For those of us who grew up in the ‘burbs, the idea of living without a car seems as foreign as driving on the opposite side of the road. How will you haul home groceries? How will you get to work?
For many Millennials, especially now that we’re buying suburban homes and having kids (or buying homes because of our dogs), a car will make your life a lot easier. But if you live in a relatively walkable area and are able to take public transit or walk to work, consider becoming a zero-car or one-car household.
I’ve bought and sold two cars and have been car-free since moving to Austin a few years ago. I don’t plan on being car-free forever, but freeing up cash each month that would have been poured into a car has been amazing. I was able to afford a nicer apartment in a more central area, so I get to walk a lot! (I generally log 10,000 steps in my FitBit daily.)
Going Car-Free Is Good for Your Wallet
Ditching one car could save you around $700 per month (that’s nearly $9,000 a year!). That extra money could go toward so many other expenses — retirement savings, an emergency fund, travel, or even the slightly higher cost of living in a more walkable area.
The expense of car ownership goes well beyond paying for the car itself. You’re on the hook for gas, insurance, maintenance, repairs, and parking. Don’t forget to add depreciation to that list — cars lose 20-30% of their value in the first year.
Not to mention the time it takes to get your car fixed, circle around for parking, or sit in traffic. Time is money, too!
Going Car-Free Is Good for Your Health
Studies show that a 10-mile driving commute (one way) can result in higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lower cardiovascular fitness and sleep quality, and increased back and neck pain. Your happiness level also takes a dive.
If you have the option to take public transit instead, you can use that time to read or zone out, which you can’t do while driving. People who take public transit experience lots of health benefits, too.
If you live close enough to the office to walk to bike, it’s even easier to squeeze a workout into your daily routine. You might even be able to cancel your gym membership!
What if You Need a Car?
For many people, the reality is that their household would benefit from having access to a car. But there are still things you can do to lower your car usage and save money on transportation costs.
If going car-free just isn’t possible for you, temporarily test out altering your routine so that you only use one of your cars. Carpool with your spouse or partner, and readjust when you run errands. Challenge yourselves to leave one car in the driveway for a week or two.
Sharing a car involves a lot more communication so one of you isn’t trapped at home or left without a ride, but it can be done! Even if you end up using one car daily and your other car weekly, you’re saving money on gas and maintenance on your less-used car.
One way to make going car-lite easier is to get a scooter! If most of your trips are within five miles or so, you can get there quickly (and in style). Scooters cost significantly less than cars and don’t use as much gas. Bear in mind that different states have different safety laws regarding scooters and mopeds.
Use Ride-Hailing Services
Sometimes relying on Lyft is more cost-effective than driving your own car. If you’re trying to cut down on using your car but don’t live within walking distance of much, hailing a ride can be a real help.
Car-sharing services like Zipcar and Car2Go allow you to access a car when you need it, and not pay for it when you don’t. If you only need a car a few times a year, this could be a cost-effective option.
Mix Driving With Walking and Transit
Park further away from your destination so you can still get some walks in. You can also park at the train station closest to your home and use public transit for the bulk of your commute. You’ll save on gas and avoid paying for parking at your office. Some companies even have commuter benefits that allow you to pay for train fare in pre-tax dollars.
Delay a Car Purchase as Long as Possible
If you’re considering a move from a city to a suburb, you might think you need to buy two cars immediately: try waiting a bit! Maybe buy one car and see how sharing it goes for a few months before you buy the second car. Any amount of time you delay making such a large purchase allows you to save up more money and reassess what you actually need.
Pro Tip: If you know you’re going to need a new car in the future, but you’re not sure when, set up a savings account now earmarked for a “Car Purchase” along with a monthly contribution. If you start saving now, you could pay cash for your next car purchase.