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.
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.
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.
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.