Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Money Crashers: Can You Live Without a Car?

About a year after Brian and I got married, I sold my car and we became a one-car family. It was a pretty easy decision for us, since my car had been sitting mostly unused throughout that year. I was working from home by them, so I didn't need it for commuting; it was only trotted out for the occasional trip to the store or the doctor's office during the day. And since Brian was only using his car to get to work when the weather was too bad for bike riding, most of the time I could just take that car if I happened to need one.

So for the past eleven years or so, not only have we limited ourselves to one car, but that one has spent a lot of time just sitting in the driveway. Brian rides his bike to work whenever the weather allows, and I do most of my errands during the day on foot. Even when the car is available, I generally prefer to walk if I can, because I enjoy walking a lot more than driving (and worse still, parking) in city traffic.

And yet we've never seriously considered the idea of dumping the one car we have and going completely car-free. Every time we think about it, it quickly becomes obvious that there are just too many places we can't easily get to without a car. We could, in theory, take a bus or a train down to Princeton every week for dance practice instead of driving (though we would no longer be able to run other errands en route, and even shopping in town would be a lot more difficult). And we could fly to Indiana to visit his family every Christmas, though it would be both expensive and stressful. But there's literally no way we could get to my parents' house from ours without a car. It's too far to go by bike, and the roads aren't that safe for cycling anyway—and the nearest bus and train stations are miles away from where they live. Theoretically, I guess, we could take a cab (or an Uber), but it wouldn't be very convenient, and it would probably end up costing us more per year than our paid-off car does.

So living without a car just doesn't work for us. But that doesn't mean that it couldn't work for you.

In my latest article for Money Crashers, I explore the topic of car-free living in detail. I talk about the pros and cons of a car-free life and examine the various alternatives to car ownership, including foot power (walking, cycling, and in-line skates), public transportation, and using cars that belong to other people (through carpooling, taxis, ride sharing, car sharing, and rentals). Then I offer a step-by-step guide to crunching the numbers so you can figure out whether you could reasonably replace your car with some combination of these alternatives.

Perhaps you'll find, as we did, that the answer is no—and that's okay. The point is to get a clear idea of how your life could look without a car, so you can make an informed decision.

But on the other hand, maybe after looking at all the alternatives, you'll realize that living without a car really is the best option for you. In that case, count yourself lucky. By giving up your car, you can save lots of money, improve your health by exercising more, and reduce your stress levels by driving less. And, of course, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you've personally lopped a big chunk off your personal carbon footprint.

As MasterCard would put it: "New bicycle: $500. Bike lock: $30. Helmet: $20. Being able to tell people you don't own a car: Priceless."

Can You Live Without a Car? – Cost Savings, Benefits & Alternatives
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