Is car ownership part of your plan? Mrs. Frugalwoods shares a few things to think about when deciding if your lifestyle requires your own vehicle.
I’ve had no car, two cars, even shared cars over the years, and now understand that car ownership isn’t static. Different life circumstances require different setups, especially when it comes to vehicles. This flexible mindset has saved me loads of dough over the years. From ultra-urban to ultra-rural and from single to married with a kid and a dog, my life’s changes all impacted my car status. When it comes to cars, here’s what I take into consideration:
I always look at the prevalence and availability of other transit options near my home. When my husband and I lived in Washington, D.C., for example, we were a short distance to the Metro, the bus system, and could walk just about anywhere else we needed to go. In a densely populated urban environment, going car-less is entirely feasible. And while public transit costs money, it’s typically far less than the repeated monthly expenses of a car payment, insurance, and gas.
Car Share Services
While living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we had a Zipcar membership. Although we didn’t feel the need to own a car full-time, having the option to grab a car here and there was ideal for errands (especially grocery shopping). Since Zipcar had several locations close to our apartment, it was also extremely convenient.
When I lived in New York City, taxis and ride services like Uber and Lyft were perfect solutions to the rare occasions when taking the subway or walking just wasn’t going to cut it. Use them sparingly, though: Using a ride service is far too expensive for a daily commute.
Biking and Walking
In Cambridge, my husband biked to work every day, so we didn’t need for a second car. Bike commuting involved some start-up costs—bike, helmet, reliable lock, and lights—but it ended up being extremely frugal long term, and enabled us to maintain a one-car household for many years. While living in cities, we also found commuting by foot turned routine errands into exercise and gave us a chance to enjoy the city. Walking and biking evolved into hobbies for my husband and me and became more than just a means of getting from point A to B.
The Burden Of Car Ownership
In any given place, there’s usually a correlation between the abundance of alternative transit options and hassles associated with owning a car. For example, parking can be a real challenge. We didn’t have a garage or designated parking spot, so we had to jockey with our neighbors for coveted street spaces. Plus, we had to pay for a city parking pass. Then, we also had to move our car on street cleaning days and during snow emergencies. And because we lacked a garage or driveway, we weren’t able to perform our own car repairs or even change our oil. Vehicle damage is another danger for city car owners. We drove a somewhat decrepit 19-year-old minivan, which passing vehicles on our one-way street frequently dinged and dented. We never worried about those extra blemishes, but if we’d owned a newer car, it might have been an issue. Although we made it work, owning a car in the city was fairly stressful.
Over the years, our lives changed and we reconsidered our transit choices. In D.C., for example, we started hiking, and needed a car to access trails and mountain ranges. It was a trade-off, but when we were unable to hike because we didn’t own a car, it was time for a change. We kept costs down by only using it for out-of-town trips to hike, and not on our daily commutes. Once we got a car, we also dropped our Zipcar membership and drove our own vehicle for our once-a-week grocery trek. Then, we had our first child. Before we became parents, not owning a car was a slight inconvenience. But after having a baby, the ease and comfort of driving our own car became important. As a new mom, I was able to travel easily to baby playgroups and run errands with my infant. Without my own car, I doubt I would have been so adventurous. I was deeply grateful for our car, especially during the early weeks and months of our daughter’s life.
Going From Zero To Two Cars
While hiking and a baby were both factors in getting our first car, our move to the country sealed our status as a two-car family. Earlier this year, my husband and I realized our dream of leaving the city and moving to a 66-acre homestead in central Vermont. With this move came the loss of any and all public transportation. We absolutely love our rural life, but it lacks the ability to walk, bike, or utilize public transit. Car ownership is mandatory if you want to leave home. Although we were reluctant to buy a second car, it became a matter of safety and convenience in our new life. Since my husband sometimes uses our car for work, we needed a second one for my daughter and me to use when he’s on the road. As long-distance driving is common in rural life, our second car is a used hybrid to save on gas and reduce our carbon footprint.
Calibrate Your Car to Your Lifestyle
By assessing our lifestyle needs—and seeking out non-car alternatives wherever possible—my husband and I have saved thousands in transportation-related dollars over the years. And by purchasing used cars in cash, we’ve never had a car payment. Consider local alternatives to car ownership, and you’ll save money until you determine you need your own car.
Mrs. Frugalwoods writes at frugalwoods.com about her journey to financial independence by age 33 and a homestead in the woods with her husband, daughter, and greyhound Frugal Hound.
Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.
While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.