Is Your Car Making You Poor? 8 Alternatives That Won’t Cost You Your Sanity

It’s been six months since I sold my car. The registration tags were expired, there was a gas leak and the air conditioning hadn’t worked for years. As I walked away from my VW Cabrio six months ago, I felt surprisingly free, but also scared. There were no more unexpected $500 repairs or $70 monthly insurance payments. But mindless errands and simple drives to my friends’ houses had ended as well. Instead, I had entered a new frontier: car-free living.

On average, Americans spend $8,698 per year on their cars. This year, my transportation costs will ring in at $900. That number includes 24 bus trips to Los Angeles from San Diego, the occasional Uber ride, three months of daily bus transportation to work and pitching for gas with friends and family.

In other words, my $900 a year ensures that I have a shockingly mobile life while saving $7,798. In 10 years, I’ll be $77,980 richer than my car-owning friends. My net worth will be nearly six figures higher simply because I do not own a car. Sure, it can be annoying to ride the bus home or bike massive hills on my commute to work. But the payoff of saving nearly $8,000 is so worth it.

But even beyond the savings, my car-free life has helped me become a more competent and confident person. I change buses with ease, bike past freeway entrances without fear and know that I am able to get myself anywhere I need to go without the assistance of a personal vehicle. It wasn’t until I ditched my car that I realized exactly how dependent on it I had become. At this point in my life, car ownership is not a priority.

When I first became car free, I thought riding the bus or biking were my only options. Although both have become staples in my transportation arsenal, they only comprise a small percentage of the modes of transportation I use. Whether you want to ditch your car altogether or simply cut down on usage to save some cash, the following alternatives will help you achieve your goals and save large sums of cash without going insane.

 

1. Biking

It can be physically demanding and slightly scary when you first begin, but it is the ultimate form of transportation for one reason alone: It’s free. Once you buy your bike, you never have to spend again.

When I bought my bike, I had no idea what I was looking for. After researching bikes for hours and thoroughly overwhelming myself, I decided to just take the plunge and do it. Two days later, I bought my first bike on Craigslist for $100.

Bike
My $100 wonder bike!

I started with a cheap bike because I wasn’t sure if I would like it. If you’re on the fence about biking, do not spend large sums of money on your first bike. Shop on Craigslist and aim to spend between $100 and $200. Once you decide you enjoy biking and have plans to continue, feel free to opt for a more expensive bike with a better set-up and re-sell your first bike back to a Craigslist beginner. For first-timers, 10-20 speeds will do.

The key to biking is simple: Just do it. Stay on the right side of the road, always use hand signals when you make a turn, wear a helmet no matter what and be prepared to sweat on hills. If you’re worried about getting lost, load Google Maps on your phone (choose the bike option) and put on your headphones. You’ll be guided every step of the way.

 

2. Ride Sharing

It may sound absurd, but I’m so grateful to live in a time when ride sharing services like Uber exist. Although I don’t use ride sharing apps that often, they provide me excellent peace of mind. No matter what happens or where I need to be, I know that I always have Uber as a back up. A personalizes pick-up is always 5 minutes away, and that’s a beautiful thing.

If you’re new to ride sharing apps like Uber, I cannot overstate how much they ease the transition from owning a car to becoming car-free. Even better, they offer excellent deals for first time users. If you’ve never used the apps before, I highly recommend downloading all of them and getting as many free rides as possible.

Uber: Uber’s services are wonderful. I’ve used Uber to go to appointments, meet friends and even move into a new apartment. Their customer service is excellent as well. A few months ago, I emailed to complain about a driver who was rude to me and they refunded me the entire ride within hours.

Lyft: Like Uber, Lyft is awesome. If you’re worried about safety, they tend to screen their drivers a bit more and I’ve even had female drivers (which is awesome, but relatively rare in ride sharing).

Sidecar: Sidecar is great because it lets you know the price of your ride before you get in the car. With the other apps, you get an “estimate” but depending on traffic (and the driver’s sense of direction…) it can become more expensive pretty quickly.

 

3. Public Transportation 

Growing up in American suburbs, public transportation was practically unheard of. When I was 19, I studied abroad in London and everything changed. I learned to navigate the Tube, read bus maps and jet to new cities on trains. But above all, I learned that public transportation is phenomenal. California’s public transportation system isn’t nearly as sophisticated as London’s, but it still gets the job done. Don’t discount the efficiency (and cheapness) of a good old-fashioned bus ride.

 

 Sunset views from the bus!
Sunset views from the bus!

 

4. Greyhounds

Two months ago I took my first Greyhound bus. I was prepared for questionable activities, loud passengers and gross smells. Instead, I was greeted with massive leather seats, outlets to charge my phone and silence. Greyhound buses are phenomenal and massively underrated. If you need to travel to a neighboring city, try a Greyhound. My round-trip journey from San Diego to Los Angeles costs $30, the same price I would pay for gas alone.

 

5. Car Sharing Companies

Zipcar and Car 2 Go are car sharing in its purest form. For ZipCar, the premise is simple. You pay a monthly membership fee of $7 and are given a Zipcard. When you’re ready to drive, you hop online (or on your phone) to find the car and location you want. After that, you go to the car, swipe your Zipcard and you’re good to go. There’s an hourly fee of $8 or a daily fee of $70. For short errands or quick trips, Zipcar is perfect.

The only downside to Zipcar is that you have to return the car to the location you got it from. There are rumors that they’re piloting a new system where you can return the ZipCar to any location, but for now it must be returned to the same place. For me, it’s super simple because I work at a university who has partnered with Zipcar, so three of the cars are permanently parked across the street from my office.

Car 2 Go is similar to Zipcar, but there are different kinds of restrictions. (And the cars are extra small!) With Car 2 Go, you can take the car anywhere and pay $0.41 per minute. (They have a significant discount for the first hour though.)

You can return the car anywhere you want but it must be within the Car 2 Go “city limits.” Because the city limits are defined by Car 2 Go, they typically include touristy parts of the city and might not include other parts. For San Diego, this means that I can’t park the Car 2 Go car near my job. It’s considered outside of the “city limits” even though it’s well within San Diego itself.

The best thing about Car 2 Go is that you can park it anywhere that is legal and you don’t have to pay for parking meters. Also, once you park the car, you stop being charged. This is great if you’re running errands or driving to a friend’s house. There’s no guarantee that someone else won’t snag the car while you’re in the store, but in my experience, the cars tend to stay put for a significant amount of time.

 

 

My family and friends enjoy teasing me for not owning a car, and although they’re joking, the truth is that it’s a major lifestyle adjustment. There are days I wish that I had a car. (Especially the day I got caught in the pouring rain on my bike ride to work and had to be rescued by my sister.) But ultimately, a car is not a priority right now. Aggressively paying off my loans, living in a beautiful apartment and traveling to see family are infinitely more important to me than the car ownership at this point in my life. (And if your priorities are different than mine, that’s okay too!) By utilizing the plethora of transportation options available to me, I manage to save $7,798 a year without sacrificing my sanity.

 

Would you ever sell your car to save $8,000 a year?

22 thoughts on “Is Your Car Making You Poor? 8 Alternatives That Won’t Cost You Your Sanity

  1. Maggie @ Northern Expenditure says:

    Mr. T does his share of bike commuting and bus riding, but with three kids going in all directions, I feel a lot safer financially and physically having a vehicle. Also, in Alaska, you really can’t explore cheaply by bike… unless you make it a several-week trip to get to Denali! But this is a great breakdown for a metro area. I’m pretty sure our situation is usually the exception rather than the rule up here! (Excellent content, as always)

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    1. Taylor says:

      Thanks, Maggie 🙂 I can totally imagine that kids (and Alaska!) change the game quite a bit and that it makes more sense to have a reliable car than ever before! I think my ideal would be to have a family car for when I have kids. My partner was gifted a Yaris so I’m planning to make that car last long enough that we can fill it’s small interior up with kids within the next ten years 😉 haha.

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  2. Sofia @ Currentlylovingsimplicity says:

    I’ve never owned a car (but I live in a big city in Europe, so being car-free is probably easier) and I don’t plan to, ever. By now, I’d be too scared to drive, I think. It’s been more than 1.5 years… But I’ve been biking pretty much everywhere for over a decade and it is the best. So great to get some fresh air before work/class, and a great way to destress and get some peace of mind on the way home.

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    1. Taylor says:

      Yay for another car-free blogger! 🙂 haha. My partner is British, so I’ve spent a lot of time in London and driving in a big European city seems TERRIFYING! hah. I completely agree about biking to work/class. Getting fresh air before (and after) being cooped up all day is probably one of the biggest benefits of ditching the car.

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  3. Our Next Life says:

    You’ll be richer than just the $77K thanks to compounding! 🙂

    I applaud you for making the brave choice to be carless, especially in SoCal, the car capital of the world! But as you said, you’re saving a ton of money and — I think this is important, too! — you’re opening yourself up to different experiences than the very limited ones you have when you’re sealed in your own little bubble (your own car).

    It’s especially great to know that you’ve had good Greyhound experiences! They don’t have a great reputation, as you know, but we’ve wondered!

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    1. Taylor says:

      Ahh, so true about the compound interest! Thanks for the support, you guys are the best 🙂 It’s true, people in Southern California LOVE their cars and are firmly convinced that public transpiration is totally incompetent. Luckily, that works out well for me because the buses are less crowded 😉 Greyhounds are awesome! If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend trying one.

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      1. Claudia @ Two Cup House says:

        This is hilarious. I went to Los Angeles for the first time at the end of October. Driving is impossible–I think a better description for what one does in a car in LA is “sitting.” Anyway, everyone said that public transportation in LA is terrible and having a car is an absolute necessity. When our leases are up Jan. 2017, we’re not replacing them. I’m convinced we can leverage the same methods you’ve mentioned to maintain a car-free life!

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      2. Taylor says:

        So much yes! Los Angeles is insane when it comes to driving. For the two years that I lived there, I barely ever drove even though I still owned my car. It was pretty pointless because like you said, driving in LA is effectively sitting in your car and hating life, haha. And even though people say that public transportation sucks, it’s completely not true! The buses and Metro are surprisingly effective (and cheap). Yay for becoming car-free in 2017! That’s so amazing. I can’t wait to hear how it goes 🙂

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  4. Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless says:

    Yes, yes, yes to all of this! I sold my car about four months after I moved from rural New Hampshire (where not owning a car would, I have to admit, be kind of crazy) to Boston (where owning a car just made no sense). Like you, I use a combination of other forms of transportation: biking, walking, taking the T (subway/bus), and very occasionally an Uber. I have to say, in addition to the financial and health benefits you’ve outlined (which are substantial!), I actually get a lot out of these other forms of transportation in terms of the people-watching value and, in a strange way, feeling like I’m more connected with other people. There’s something about walking along the sidewalk with other human beings, or making room for someone on the subway, or even pulling up to a red light alongside another biker, that I simply never experienced when I was traveling inside my little temperature-controlled fortress of solitude.
    The only thing I do miss is listening to the radio in the car, and singing along…that was fun. 🙂

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    1. Taylor says:

      Yay! My car free companion 🙂 haha. I’ve heard that Boston transportation is pretty awesome! It’s always nice to know other women who don’t own cars and I agree SO much about connecting with other people. I can’t believe I didn’t mention that in the article to be honest. It’s one of my favorite things about not owning a car. I feel much more connected to my neighbor, my city and other humans. I felt that so intensely when I was in London and it’s been nice to experience it in my own country as well. I also love it because I get time to appreciate the beauty of San Diego! (which can be hard to find time for when you work inside all day…) But I second the singing in the car. Whenever I borrow my partner’s car, the first thing I do is crank up the music and sing 😉 haha

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  5. Lance @ HealthyWealthyIncome says:

    My favorite car is a paid off car. My car is 11 years old and has 203,000 miles on it. I just had to get the first major repair on it last week for $600. It has done so well. My wife’s car is 9 years old and runs great. We had them paid off the day we bought them. Our challenge was finding an affordable place vs. driving. We chose the affordable place for our house because it saved us $100k on the house. I have to drive 10 extra miles to work now. However before we bought we were huge on others modes of transportation. Biking is what helped me stay debt free out of college. I’m glad you published the number that the average person spends each year. Most folks never add it up and it is shocking. Way to go!

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    1. Taylor says:

      Thanks, Lance! I’m so glad to hear that both your cars are doing well. Did you buy the cars new or used? It sounds like your housing decision were made with careful consideration (and math). 10 extra miles seems like a small price to pay for an additional $100k. Yay for biking! It’s a tough workout when hills are involved, but it’s also so worth it for the workout and money saved. I loved reading your post about home buying today. I might have to come to you for advice when I closer to the time of buying 😉 haha.

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  6. Jim Wang says:

    It sounds like getting rid of your car is a no-brainer, especially given all the trouble you seemed to have with it (or feared having). We still have two and are debating moving to just one, it’s tough in the suburbs to go with just one car and have two kids. 🙂

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    1. Taylor says:

      Thanks, Jim! 🙂 Yeah, my car had a lot of problems, but psychologically still provided a level of comfort. So it was surprisingly difficult to part with it. But like you said, in reality, it was a no brainer and the money I’ve been able to save has been awesome. Especially while I’m aggressively paying back student loans.

      Yeah, I can imagine that kids change the equation, especially when they are young. Interestingly enough, I recently discovered a ride sharing service called Shuddle that is designed for parents and kids. All the drivers have intensive background checks, the parents can watch the ride from their phone and they receive a notification when their kid arrives safely. I don’t have any kids so I can’t attest to the effectiveness but I thought it was super interesting and might be a good alternative for some parents in the future!

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  7. Alyssa says:

    Are you kidding? OF COURSE I would sell my car if I could save $8000 per year. Right now my vehicle is under $3000 a year for gas, insurance, registration, and maintenance. So I think I’m on the right track. My fiancé also just got a new job about 5 minutes away from my work so we can start carpooling in December to save even more on gas money.

    $100 bike is the way to go. That’s how much mine cost and it was worth every penny. Some of my friends have spent over $1000 on a bike and only ride 5-10x a year.

    Congratulations on taking this plunge! Sounds like you made the right decision for you, and saving $8grand in the mean time is an added bonus 🙂

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    1. Taylor says:

      I know, it’s so crazy how much the average car can cost! $3000/year sounds totally reasonable to be honest, especially for the extra ease and convenience. (Not gonna lie, the bus can be annoying at times, haha) Yay for carpooling next month! I’m sure you’ll start saving even more.

      & YES! I know tons of the $1000 bike people who only use it a few times per year. Total insanity. $100 bikes for the win 😉

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  8. Tawcan says:

    Sounds like getting rid of your car is a no brainer for you. The money saved will compound and provide you with even more money in the future. We live in the suburb where things are far to get to without a car. Having said that, we only have one car in our house and we try to walk and use public transportation as much as we can.

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    1. Taylor says:

      Thanks, Tawcan! 🙂 I think a one car household is the best of best worlds to be honest. You get to save tons of money by not having a second car, but you also get all the perks of having one! That’s awesome that you walk and take public transportation even though you have the car. I’m sure that saves so much money over the years!

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  9. Michelle says:

    We’re currently almost full-time in an RV and we are thinking about getting rid of our car. We’ve been riding our bikes or walking nearly everywhere we go but we’re just not sure if we want to get rid of our only easy form of transportation (the RV doesn’t really count because it’s pretty stressful to drive and can’t fit everywhere). We’re about 50% there! haha

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    1. Taylor says:

      Hi Michelle 🙂 Ahhh, that seems like quite the debate. I think with RVing, I would be super tempted to keep the car because you never know where you’re headed or what it will be like when you get there. But maybe I’m just a nervous traveller 😉 haha. I do think it would be super doable though and probably just require a lot more planning around grocery store visits, etc. Can’t wait to hear what you decide! Also, thank you for stopping by! I’m a huge fan of your writing and blog 🙂

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  10. Gokhan Degirmenci says:

    I’m so happy to learn that I’m not the only person who thinks this way, and who also thinks that everyone else is crazy. My mantra has always been, “Live close to where you work or work close to where you live”. It’s that simple. Even if you have children it’s that simple. The cost of operating a vehicle is one part of the equation. The other part of the equation is that YOUR time is valuable. Calculate the number of hours per week that you spend commuting and multiply by your hourly rate to find out how much more your commute is costing you, in addition to the vehicle.

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  11. Andrew Spencer says:

    I think car sharing is a good one. But, you need to determine your route and schedule in detail, establishing a safe morning pick-up point and designate a convenient place to meet for the trip home. 🙂

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