Car Free: Living In America Without A Car

By M Butler

It comes as a shock to most people I meet, but I don’t own a car. Three years ago I was thousands of dollars in debt and something had to give. I decided that it would be my car.

When I made the decision my friends and family thought that I was crazy. Truth be told, I even thought I was crazy. Nobody that lives in the suburbs lives without a car. If you think about it, there isn’t anything more un-American than not owning a car. Yet that was exactly what I planned to do.

When I made the decision to be car free, I wasn’t even sure if it would be possible to live without one, but there wasn’t really any other choice. It was either that or continue to drown in debt. Three years later, I can’t imagine life with a car. It was by far the best financial move that I could have made and it has resulted in be being debt free with a fully funded emergency fund today.

The decision to sell my car was not an easy one. I am a single mother with a four-year-old child. She was one when I made the decision. As mentioned, not having a car in the suburbs is a concept that most people can’t even imagine. The nearest grocery store and shopping center is about 5 miles from my house, so going there by bike is not what most people would consider convenient. Today, even though I would have no problem affording a car, I choose to transport myself by bike.

Just because I don’t have a car doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when I need one. On days that it rains, I have a number of kind friends that will allow me to carpool with them into work. If I need to buy a large amount of groceries that my bike can’t handle, I will either have a friend drive or call a taxi to get this accomplished. There are times when I have to take a taxi or occasionally even rent a car, but I still come out far ahead financially doing this than if I owned my own car.

There is no doubt that not having a car poses some problems, but overall they are small to what I gain in return. I realize that not everyone can go car free, but I believe that a lot more people can than think it is possible. Here are some of the reasons that I ditched my car and continue to not want one:

I have no car payment

One of the reasons I originally needed to get rid of my car was that the $300 a month car payment was something I couldn’t afford. Instead of paying for the car I could use that $300 to put toward more important things. Originally, that was to pay down the debt I had, but now that I’m debt free, that payment will help my little girl go to college and build a retirement fund for myself.

I don’t have to pay for car insurance

An added benefit beyond not having a car payment is not having to pay for car insurance twice a year. For me, That adds up to nearly $1000 that goes toward savings instead of out the door.

There isn’t any pain to my pocket book when gas prices increase

While everybody else is worried about the price of gas and the rising costs of operating their cars, I don’t think about it at all. Since I don’t have to purchase gas, it has very little effect on my lifestyle and I don’t need to figure out how to squeeze higher gas prices into my monthly budget like I used to.

I don’t have any car repair bills

Before I made my car free move, I was living paycheck to paycheck. When I was doing this, a breakdown was not a mere inconvenience, it was a financial disaster. I would all of a sudden have a several hundred dollar car bill that needed to be paid right away in order to get me back on the road, but not the money to pay for it. I no longer worry about unexpected car repair bills. My bike needs to get a tuneup from time to time and may get a flat tire on a rare occasion, but any repairs or upkeep is far less expensive than anything a car would cost.

I’m healthier

I didn’t think I was lazy when I had a car, but I now realize how wrong I was then. Being car free gets me off my lazy butt and outdoors much more often than if I had one. Riding a bike for transportation has made he much healthier than I would be if I owned a car.

I got rid of my gym membership

It only took a month after I bought my bike and sold my car for me to realize I no longer needed my gym membership. Biking allows me to get plenty of exercise — far more than I ever got from workouts at the gym — on my own and there’s no need to pay $30 a month.

I have a much healthier bank account

The final result is that I have much healthier savings than I would ever have if I still owned a car. In fact, I’m sure that I would still be in debt living paycheck to paycheck. It took what seemed like a radical move to get me out of my debt cycle, but from my current perspective it wasn’t a radical move at all. It was a common sense financial move that allowed me to establish the financial foundation I needed.

Do you have a story about saving money or earning money that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it.

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25 Responses to Car Free: Living In America Without A Car

  1. Noel says:

    Certainly this is wonderful move and everybody should give a thought on it but in a culture where car is considered part and parcel of life and the government supports this feeling, it will be hard to get rid of. On the other side, there are folks, who get ‘annoyed’ when they see people biking on the road and throw trash at them or even shoot at them.
    I really wonder what ground breaking thing needs to be done to change the attitude completely and give up the car.

  2. poorblogger says:

    Whoa.. What a great story..
    I don’t think I can live without car

  3. We did not have a car until 3 years ago when we needed one for work. (we live in NYC though).

    If more people across US did not depend on cars so heavily, infrastructure would be developed to support this lifestyle.

    Do I think most suburbanites are too lazy to carry their own groceries, even if there was a public transportation infrastructure. Maybe.

    I don’t buy the “what will I do in an emergency” argument. (you call 911).

    Having a car is more convenient. Definitely. Convenience, however, is not necessity.

  4. Traciatim says:

    This spring our car dies, that has a huge history list of problems, so we just gave up on it. I’m in far better shape now than I was before the car died. At first it was really tough since almost every day was a struggle on ‘how do I ‘.

    It gets really cold in the winter here though, so maybe things will be different once it starts to cool down. I may pick up a winter beater.

  5. simpleyme says:

    we only have one car and that blows peoples minds enough LOL

    I havea an aunt who does not drive and thinks nothing of calling on others when she needs a ride, people who choose not to have cars should not bum rides off of others unless they can barter for it

  6. SAHIL says:

    I can relate to what u said in ur Blog; and dont have any debt but its really difficult for me to afford my car with my current salary.
    i often take public transport as i believe that more the cars more will be the polution.
    The only prob over here is that we(INDIA) dont have good public transport system as comparred to urs (US)

  7. Stacy says:

    You are so brave for doing this. Especially braving the elements on a bike.

    This is a wonderful lesson in resourcefulness for your young child. She is learning so much from this experience–about saving money, being healthy, learning to navigate bus systems, having access to interactions with all sorts of people. That is neat.

    Sometimes losing my car appeals to me, but in the long run there are several factors that keep me with it. I do own a bike, but Seattle’s hills and rain are just so darn intimidating, not to mention that I need my car for on-the-job responsibilities. I do my best to keep it as cheap as possible, but it’s nowhere near as cheap as not driving at all.

  8. Steven says:

    Great post.

    I haven’t owned a car since I left Los Angeles in 1969. And I haven’t missed owning a car for one minute.

    I read these car addiction stories and I just shake my head. My favorite is the woman who backed her car down to the end of her driveway just to pick up the mail and then drove her car back into the garage.

    Love my bike. Love to walk.

  9. Tightwad says:

    What is good for some, may not be good for others….?


  10. baselle says:

    Kudos for you, going carless even with a child. Often that’s the excuse I hear – I can go with a car, but when I have kids, then …

    DH and I have 1 car between us, and I rarely use it. (I consider myself carless) One benefit that wasn’t touched on was that without a car one becomes much more ingenious when confronted with a problem – the solution isn’t “hop in the car and…”

  11. Justin says:

    Life without a car altough it would be very difficult at times, it would definitely have many positives.

  12. Robert says:

    A popular debt free teaching is to get rid of a car and free up that $350 to apply toward our debt.

  13. Don says:

    Great story. I had my car stolen in October of ’07 and I only had liability insurance. I was in my last semester of college and had absolutely no money. I had no idea what I was going to do. I quickly adapted to life without a car. I got a full time job straight out of college and instead of buying a car, I decided to focus any extra money I had on the credit card debt I had accumulated in college. It took me a year but I paid off over $8000 on my credit card.

    I have since adapted to getting around town by either bus/bike/walking and have no debt, a healthy savings, and am in great physical shape. I don’t see myself purchasing a car anytime soon.

    Again, great article. I felt like I was reading about my own situation. More people should try the ‘car-less life’!!!

  14. Jackie says:

    Great article, though I will still keep my car. 😉

    I definitely think that the public transportation options in your city, your city’s layout and the climate do make a big difference in how easily someone can go carless. I also think it makes a difference where you work and how forgiving they might be to have you come to work everyday a bit sweaty and smelly from biking/walking to work.

    Could I go carless? Sure. It would be so, so difficult but it’s certainly something possible. But the negatives for me, outweigh the financial positives.

  15. Raven Hill says:

    Many workplaces have showers/wardrobes for employees to make themselves presentable before the start of the day in case they jog or bike to work.

  16. Susan says:

    Good for you! I did the same thing in 2006 and I’ve never looked back. However, my children are 31 & 25 now, I don’t know if I could have done it so easily when they were in school and needed to be carted here and there, but I applaud your effort. It really is possible, I ride the bus and walk a lot but I am more active and feel more alive.

    Fight the power to be one more mainstream American, because one of the components of that mainstream lifestyle is a big, fat credit card balance that never reaches zero until you take the steps necessary to wipe the slate clean.

    Good luck!

  17. Gail says:

    I didn’t even drive until I was 23 so I was carless for a few years. I walked a mile to work and a mile home and stood for the 8 hours in between. However when it was needed to ‘bum’ a ride, one must remember to either chip in for gas (at the current gas prices) or some other commodity. Being a mooch to improve your bank account isnt’ a nice thing to do. That being said, I think it is great if you can maintain yourself minus a car.

  18. Cindy M says:

    Bravo, I’m carless also now for about 2 years and I do NOT miss having a car. My finances were never bad, I can and always could afford to buy another car. What I hate is the pity I get still from some of the relatives and people at church (one old guy is just dumbfounded by my decision and keeps asking me when I’m gonna buy another car). I’m close to 3 different bus routes and live within walking distance of nearly everything I need. My elderly mother lives close by and if I need anything heavy, I can use her car, which I’ve done very rarely. If I didn’t have that, I could even walk to a car rental place nearby and rent a car. I have a bike I don’t use. I say it makes you sharper, more imaginative, less wasteful, a lot more familiar with your “territory” for sure.

  19. Gerard says:

    Last week, the transmission on my car died. So I’ve been walking or biking to work everyday…not bad, (2.4 miles)For months I have been looking for ways to simplify my life but when my car broke down, I realized how much I rely on modern conveniences just to get throught the day. I decided…at least for the next few months not to get another car. I can afford one but I wanna see what it’s like to really be more self reliant. Wish me luck

  20. charles says:

    This may help me in deciding to go without a car . I can get by I think using a nice bike to get groceries , I can call a cab to get to the doctors office or take a bus perhaps . I think I will buy a cheap bike and try it for a few weeks to see . My car is ten years old and it only has 25 k miles so I can do without it I think . not paying insurance and repairs plus some gas will be good too . Thanks for the story .

  21. Pingback: Technologies I Live Without and Save Big - Saving Advice

  22. Paula says:

    You’ve really got me thinking. I live 2.5 miles from work and I could walk or bike (and have once or twice). I have a couple of excuses why I probably won’t go carless that nobody’s mentioned yet. Debt: I’ve had my car for 10 years. It’s paid for. Public transit: at 2.5 miles to work it costs more to take the bus than it would to buy gas. Insurance: about $400 per year – plus I’d keep the car and just drive less, so I’d be keeping insurance. Lastly: I have two little kids. I don’t want to leave for work before they get out of bed in the morning, and I don’t want to get home with only 2 hours before bedtime.

    Wisconsin snow and cold are sort of a deterrent too. I would like to try minimizing my car use, it just seems like the small savings in my case aren’t worth it. Gets me thinking though. Could I make it work just once a week maybe? Dip my toes in the water a little?

  23. Kenneth Bradley says:

    I lived casrfree in Rota spain did a 3 mile ride to work for 3 years, Food was carried in panniers front rear and center on my bike my wife carried rear panniers. Our first child was born there due to my wifes condition the labor was hardley noticable, normal delivery. Car free is the best way to live. I currently use a catrike and trailor for shopping. My car and truck use less than one tank of fuel a year. They are used in hydrogen reserch

  24. Paul says:

    Here in Canada where I live, gas is $4.91 and imperial gallon (and this is at the low end!). Cars consume valuable time,resources, and are really expensive. Frankly, I’d love to sell my used Honda Accord (96) and permanently cycle or bus it. Cycling is an amazing way to build healthy habits and get to where you are going fuss free and full of fresh oxygen to take on the day.

  25. Sharon Lewis says:

    Hello. I enjoyed reading your article about being car-free. I live in Columbus, Ohio and I have never owned a car. I mainly use public transit and walk to most places. I am lucky to live within 5 minutes of the bus stops. There are 3 different bus routes that service my neighborhood. I live in a condo within the city limits. When I was looking for a condo back in 2001, I deliberately chose one that was very close to a good bus line and close to major shopping. I don’t live in walking distance to the grocery store, but I can take a short 15-20 minute bus trip to the nearest Krogers. It only takes me 10-15 minutes by bus to get to CVS and Walgreens, so I really don’t need a car. I work from home doing data entry and telephone customer service, so I don’t have to commute every day.I do plan to get a bike in the near future.

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