You may love your wheels, but your bank account may tell a different story. Between maintenance, depreciation, parking fees, insurance, and oh, yes, gas – you are undoubtedly spending major coin to keep your car in working order and yourself on the right side of the law. How much?
According to figures from the 2013 edition of the annual “Your Driving Costs” report produced by AAA, the yearly cost of automobile ownership ranges from a hefty $7,000 per year for a compact car like the Ford Focus or the Honda Civic to an eye-watering $9,795 for SUVs like the Kia Sedona or an obscene $11,248 per year for SUVs like the Jeep Grand Cherokee. That’s per car. So if your household owns multiple vehicles, add or multiply the costs accordingly.
If you’re on a budget, getting rid of your car represents a potential means of saving serious money. You may be skeptical about the prospect. You don’t want to be housebound, after all. But unless you live in a tiny rural town, you have little to worry about.
And its the new cool thing too. More and more people are switching to a car-fee lifestyle. By thinking outside the box you may find that you truly can live car-free.
1. Public Transportation
Yeah, we’ve all heard “Another One Rides the Bus.” Public transportation can be crowded, smelly and inefficient. But if you’re driving your car to and from work every day, you’re paying a small fortune on parking for your car to sit in one place all day.
In many locations, public transportation during rush hours is actually pretty decent – and safe. Not only will you not have to deal with “rush hour” traffic that moves at a snail’s pace, you will save money on parking, tolls and general wear and tear on your car, not to mention your nerves. If you ride public transit often, purchasing a pass allows you to avoid the long lines for fares, and may save you money over single-fare rates.
2. Car Sharing
You read “car sharing” and start shaking your head. EVERYONE knows that renting a car is crazy-expensive. Just what IS a “collision damage waiver” anyway? Even we don’t know. But all the cool kids know that car sharing is an entirely different animal. If you live in an urban area, car sharing companies like iGo or ZipCar often have vehicles located near grocery stores, on college campuses or in various locations around town. Best of all, many of the cars are new hybrids or all-electric models. How cool is that?
For a nominal annual fee, you have access to cars on demand. If you’re lucky enough to join during a promotional period, your start-up costs can be $0. Once your membership is activated, you can reserve the car, pick it up, drive it, and drop it off online or via Smartphone for a pennies-per-hour charge. And unlike car rental agencies, you can use a debit card to pay for car sharing fees with no hassle. There area also no worries about insurance, gas, maintenance or wondering about whether you forgot to renew the tags. The car sharing company covers all of that, but parking tickets are on you.
In certain urban areas, quasi-private car sharing programs such as FlightCar and GetAround allow you to “rent” a private vehicle for a low cost. These services are usually located in and around airports, which is convenient if you need a car while you’re traveling. You’ll have to be vetted to join the service, which may mean a background check, a credit check or some other sort of qualification process.
3. Ride a Bike
Whether the word “bike” to you means Trek or Harley-Davidson, riding two wheels is a much less expensive proposition than four. If you are strictly about hogs, then you will still have the licensing, gas, insurance and maintenance to deal with, but the total cost is still less than that of owning a car. If you are into pedal power, your main expense will be the frame itself, plus a good lock. You’ll probably need a tune-up once per year – which runs in the $100 range. If you don’t have your own bike — bike sharing programs are springing up in cities and towns across the country. Look for names like Divvy or Spinlister.For both types of bikes, you’ll also need a helmet.
4. Hail a Cab
Just like renting a car, cabbing it is costly. But if you don’t have access to a car sharing program and you need to do serious grocery shopping, a cab is your only option. And unless you live totally out in the sticks, cabs are available 24/7. Somewhat more economical than cabs are programs like Lyft and SideCar, which are ride sharing on demand programs available in limited urban areas.
5. U-Haul (Yes, really)
Don’t laugh. You have surely rented a U-Haul truck or van to move at least once. If you need a vehicle for a one-time trip, U-Haul is much cheaper than car rental. A light truck or van costs $19.99 per day plus mileage; you can drive the vehicle on residential streets without restriction and you can reserve one with your debit card with no hassle.
6. Take a Walk
Come on, it’s great exercise, and best of all, it’s free. All you need are a decent pair of shoes and a good forecast. If you pair your walking with at-home exercise, cancel your gym membership. You can also carry more than you think – if you’ve ever hiked, been a student or lived in a building without access to washers and dryers – you already understand how to efficiently carry parcels, baskets and backpacks.
7. Greyhound or Amtrak
You may scoff, but nearly everyone on the Eastern Seaboard knows Amtrak. Commuting via Amtrak between Chicago and Milwaukee is also fairly common. And Greyhound buses stop at nearly every wide spot in the road, which is handy if you need to travel to the next town, although scheduling round trips can be tricky. By purchasing tickets in advance, you may score major savings.
8. Ride ’em Cowboy!
So, you actually do live out in the sticks. Many of the above options, such as Greyhound, U-Haul and cabs are available both in the city or the country. If you are out on a farm or a ranch, you can always ride one of your horses wherever you need to go. There’s a reason why there are questions about horse riding signals on the DMV test.
Try Living Car-Free for a Week
If you’re on the fence about going car-free, try it before you buy it. Park your car in your garage or driveway and test the options that are available to you for a week. If you’re totally miserable, get back behind the wheel of your car. But you may just surprise yourself and discover that it’s not a bad way to go.
Audrey Henderson is a Chicagoland-based writer and researcher. She holds advanced degrees in sociology and law from Northwestern University. Her writing specialties are sustainable development in the built environment, policy related to arts and popular culture, socially and ecologically responsible travel, civic tech and personal finance.