Living Car Free / by Jennifer Chan

 

When you’ve been living with an expense for so long, it’s easy to overlook just how much it actually impacts your finances.

While I’ve never owned an expensive car, it was a 2007 Mazda 3 hatchback, it ended up still being relatively costly to maintain. Over the last year, I was funnelling roughly $300 per month into a designated car maintenance account. Not only was that extremely expensive for me, in addition to the other usual car-related expenses, but it seemed my poor Mazda was breaking down every other month, which became a huge inconvenience. It typically involved me spending a full morning or afternoon driving the car to the auto shop, which was 30 minutes away from my apartment, and sitting at a nearby coffee shop to wait for them to fix whatever piece was broken. As soon as the workers at the auto shop began to know me by name, I knew that the cost of keeping this car running was no longer worth it.

At the time, I cannot overstate enough just how much financial anxiety I suffered from owning this car. Every single day I worried whether the next time I turned that thing on if it would just internally combust and blow all my savings. This wasn’t necessarily an irrational fear either. In the six months leading up to my decision, I spent roughly $2,500 in repairs alone.

In June I decisively sold my car for scraps. Unbeknownst at the time, I effectively eliminated one of the main reasons for using my Emergency Fund.

Within the same week of saying goodbye to Mazda, I signed up for an Enterprise Car Membership. There are three different memberships that are available, based on how often you intend to use their service (i.e. lower rates for more frequent users). I’m lucky because there are about four Enterprise cars on my street that are available 24/7, the closest of which is only a five minute walk away. I use this service to run errands, drive to my softball games, visit my grandparents and any other trips that aren’t practical or accessible by public transit. I also elected to pay an additional $65 deductible fee every year so in the chance that I’m involved in a car accident, I won’t have to pay a cent. Lastly, Enterprise also reimburses me for refilling the gas.

Just by getting rid of my car and using pubic transit & Enterprise Car Membership, I now roughly save at least $100 per month on transportation.

Physically

This is an obvious advantage. I now buy my groceries by walking to the store and loading up my knapsack. Although more time consuming, I now actually enjoy the trip, particularly on a nice day. I get some mild exercise, breathe in fresh air, and listen to music or a podcast. Getting outside always elevates my mood, which has me now questioning why I never walked to the grocery store before.

I also exclusively take public transit if I’m heading downtown, which also requires walking further distances from bus, subway or streetcar stops to my final destination. Irrespective of the health benefits, it’s just so much more enjoyable walking downtown than driving downtown. By effectively being forced to slow down and take in the sights, I’m constantly discovering things around the city that I didn’t know existed.

Emotionally

When I first contemplated getting rid of my car, I honestly felt scared. I was surprised at how emotionally dependent I was on owning a vehicle. Several irrational thoughts floated through my mind. How will I buy groceries? Will I become a hermit? Will this impact my ability to see friends who live across town? Of course none of these concerns actualized, but it was an interesting realization from a psychological standpoint that showed me how unknowingly reliant I was on material objects.

One of my primary reasons for keeping the car was that the mere action of owning a car made me feel safe – knowing I could leave a situation at any given time. In reality, I didn’t even feel safe driving my car. During winter, there was also one or two times where I strongly regretted driving. My car was so old it didn’t have traction control, which is now standard on most cars. I had winter tires but it still didn’t eliminate my car from slipping and sliding around. It’s scary to admit but I can remember a few occasions where I put myself in pretty dangerous situations.

I also mistakenly thought that losing Mazda also meant losing a piece of my independence. I could just get in my car and drive anywhere at a moment’s notice, I thought. Well, sure, I could. But did I ever really do that? No. What I did have, however, is a vehicle that made it easier for me to impulsively buy sh** I didn’t need. Do you know how many quick purchases I made because I randomly decided I wanted something, took an elevator down to the parking garage and then swiped my credit card at a store 15 minutes later?

Now, three months later, my only regret is that I didn’t scrap my car sooner. I feel freer, and consequently happier without a car. When I go for dinner with my partner or friends, I no longer have to think twice about whether I can order a glass of wine (or two). I’ve also stopped worrying about driving in circles to find parking and whether I need to excuse myself from wherever I am to feed the meter.

Concluding Thoughts

While I intend to own another car someday, I’m not in the rush that I once was. Instead, I’m perfectly happy with methodically saving to purchase a used car completely in cash, and trust that in the meantime my two feet will take me where I need to go. I urge you to investigate your own thoughts and preconceived notions about car ownership. Is your car acting as a security blanket? Is taking the subway to work really so inconvenient? How much money will you save by only driving once every other week? Get outside of your comfort zone. Experiment with walking, bicycling and public transportation. I guarantee the mental and physical benefits will surprise you.