I never really mentioned why we personally chose to live without a car. Not that it’s much of a mystery. We don’t even have frugal clunkers to brag about.
To be perfectly honest, I see the stats on my posts about living car-free and they’re never popular posts. Not surprisingly! Most Americans, up and down the socioeconomic class either rent, lease, or own and drive their own cars so us choosing to live car-free is not relevant to many readers.
Cars are a big deal in this country. We had mandatory driver education classes in my high school but not a single class about the basics of personal finance! My husband and I do not own a car for several reasons:
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1. We hate driving
My husband and I are just waiting out the clock for on-demand mobile driverless cars. I watched a self-driving car documentary recently and it has me all fired up for the future. I hope they’re economical enough and they roll out the rental driverless cars as soon as possible! What a dream that would be!
Anyways, my husband uses cars as a last resort. He hates driving as much as I do. Sometimes when he’s coming home from work late and the buses are only running once every 30 minutes by then, I say to him, “Honey, just take a Car2Go and drive back home, it’s quicker.”
He would never do it.
Although it would cut his commute to a third of the time (it would also cost about $20.) He says it’s simply because he hates driving. He would rather choose to sit on a bus for 60 minutes and do nothing (which is to read comics and play video games on his phone) than focus on doing something he hates to do (which is driving downtown at night) for 20 minutes.
2. Car cost & savings
I bet you two monopoly donuts you’ve heard of a similar story to this before:
The first thing an (ex)-friend of mine did when she graduated high school was talk her mother into buying her a brand new Toyota for $24,000 for “college.” The mother folded and bought the car for her. She crashed it 3 months later.
Here’s another common tale:
My family never needed a car living in San Francisco. But my mother fell for the “we can’t let people think we’re poor, we need 2 cars” gimmick for a few years. She bought an used Lexus on a grocery vegetable cutter’s salary.
News flash mother, we ARE poor.
My family didn’t need a car. She worked a 15-minute walk away from the crappy basement we rented. That car was parked outside for appearances. I am more frugal than my mother. Even when I moved away for college, if I needed something, I’ll walk to it on foot. I never asked for rides unless people offered first.
I didn’t have issues walking along the side of the road next to big cars; it reminded me of where I came from. I came from a small Chinese village where if you were driving in anything with 4 wheels, people would turn their heads and whisper about you. It doesn’t matter if it was a 10-year-old Honda junk clunker, people would talk about seeing a car for days.
There is a huge cost difference between ownership and public transportation. We’re talking about saving around $500 every month, each month if you include the original purchase price of a used car. I remember taking out my own phone and opening the calculator app to double-check my math because I couldn’t believe the difference. Our bus transportation budget never runs over $40 dollars a month.
Frugality isn’t equal. You would have to kill 4-5 years worth of Amazon Prime memberships to save what we do in just 1 month. Car-free and house hacking will boost savings rates significantly faster than snapping receipts for Ibotta.
3. Lamely saving lives
This point is probably only applicable to me but…
YOU SHOULD NOT LET ME BEHIND THE WHEEL.
I’m sure there are a lot of great drivers out there who happens to be nubile 20-year-olds and Asian and a woman…but THIS partially blind, 20 something, Asian, woman driver right here SUCKS at driving.
My attention span is short, motor controls are meh, and neuro-spatial processing (the brain function that tells you if you can fit into a parking spot by eyeballing) is pretty horrific.
I had my original driver ed instructor quit on me and the last instructor I almost drove off a cliff. Thankfully she had a brake pedal on her side because, man, I did not see that cliff…
I like to think keeping me off the road means I’m saving lives.
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4. We live in metro cities
I immigrated to San Francisco when I was little. As expensive as San Francisco is, it does pretty much spoil you in terms of most awesome cities to live in. It’s like your first-course meal was king crab, the rest of the meal courses tastes good too…but it ain’t no king crab.
San Francisco is super walkable, entertaining as hell, and the transportation system there was something I took for granted now having lived elsewhere.
Hubby grew up in the suburbs of Marin close to San Francisco. It was the ‘burbs so just picture the archetypical 3 car garage, all-American family. His brother loved cars and his big sister loved to drive.
For some reason, my husband came out hating driving just as much as I did. After he got his license, he continued to avoid driving as much as he could. He has a large tight-knit family, lots of school pals, and he was never without a ride.
Today, we live in Seattle. Seattle is a pretty populated metropolitan city with decent public transportation as of late.
The public transportation system has become more robust with the incoming streams of young tech workers and other professional transplants. The sleepy, grunge-y Seattle is as unfamiliar as the skyline now (and we’ve only been living here 3-7 years!) Our transportation options here are fairly plentiful. We keep alive by bus, bike, rail, Lyft and various rental car programs.
Washington state has no state income tax. Washington have a very high sales tax, property tax, and auto taxes to raise funds in other ways. If you are a high-income earner (as our family is) – it’s a very clever idea to be minimalist and go car-free.
5. Parking anxiety
Parking anxiety is especially steep if you’re living in the city. Everything is so cramped. On the rare occasions that we do need a car to attend an event or party, we take a Lyft and not deal with parking. For all other occasions, we bus or walk to it, making cars and parking a non-issue.
I had a friend who would gladly drop $500 on a meal alone but would drive for an hour so she doesn’t have to pay for $8 parking.
In a cheapo to cheapo way, I can understand that. But the last time she came out with us, her and her husband spent 35 minutes looking for free parking, found it, parked and walked 12 blocks on foot back to the concert hall which took even more time.
The whole time I’m thinking, why didn’t you ditch your cars and Lyft here?!
They did this all the time, every single day. Both of them worked downtown and drove downtown to find parking every day. They were waitlisted on the company parking list for 2 years before finally securing a parking spot. THEN, they shell out an extra few hundred dollars every month to park in that empty plot of GROUND that kept them waiting for 2 years. It boggles my mind! Completely misplaced patience…
Legit Benefits of Having No Car
1. Navigate faster in nearer locations
Driving a car is very helpful when it comes to long distances, as it lets you have more comfort and more flexibility when you’re on the road. But what about navigating short distances, such as a trip at a store a couple of blocks away? If you live in a place where everything is in moderate distant, driving a car would be more of a hassle if you include the cost and maintenance. It also involves your health bill. Those few blocks of walking and jogging could help your overall health.
Walking, or preferably, biking your way when going in a moderately near place will not only save you time, it will also save you money for gas and parking.
2. No more tickets and parking problems
If you’re a car owner, you should know how hard it is to park your car, especially in places where a lot of people have their own vehicles. Parking illegally will also earn you a ticket when you’re caught. And last but not least, parking can consume a lot of time and patience and money. This is especially true when you’re parking in more populous cities.
According to Streets Blog USA, cities like New York will cost you more than $700 a month. That’s a lot of money just for parking your car. In more populous cities, it is better to live without a car, as one of its most underlying problems is parking. The average cost is about $200 while other states will only cost parking about $30 a month. Location is a big factor for car cost. If you want to avoid parking problems, consider other transportation methods such as commuting.
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3. Help in reducing pollution
Not owning a car will also help in reducing pollution in the air, which can cause a lot of health problems. According to UCS USA, nearly half of all Americans are not living and breathing in an air that was approved by the federal air quality standards. This means that the pollution in the country is one of its biggest problems. Poor air quality increases the risk of respiratory problems which can be life-threatening at times.
The culprit for pollution, especially in the cities where the population is denser, are passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks. The pollution that it brings in the atmosphere is from the particle matters which are produced in vehicle emissions. Cutting vehicle usage, as well as the number of vehicles in use, can help in easing this problem. When you’re not using your car, you can help in the improvement of the environment.
4. Ease traffic congestion
There is nothing worse than running late in the morning (either for work or for school) and being caught by a heavy traffic jam. According to Brookings, the real causes of traffic congestion in the country is the millions of people with private vehicles who try to move at the same time of the day as everyone else. In addition, this load cannot be handled by the road system. One of the best ways to avoid traffic and to help in getting rid of this problem is by reducing private car usage.
So that sums up all the big reasons why we live without a car. It turned into a bigger rant than I thought but I’m too sleepy to edit this now.
I think it feels more freeing to forgo a car. I know I’m just a kooky girl online and my reasons might not be convincing to anybody but they make sense to me.
We both hate driving, parking, pumping gasoline and paying a few thousand dollars for metal boxes with wheels. We both like (hobby actually!) shoveling money into savings and watching the money jump month after month. Only a percentage of that lends itself to living car-free but month after month, year after year, it’s going to add and compound beautifully.
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Honestly, the idea of life without a car feels so freeing. We live in a tiny rural town with zero public transportation (we don’t even have Lyft drivers here) and we also live in the mountains, so public transport and bikes are difficult. But when we move to a city one day I want to live without a car! I’m realistic–Mr. ThreeYear is going to have a car, but I want to position ourselves so I don’t need one. In some ways it feels so freeing. And you’re right, it’s so expensive! And this is with our old, paid off, gas-sipping cars. Can’t even imagine the cost of leasing an SUV and commuting that sucker an hour each way.
I love the visual of your village in China, where people would talk about seeing a car for days. Man, in some ways, I imagine that getting back to that would be so nice. Getting out of the big, isolating, polluting cars, getting on bikes or walking… what’s that word when you want it to be like the “good old days?”
Is Mr. ThreeYear a car enthusiast? Some guys are and it’s a tough one to compromise on!
Haha, we were just poor and didn’t leave for the city much. If you went into the city, there’s cars and richer people.
Sigh, to live in a city with decent public transportation again would be amazing. I find buses to pretty relaxing, because you can just zone out and stare out the window. I recently discovered that my work ID provides free bus rides, woot! Might try bussing more often…
I think it would be interesting to analyze how much time is saved by driving. As long as you aren’t stuck in traffic, driving (especially long distances of say 100 miles) is probably way more time efficient than public transportation, which should be factored into the cost.
I find it super relaxing too! But transferring buses is the biggest time suck! I wonder if there were less cars and more buses would streets flow better since it’s more efficient.
Transfers are the worst. That’s why I don’t do them anymore. I have an ebike which boosts my speed somewhat, so I ride it to the most efficient spot to catch the light rail and take my bike on (when I am not riding my bike the whole way). Saves like 20 min or more vs only taking public transit.
Ms. Frugal Asian Finance says
I’m terrified of driving! When I have to drive somewhere farther than 2 miles from our house, especially with someone else on the passenger seat, my stress level goes through the roof!
We have only one car which Mr. FAF drives to work. He is pushing me to drive more. I think cooking and driving are the two things I need most help from Mr. FAF although I like to think that I’m independent >.<
But you met Mr. FAF because he taught you how to drive!! That’s special and cute! xD How’s his driving?
Ms ZiYou says
I’m anti-paying for parking as well. I have a car, but get public transport into central London….a travelcard means it’s a no brainer!
You’re living in the UK?! Fancy!
Joe @ Retire by 40 says
We lived without a car for about 6 months and it was okay. Our previous car broke down and we waited to get a new one. We live in downtown Portland so transportation is not a big problem. The only issue is that we had a baby. I wanted to be able to drive to the hospital if needed. Now that he’s older, he has activities like soccer and going to friends’ house. These things would be tough without a car. I enjoy driving if it’s under 2 hours. Any longer and it’s really hard to stay awake. I loath rush hour traffic. That’s the worse. Anyway, it’s awesome that you guys don’t have a car. It definitely cost more to own one.
I’m looking forward to self driving car too. We might get rid of our car at that point.
I told Jared we’re being cool and hip going car free now but I would go insane if we had a child and not a junker because kids need to go places (soccer, playdate, museum etc.) We miiight be holding off kids until driverless cars ?
Mrs. Adventure Rich says
Oi, I hate driving too! Haha- if we were closer to town, I’d be VERY tempted to go carless!
There’s just no comprising when it comes to car free downtown and 10 acres of your own land 🙁 darn it.
freddy smidlap says
nubile is a great word. i like atavistic too (a throwback to an earlier time or era). i recently calculated the cost to operate our 2 paid off cars at about 285 a month for the cost of insurance, gas, and maint. i just got a synthetic oil change and a new set of tires to the tune of 800 bucks and our cars are not fancy. they’re a 13 year and 4 year old mazda 6’s. laying out that 800 sucked. the whole winter thing here in buffalo puts a wrench into getting rid of the cars. for now we just suck it up and pay but we may go down to one car soon when mrs. smidlap leaves the work force.
thanks for staying out of the driver’s seat!
Thanks sir! Hahaha and it’s worth it just to save one life (and not having to get shell out on tires.)
Dave @ Married with Money says
hahah, parking anxiety is a real thing 🙂 Glad I’m not the only one who experiences it!!
I’m jealous of you guys living the car-free life. Meanwhile I think we’ve got to get a second vehicle to ease our schedules and keep harmony in our marriage. Meh. Life in the burbs has its drawbacks.
Oh with driverless cars, you can try swinging it with just one car for 2 people! So there’s something to look towards!
I wonder if car break ins are common in the burbs. One of our airbnb guests left their luggage in the car and found the car broken into in the morning! I felt terrible but then again, never leave valuables in the car.
Olivia @ Birds of a FIRE says
My mom asked if I’d like a car at 16. I responded with, “But this means I don’t get to nap anymore!” No car for me, yay!
Also, why are you so cute?! And with such shinny hair?
Thank god FireBear likes to drive, otherwise we’d never have road trips. I do offer to drive, but it’s met with a “When’s the last time you actually driven…”. If I drove we’d get there twice as slow because I drive super slow. I guess the Asian stereotype holds true for me?
I have 2 friends who are Asian females and naturally good at driving. The stereotype to Asians is you have two kinds and no divide. Those that can totally drift and those like me who totally can’t xP
Budget On a Stick says
Every day that I have to drive in the Twin Cities traffic I pray self-driving cars come sooner!
I hate driving and would love a robot to do it for me.
Having a car-free household has a lot of benefits. Maybe someday we can drop to 1 or no cars in ours!
Oh I forgot to add weather. We don’t have a lot of snow that often! Privileges…
Jim P says
Love this. My wife never even needed to get a driver’s licence, nor do several of my neighbors. Before GPS, some of our biggest arguments were over directions. I almost get hit in the crosswalk several times per week, without exaggeration. It’s become such of problem that NYC has changed about half of their Walk signs to kick in 30 seconds before the traffic light releases the cars. There are so many benefits of driverless and shared vehicles. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. Not boring at all!
Thanks Jim!!! I’m certain driving in NYC you would need serious guts!
Chris @ Duke of Dollars says
You’ve been so lucky to live in places with decent public transport!
I’ve been riding my bike / walking a lot more to the point it is rare for me to fill up my car more than once per month. The weekends sometimes require a bit more driving since things are never close in the entertainment world here. 🙁
I knooooow. I’ve lived in cities and took a lot for granted!
Terri Deeds says
Hello from a fellow Seattle-area frugality blogger! 🙂 I just recently found your blog and I love it! I lived for 12 years without a car in the Boston area, but now I have an electric car that I use because I can’t be dealing with any 60-minute commutes with toddlers in tow! Can you imagine? Hehehe! Question, do you or your husband bike? It seems like a lot of people in this area commute via bike.
Haha hi Terri. Fully understood, I don’t think I could handle car free with a toddler (what if they had an emergency?!)
We don’t bike because our neighborhood (along with a lot of parts in Seattle) isn’t very bikeable. Cars need manners and the roads need better lighting. My husband mentioned biking to work but that would drive me anxious with all the traffic around. We live near I5 too.
Claire @ October Rain says
I love this post! My boyfriend and I both have a valid license but chose not to purchase a car (yet, at least) because Vancouver transit system is amazing! We can get around the entire city efficiently and easily, without traffic. We also signed up for car share programs which helped tremendously on Costco runs or out of town adventures. With the cost of living in Vancouver and maintaining a car vs public transportation, we couldn’t bother getting a car in a city that is so bike and transit friendly. For now, car share workings beautifully.
Thanks Claire! Vancouver sounds amazing!!! That’s the first city I want to visit. There’s a bus that goes directly there in 3 hours. I heard food there is bomb.com!!
Accidental FIRE says
I can’t wait for autonomous vehicles either. About 37,000 Americans die EVERY YEAR in car crashes. That’s more than 100 per day! It’s so sad and absurd it boggles my mind how we’re not talking about it all the time. But people just shrug their shoulder when you tell them and say “meh”. Because America worships cars as if they’re gods.
Bring on the driverless cars and save lives!!
Holy cow statistics! That’s a lot of automobile accidents. Even if self driving cars had a few boo boos it can’t be over 100 a day really. Hurry up scientists!!!
Mrs. Groovy says
We need a car where we live. Everything is spread out and there aren’t many sidewalks to traverse, and very limited public transportation. However, when I say we, it’s really “he” because Mr. G does all the driving. Like you, I’m a menace on the road. My FIRE card hasn’t been revoked but my driving rights have.
Parking is even worse in suburbs and rural areas where you’re dealing with SUV’s AND F150s — try pulling out of the Panera parking lot with one of those babies next to you.
Oh yeah, parking next to those = extreme parking anxiety. We had contractors tell us they hated coming into the city for work because they tend to have working trucks and can never find parking.
Sean @ Frugal Money Man says
I don’t hate driving, but I am starting to prefer not driving. I used to drive to work every single day, but in my new job, I now take the train to work. It gives me about another 90 minutes a day to read and accomplish other things, instead of wasting my time driving for 60-90 minutes/day. I am happy that I own my car in full, but I can definitely see a scenario in the future where we eventually downgrade to only 1 vehicle.
90 minutes sounds soo peaceful!
Dr. McFrugal says
LOL! I love your story-telling. I guess you won’t be using Uber/Lyft as a side hustle for the sake of public safety 🙂
And yes, parking anxiety is totally a thing. The struggle is real. When I lived in Los Angeles, there was often no great place to park. And then when I did find a parking space you have to read 7 different signs. 2 Hr parking 4pm to 6pm except holidays and Sundays. No parking 6am to 7 am due to street cleaning on tues and thurs, No parking 10pm to 6 am ever day *permit required*….
Lol! LA sounds like SF to me. My god those people who get so desperate they park on Lombard street in San Francisco. Craziness!
The Luxe Strategist says
Life without a car is sooo much easier. I’m wondering if you live in a centralized location where the things you need are close by, or if you ever have to ‘trek’ it to some places. What do you do when you go to Costco? Granny cart it?
I have my Rosler cart! It’s like the Rolls-Royce of granny carts ?
I don’t mind driving and owning a car since I’m so lucky in my situation. I have free parking at work and my commute isn’t that long(less than 30 minutes). If I didn’t have these occurrences I would definitely take public transportation(or maybe bike) to work.
The good thing is that we only own one car and it’s paid off, we’re trying to keep it that way.
If we go out to dinner and know that finding street parking will be an adventure, we would opt for Lyft/Uber to eliminate that dilemma.
Omg San Francisco parking is a nightmare during dinner time! Everyone in SF always goes out no matter which day (tho Saturdays are hopeless).
Scott at Making Momentum says
Great post! Some laughable stories and anecdotes here.
I am lucky enough to also currently be car free. I am able to walk to work, have access to company vehicles or just rent when a longer road trip is in order. Plus there is Uber, Lyft and a dozen different taxi companies minutes away at any time.
Once I have kids the vehicle situation will have to change but for the time being I will enjoy it and try to take advantage of the cost-savings. But hey, like you said…self-driving robot cars will likely be widespread by the time I have kids.
Yesssss so glad it looks to be we made the cut off for kids and driverless cars. I didn’t want to be a SUV owning, parking anxious mom.
And you fancy! A company car really!?
Mr. MFC | Morning Fresh Cent says
That is amazing that you and Jared are able to live in a place, such as Seattle where it is wet weather majority of the time, and be car free. Braving the weather in good strides in exchange for a huge bump in your savings. ?? I envy you Lily.
My wife calls me frugal all the time and I am proud of it. It must me in the Asian genes since most of us grew up with not much ‘on our backs.’ Although my wife is Asian also, she needs a little more convincing. ?
Haha is your wife more spendy? Or you’re just too strict xD! Hiii! It’s decent living car free in Seattle. It’s not easy but not impossible.
I’ve been car free over a year now. Extremely liberating. I literally moved to seattle in September 2018 due to no car and a plethora of jobs n the gig economy. I love my life. No more sweat paying 600+ a month on car payments, insurance, and gas. I can eat much more yummy food, and take lyft quite often
Judy Frisk says
I totally agree with you and I didn’t ever hate driving. I spent a lifetime on the Los Angeles freeways 2-4 hours per day in bumper to bumper traffic literally calculating what portion of my life I was losing, just sitting on the freeway at 0-10 miles per hour. Then 6+ years ago I had a reason to move to New York City for 5.5 years. The day I sold my car felt like a heavy burden had lifted. It felt totally freeing, and I moved to NYC. The lifestyle there felt like home to me in spite of being a SoCA native -no one drives there, you take walk, take public transportation or cab, Uber or Lyft. I mostly did the first 2, actually feeling repelled by sitting in a car.
Upon return to Los Angeles, I decided to try it without a car. Driving and car ownership no longer had any appeal… and I dreaded the idea of always trying to figure out “where to put this hunk of metal” (meaning, “park it”) anytime I went anywhere. I ordered my TAP Metro Pass before I even moved across country. When I arrived and told people I wasn’t planning to buy a car they generally said I was crazy…after all it IS Los Angeles.
I’ve been back in LA for 9+ months, taking the bus or Lyft, it’s easy and feels free. I’m a senior so my Metro pass is only $20/mo. I use Lyft a few times per month, mostly if I’m taking my 2 little dogs somewhere, as they’re not allowed on public transportation.. Even if I were to use Lyft/Uber more often, my bills would never approach that of car ownership.
I think the secret to making it successful is understanding how (and also why) to live locally, as much as possible.There are many ecological reasons for living locally and taking public transportation, and truthfully, my daughters and I were doing this since the late 90s when we all owned cars. At that time, I took the LA Subway to work as soon as it opened, one of my daughters rode a bike to work and we could sometimes go months without needing to drive.
I encourage anyone to try it if you’re at all tired of driving or dealing with a car. It does require a mind shift, but at least in my opinion, it’s a shift that feels liberating, and you’re also helping our poor planet. Thanks for this article!
Daniel Soosay says
Writing this in 4th Jan 2020. I have been carless for 1 year and 2 months.
This was made possible when I moved to Munich, Germany and living in the city center.
Getting around is great due to the extensive public transport ranging from Train, Underground Train, Tram and Bus. Cycling is another option as the infrastructure is good.
The option not to have a car is helpful in a way as driving in Munich can be hectic with less places to park and traffic on certain places can get worse. Best part is Im able to save more, exercise more by cycling and walking, while having a great peace of mind.
…….And from the country I came from , Malaysia, ( specifically Melaka, the state I was living )I will be crippled without a car as all the above mentioned goodness on public transport is great..far from it.
Guess one can make a choice if there is a good infrastructure around,