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2 Year Update: Living Without A Car

Still Carless And Still Happy

I gave up my car 2 years ago and I don’t have any regrets living without a car. The decision was made easy by moving to Portland and having a solid financial plan to achieve financial independence. I’ve since learned to rely on my legs a lot more, public transportation and occasionally using car-share service.

Location, Location, Location

It was really important that I choose a place to live that would allow me easy access to public transportation, that it was close to work and close to other major things that I frequently use:

  • grocery store
  • library
  • hardware store
  • cafe’s
  • gym

I couldn’t have saved more money by living farther outside of the city. What I could have gotten is either a place with a better view (closer to the ocean) or a place with a lot more space.

In my accumulation phase it didn’t make sense to live exactly where I wanted. My friends and family all had their very specific opinion as to where I should live, and why my 350 sqft studio simply wasn’t sufficient.

In my humble opinion, live smaller, less fancy but closer to work, closer to the locations you frequent. This saves money, time and headache.

When I Lived In NorCal Temporarily

I moved to NorCal for a few months to spend time with my partner, who lived fairly close to the downtown area. However, with the heavy sun in Cali, it wasn’t always easy to walk to most destinations, giving Cali the car-culture status that it has.

Though the grocery store and library and cafes were all fairly close to the condo, a 30 minute walk away, the rest of the amenities of the city such as the gym were quite a bit further. Not to mention the shitty walking paths which made traveling on foot unbearable.

The Responsibility Which I Don’t Miss

I used her car on occasion and just the level of responsibility and the headache that comes with having a car is something I don’t miss at all. Constantly worrying that you might get hit, hit someone or whether your car is safe in this/that parking spot.

I took that stuff for granted because when I owned a car it naturally came with the territory, not worrying about those things wasn’t an option. Once I gave up the car I realized how much mental energy it took to operate and take care of one.

In the short time I was in NorCal I managed to scratch her mirror, a random dent showed up on the car and the car needed to be serviced. Not to mention to multiple stops at the gas station to fuel up as well as car washes.

I am convinced that the entire infrastructure built around owning and operating a car has become so absurd (though necessary) that it’s a part-time job just to have one.

I Get Envious At Times

There are moments when I see a car drive down the road and I think, shit, it’d be nice to have a car, go where I want, when I want. I can do bigger grocery hauls, I can explore Portland more and I can be more independent. 

With the last thought in my head I realized exactly why for a moment the grass appeared greener, it’s this desire to want to not have to rely on others, to build more and more things into our lives that give us this illusion of independence and freedom.

People say they feel free when they are in their car flying down a highway. I used to recognize that same freedom but now I look at it and all I see is a $50k hunk of metal that has to stay at a certain speed limit between painted lines. I don’t see freedom.

The real freedom is The Savings – Not Just $

I am, instead, seeing the real freedom in being able to skip the cost and headache of car ownership. I feel more free because I can now get to most destinations without having to maintain my own fleet of vehicles to do so.

My legs are stronger, I have more stamina, I can tolerate rain, heat, and the cold and I can get to my destination either by hoofing it, pedaling there or taking public transportation.

Uncle sam can’t tell me that I must have a driver’s license. I don’t have to pay taxes on gasoline, I don’t have to support a war on Arab nations in order to secure cheap oil, I don’t have to carry auto insurance, I don’t have to pay registration fees, pay for car-washes or repair bills.

The Financial Savings

For a doctor, the amount we save by not having a car probably isn’t all that much. It can still make a major difference, but if you’re making $500k a year and spending $12k/year to own/operate your car(s), it doesn’t seem like much.

It’s sad to see those who make a lot less money, having a hard time getting by on their income, complaining that they don’t have enough left over by the end of the month. Yet they are driving 4×4’s on paved roads or rear-wheel-drive coupes while commuting back and forth to work.

If I owned my car outright, I would still have to:

  • change the oil
  • get an occasional car wash
  • change tires
  • rebuild transmissions
  • replace air filters
  • replacing the windshield
  • fixing dents/damage to the body
  • auto insurance
  • registration
  • DMV fees
  • taxes
  • fuel expenses

The Health Savings

This is a big factor, easily overlooked, but quite a valuable benefit. The US lifestyles is a sedentary one. Even those who work quite laborious jobs tend to come home and veg out in front of a screen.

The days of walking through the hospital from room to room and standing at a patient’s bedside are over. We are now sitting on our chairs and documenting or sitting down and listening to the patient tell us there HPI.

When you don’t rely on a car you will be more active, you will stay in shape because you know that you gotta be able to walk a few miles to get to work. You’ll bike more, you’ll carry more in your backpack on your way to work etc.

Let’s face it, whatever extra money we’re making by picking up more shifts and by getting to work faster with our cars, we’ll have to spend in retirement paying for our healthcare.

Most of us like to believe that we’re not going to be diabetic, that we won’t feel the side effects of a stressful life, but statistics point to professionals having poorer health outcomes.

Sure, we lose the genetic lottery or have one rogue mutant cells fuck us over, but for the most part we have some control over our future health.

Tax Incentives?

Haha, yea right. You’ll only get a tax incentive when you spend more money and waste more resources. Sure, the politicians claim that it’s part of their plan to help the environment by giving you incentives to buy energy-saving appliances.

But if you were to get rid of your car altogether, they won’t even give you a discount on your public transportation costs. Your health insurance won’t give you a discount on your premium dues and your life insurance premiums won’t come down even though your chance of a deadly MVA suddenly decreased multifold.

Solution For Those Who Have To Have A Car

I still believe that there are ways to neutralize some of the costs associated with owning a car. Much like owning a home, in this share-your-shit economy, you can rent your car or a spare bedroom to a complete stranger.

Sure, they might be a serial killer but… more importantly, you were able to cover your auto insurance, registration and fuel costs because you let Slasher rent your wheels.

The AirBnb for cars is Turo, an easy way for you to make a little money off of a car you don’t use frequently or on your day off when your car is sitting and collecting tree sap and bird poop.

3 replies on “2 Year Update: Living Without A Car”

Hi – I totally agree and am fortunate to live in NYC where there’s an abundance of public transportation. Discovered your blog from the interview you did on Radical Personal Finance and really appreciated your views!

Thank you. I was just checking out your blog, excited to read more about your lifestyle in NY and overseas.
Now that I’ve had the taste of amazing public transportation I can’t even imagine living a car-based lifestyle. I feel like I have a busy enough lifestyle without having to carve out time for exercise every day. Just by not having a car I am able to counteract some of the sedentary side effects of being so busy. At the same time I’m trying to create less “busy” time in my day.

Thanks! We’re just starting out with it – hopefully it can help people in the niche market of Chinese immigrants to the US (and those who love them :P) and hoping to expand it to long term/perpetual travel guidance for them in other countries.

I think that there’s so much we need to do/experience/learn in life already that the worry and maintenance of a car and house are way too much personal overhead!

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