The Life Experimenter : Change Your Life, One Month at a Time

Life Experiment #28 – Live Without A Car

By Allen Rinehart

For most people, their cars are their second biggest expense.  According to a 2004 AAA study, the average American spends $8,410 per year ($700/month) to own a vehicle. And that includes everything from the car payments, insurance, gas, oil, car washes, registration fees, taxes, parking, tolls, and repairs. In the 2004 study, the cost of gasoline was $1.17 a gallon.  Today, that number has more than doubled and will continue to climb as the supply of oil rapidly gets smaller and demand for it continues to increase.

I don’t know about you, but driving a gas-powered car doesn’t seem to be a reliable transportation solution.  Financially, they cause a huge drain on our personal resources.  Environmentally, they fill the air pollutants and health wise they kill thousands of people every year.  So why are still using them? Does anyone care? Maybe there’s some better solution out there.  I’m about to find out as I give up owning a car.

The Cost Of Oil And Why I Think We Got Here

Gasoline was priced at around $0.25 a gasoline from the 1920’s till about the mid-1970’s.  50 years of cheap oil gave rise to a whole industry of cars, highways and buses.  People stopped taking trains, ferries, trolleys. They stopped walking less and riding bikes less because cars where getting cheaper and provided more convenience.

This caused people to move out of the cities.  They could live in suburban areas and commute to work via highways.  Now the commute which was normally done on public transit or by walking or cycling moved to major highways.  Now that 20 minute walk to work turned into a 20 minute drive.  Almost the same amount of time, just different ways of getting there.

Cars gave people access to shop at locations further from home.  Rather than buying products and services from their neighbors, they could drive 15 miles on the other side of town to by stuff from other people they didn’t know.

Companies could now ship their products other countries cheaply.  They could take their work farm it out to employees in other countries who could work for less money.  Then package it up and ship to somewhere else in the world to sell in stores to people who have cars.  Those car people could buy more stuff more often in because they had a car.  Because who really wants to carry a 60″ plasma TV 15 miles to their house.

In essence, cars have made us more distant from each other.  We’ve moved from creating dense, efficient cities to big expansive suburban areas.  No one wants to live near other people anymore.  And it seems like no one really cares about local economies either.  Why shop at a local store when you can drive to Wal-mart down the street and buy cheap stuff made in other countries by people you will never meet.

How To Go Car-Less

If you’re thinking about ditching the car and here a few things to consider…

#1 – Where Is Your Job/Business Located? – Income generation is usually the primary justification for buying a car.  People say they need a car to get to work.  If you live somewhere far from where you work, maybe you should consider moving. What is the true cost of having that job.  If you spend $500/month for $2,000/month job that’s $1,500 take home.  Wouldn’t make more sense to spend say $200-$300 extra on rent or a mortgage for a place that’s within walking or biking distance from your house? Wouldn’t living in a city give better access to more jobs closer to where you live?

#2 – Where Is Your School Located? – If you have children or you’re in school, consider where you live in location to your where the school is.  Consider having your children take the bus rather than driving them.

#3 – Where And Why Do You Shop? – Think about the last five things you bought.  Could you have bought them somewhere within walking distance of your house?  Do you really need a car to shop or is it just an unnecessary convenience? Do you think you’d spend less money if you had to bike or walk to get something?

#4 – Are You Overweight? – It’s funny that there’s people out there that drive 20 minutes to the gym to run on the treadmill for another 20 minutes only to drive another 20 minutes to work.  I wondered what would happen if people started riding their bikes to work?  Without access to a car, you’re forced to walk every where.

#5 – Do You Understand How To Use Public Transportation? When was the last time you rode the bus in your town?  Could you figure out how to get to work/school/a store with it? Try riding it for a week.

#6 – How Soon Do You Want To Retire? Considering that a car may be costing you $500/month.  Eliminating that expense will give you an additional $500 in savings.  Let’s say you invested that amount for 20 years at a 5% return.  That $208,315 more when you retire.  Not only will you be able to save more for retirement, but you need less money to retire and thus be able to retire earlier.

Ultimately, the way we get around isn’t working for us.  Maybe when gas is $10 a gallon people will wake up and realize that this system’s not working.  Personally, I’m not really interested in working for the next 40 years of my life for the privilege of driving.  There’s got to be a better way.

Here’s some helpful resources for going car-less:



5 responses to “Life Experiment #28 – Live Without A Car”

  1. […] year I gave up a car, cell phone, buying books and most of my hygiene products for free or inexpensive alternatives.  […]

  2. […] shenanigans and at the end of the night no one’s fronting money for a cab home.  Since I don’t own a car, I’m totally putting this one out there.  I’m the best person to invite out, because […]

    • Sean, you’re completely right.

      That’s bad habit of mine. I have a tendency to start a lot things, but lack in the follow-up. I’ve been meaning to post a lot of the follow-ups to posts that I’ve written. But theway I see it, at least starting something new is better then not doing anything at all.

      Thanks for the feedback.

  3. […] it came to me when I was figuring out how to get to work without a car.  Why not just run there?  I’ve even recommended that people do this to automate your […]

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