No Car No Problem

Life without wheels is good and I’ve saved a fortune.

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A little over a year ago, I ditched my car.

It’s a decision I’ve never regretted, and that’s saved us thousands of dollars.

You’ll probably be surprised to find that my wife and I don’t live in a pedestrian friendly big city crisscrossed by bus and train lines, such as New York or Chicago.

Our home is a medium sized southern city where the nearest subway station is 400 miles away — Nashville, Tennessee.

Yet I’ve found that it’s not a difficult place to live without a car or truck.

While only 7.7% of households are carless, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by Governing.com, Nashville averages 1.6 vehicles per household, below the national average of 1.8.

Indeed, my wife and I aren’t getting by without any vehicle. She still has her car.

But its main purpose is transportation to her workplace, which is outside of the city limits. It’s old, has over 210,000 miles on it, gives us very few problems and it’s paid off. In other words, it’s very cheap to own at this point.

We had no choice but to say goodbye to my 2004 Saturn Vue when it was totaled in an accident. (Fortunately, no one was hurt.)

Our options were either to buy a used car or to pocket the cash we received from the insurance settlement and do without.

 

We decided on the latter because:

  • We had just purchased a house, and the thought of spending even more money on a car made us sick to our stomachs.
  • We were able to split insurance settlement money between our Roth IRAs, making saving for retirement a little easier.
  • We had the opportunity to stash away cash and save thousands per year by not owning another vehicle.
  • We live within the city limits, I work from home and everything I need is nearby. I don’t really need a car. It was primarily a convenience.

 

How much is convenience worth?

Over the last year, we’ve saved approximately $3,000 by not owning a second vehicle.

That includes registration, insurance, gas, preventative maintenance and miscellaneous parking downtown.

Because it was an older vehicle, we also budgeted for an extra $500 in “wear-and-tear” maintenance items — worn shocks, tires – which we typically had to spend.

 

Here’s the breakdown:

  • $1,327 for gas
  • $978 for Insurance
  • $100 for preventative maintenance like oil changes
  • $500 for wear-and-tear maintenance
  • $81 to renew the license plate
  • $20 parking

If we had purchased a used car, we likely would have put down 20% and financed the rest.

For comparison, let’s say we financed a used vehicle that cost $20,000. We put down 20% ($4,000) and financed the rest for 36-months at the average used car loan rate of 5.21%.

Right now we’d be paying a principal and interest payment of about $481 per month on top of insurance, preventative maintenance, gas, registration and parking.

It totals up to about $8,400 a year, which is a lot of cash to shell out for a car that will sit in the driveway a majority of the time.

So instead we walk, bike, carpool and use ride services like Uber or Lyft.

On the occasions where we have to take a long trip, we rent. And when we rent, we find the cheapest deal possible on sites like Kayak.com, Priceline and Expedia.

No Car No Problem

Even if we rent a car for one weekend a month, or a full week every couple of months, we still come out ahead.

Nashville also has B-cycle (a bike sharing program) and public bus system. Plus, it’s a smaller city, so destinations aren’t that far apart.

If you live in the city and work close by, there’s really no reason to own a car other than convenience.

And that applies to a lot of cities … not just Nashville.

Kurt Woock at StreetsBlog Denver recently wrote about going carless in Denver and offered a great suggestion.

If you’re thinking about ditching your car, arrange all of the trips you take in a year into a pyramid.

Start by listing the most frequent trips at the bottom – probably trips like your commute.

Replace those with a different means of transportation first.

Then move up the pyramid and list out weekly trips. Replace those.

You’ll probably find that most of your trips, 75% even, are only to a few destinations and easily replaceable.

After that, spontaneous trips and long trips become easier to navigate without a car.

While it’s great that we’re saving cash by not owning another vehicle, the biggest benefits we see are non-monetary.

We do more in our community, get more exercise and I get to skip road-rage rush hour.

We’re also sending fewer emissions out into the ozone as a household – every little bit counts.

It takes some planning and creativity, but going carless is not impossible in a city. In fact, it’s pretty easy.

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