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Go Carless (or Car-Lite): Strange Ways to Save Money

By , December 29th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Americans have a love of cars, so much so that there are 1.17 cars per licensed driver in this country. To talk to most people, a car is an absolute necessity, ranked right up there with food and shelter. To suggest that people go without a car is to incur some strange looks, laughter or outright scorn. Certainly cars are convenient and in some areas and for some jobs they are a necessity. But in more and more places it is becoming possible to live without a car and it’s an option you might want to consider, given the expense of owning a car.

Cars eat money. Not only do you have to buy the thing, there is insurance, gas, maintenance and repairs, parking fees (in some areas), taxes, and tag fees to consider. Not to mention that a car is a depreciating asset that will never earn you any money when you sell it. Cars also cause a lot of stress. There’s stress when they break down and leave you stuck in the middle of nowhere. There’s stress when you have to sit in traffic with nothing to do. There’s stress when you have to find the money for a repair. There’s stress when someone hits you (or vice versa) and you have to deal with the headaches. If you’re ready to chuck all the headaches and stop wasting money, here are some ideas:

Use public transportation: This is the most obvious way to do without a car. Buses, taxis, trains, van pools, and subways make it possible to get around without a car. Yes, you are subject to their schedule, but if you end up stuck in traffic you can read or work without worrying about hitting someone.

Rent when you need it: If you only need a car to get to far away places, you can simply rent a car for the days you need. Several rental agencies will now come out and pick you up and deliver you to the rental shop, eliminating the worry about how you will get the car.

Walk or bike: Using a bike or your feet kills two birds with one stone. It gets you where you need to go and you get your exercise in the process. You can also look into small scooters. While regulations vary, most can be used for in-town errands (if not on the highway) and carry much lower insurance, gas, and tag/tax costs than cars.

Carpool: If you want to reduce your car use, get into a carpool. You might only have to use your car one day a week when it’s your turn to drive. If you don’t have a car, you can still get into a carpool, just offer to contribute extra for gas or buy lunch for the drivers since you won’t be reciprocating by driving.

Car sharing: There are two approaches to car sharing. In many major cities there are programs where you can simply pick up a car from a designated lot, drive it for a couple of hours and then return it to another designated lot. You sign up ahead of time with the agency running the program and then you are allowed access to their cars. It’s much simpler than renting from a major agency and more cost effective. The other approach is to organize a car share amongst your friends, roommates, or neighbors. You can split the costs of the car among you and work out a schedule for who gets the car when.

Work from home and shop online: If you can find a job that allows you to work from home, you can get by without a car even if you don’t live in an area with great mass transit. Since you can do most of your shopping online, you can rent or borrow a car when you need it, or take care of things while you’re out with friends.

Make do with one car instead of two (or three) If you just can’t imagine life without a car, try getting by with just one. Sell the extras and figure out how to plan your life so you can get by with one car. It is possible, if you are willing to cut down on unnecessary trips and plan ahead.

I should note that these ideas can work for someone in a rural area, as well. I live in a rural area that’s about an hour from the city. We manage to get by with one car. I work from home most of the time, so I don’t need one during the day. My husband takes the car to his office. Occasionally I will ride with him and get dropped off if I have business in town that will take all day. If I have errands to run, I wait until the evening or the weekend, or ask my husband to pick things up on the way home. I can do most of my shopping online and have it delivered. If friends want to go out during the day, they know they’ll have to drive and that I will reciprocate on weekend or evening outings.

Doing without a car in a rural area does require some planning. For example, I try to schedule things like doctor’s appointments for the same day in complexes that are close to each other. That way I can be dropped off in town and make the rounds on foot or with a cab. For things that are further away or that can’t be combined on the same day, I try to plan ahead and just rent a car for a couple of days.

Cars may provide you with some freedom but that freedom comes with a big price tag. If you want to cut your expenses, go without a car entirely or, if you’re currently a two car (or more) household, sell the extras and get by with one. You’ll save money and mental stress.

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  • Randy says:

    Going car-free or car-lite is not strange at all. Quite the opposite. What’s strange is that so many people don’t even consider it an option.

    Cars can be quite the handy machines for certain tasks, but they certainly do burn through money.

  • ceejay74 says:

    I’ve been car-free for about 10 years, so it’s nice to see this talked about. Of all the frugal options out there, it seems like this is the last one people would consider. I now have a 9-month-old child and we’re still doing OK car-free.

    We have bus passes (partly or fully reimbursed by work and school), four types of stroller (most of them freebies!), an Enterprise car rental place within 15 minutes by bus if we want to rent for a day or a weekend, friends who don’t mind giving us a ride if there’s a party that’s not bus-accessible, and taxis if there’s no other option. Oh, and we walk and bike lots of places.

    Plus, instead of paying hundreds or thousands a month on cars, we pull in $75 per month renting our parking spot to another resident in our building!

  • Charlie F says:

    I just recently went car-lite. I only drive if I slept in, now. Work is a 30-minute walk, or a 15 minute bike ride. I’m not sure of the bus schedule. It’s nice to know that if (when) my car dies, then I’ll still be able to get to work.

  • D RICH says:

    Well, carless is not for everyone. I would recommend getting a little spit of a car. Don’t pay more than $500 (we took one off of someone who just wanted it gone so got it for free) We invested about $500-$750 in the little Hyundai and it sips gas, and we only need liability insurance. After all the car just sits all day at work and then when you get home, sits in the driveway or garage. We have no car payment, low insurance, and 30-35 miles to the gallon to get to work. We do not have the best transit system where we live so getting to work requires an auto.

    When I drive by folks with their Lexus, Mustangs, SUV’s I just laugh imagining how much they pay in tires, insurance, repairs, and car payment. Granted it is nice for traveling in, but as someone posted above you can always rent a car for a roadtrip. Still less money.

    This would be the alternative to not having a car. Oh and we carpool when ever possible with others at work. They laughed at first but now after three years of owning this car (fixed it up in 2007 and still running good with good maintenance and care). We actually just took a road trip with it and aside from barely fitting our holiday gifts,suitcases and pillow,blankets and picnic foods in the little car we saved so much money had we taken the only other car we own our Ford 150 Pick up. Now that is a gas hog. I use this only occasionally for hauling horses I own.


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