of Simply Car-Free and Smalltopia: A Practical Guide to Working for Yourself.
Five years ago, my husband and I lived what most would consider a normal middle-class lifestyle. We were young professionals renting a large two-bedroom apartment in a suburb, had two cars, and $30,000 in debt (a majority of which came from student and car loans).
At the time, I worked in investment management and talked to clients about the importance of long-term investments, creating an emergency savings fund, paying off credit-card balances, and being aware of expenses. Yet, I wasn't doing these basic things in my own life. Something had to change. Our excess debt was creating too much anxiety and stress. Rather than spend so much time on the hedonic treadmill, we wanted to restructure our lives around solid relationships and community.
So, we decided to take a step back and reflect on our behavior and budget. One of our biggest expenses — other than rent — was our cars. We'd never seriously considered selling our cars until we analyzed the cost. The numbers were shocking! Car payments, interest, insurance, gas, and maintenance added up to a total of $10,000 per year.
I'd love to say that we sold our cars to benefit the environment, but the decision was based solely on our financial well-being. For us, it was the best way to pay off our debt quickly.
If you're able-bodied and live in a city, it's possible to go car-free. With that being said, going car-free in a rural area can be very difficult. However, it may be possible to sell one of your cars to save money.
To make our car-free transition easier, we decided to move closer to my work. We rented a small one-bedroom apartment about a mile from my office, and that decision allowed me to bike or walk to work.
If the idea of going car-free or car-lite appeals to you, consider the following.
Do a cost/benefit analysis
Even if you've paid off your car, do you really know the true cost?
American Automobile Association (AAA) puts out an awesome publication every year to help you assess the true cost of your car. The cost analysis will help you calculate the true cost of car ownership. These costs are direct costs to you as a car owner, but don't include the societal and health costs of owning a vehicle.
According to the AAA study, the average American spends over $9,000 a year to own a vehicle — that's about $750 per month. The figure includes car payments, insurance, gas, oil, car washes, registration fees and taxes, parking, tools and repairs.
Bikes at Work, Inc. points out that “car ownership costs are the second largest household expense in the U.S. In fact, the average household spends almost as much on their cars as they do on food and health care combined for their entire family.”
Talk to your partner
If you want to go car-free and have a partner, you need to talk with them about your idea. Not all couples will be able to find a car-free solution. Before discussing the idea, create a budget and a list of pros and cons. This wil help you discuss the proposal more effectively.
Take a test ride
If you don't want to do something as drastic as selling your car, try going car-free for a week — or a month. Park your car in the garage, and don't use it. And at the end of the test period, evaluate how you felt and whether or not living without a car is best for your life circumstance. Again, going car-free isn't for everyone, even some who really want to make it happen.
Consider health-care costs
Going car-free is a great way to get your move on, to keep your mind and body healthy. These economic benefits go beyond just vehicle costs. You can reduce your short-terms expenses by ditching your gym membership, and decrease your long-term health care costs by reducing your risk for heart disease.
By selling our cars, my husband and I gained a significant amount of financial freedom, improved our health and decreased our stress levels.
There are a lot of resources online that will help you go car-free, including:
- How to Live Well Without Owning a Car
- How to Bike Commute with a Baby
- How to Make Biking Mainstream: Lessons from the Dutch
I once considered car ownership a necessity; I “needed” a car to get to and from work. I never imagined that I'd be commuting by bike, going bike camping, and having so much fun without a car. Making the decision to structure our lives around biking and alternative forms of transportation has changed our lives.