Going Car Free: An Extreme Way to Save

by Emily Guy Birken

In America, it’s almost sacrilegious to suggest this, even among frugal environmentalists, but one of the best ways to save yourself a great deal of money is to get rid of your car.

Extreme, I know. But going car free will save you big bucks and reap in many rewards. Here are some of things you’ll want to consider as you think about taking the plunge of living without a car:

The Cost of Car Ownership

When you jump in your car to run some errands, it’s very easy to view your trip as completely free. However, every time you slide behind the wheel costs you money. According to the Department of Labor, car ownership is the second largest American household expense. How is that possible?

To start, there is the purchase price of the car. Even if you paid cash for your vehicle and don’t have a monthly payment, the money you spent is money you could have used for other purposes. If you do have a payment and pay interest on that loan, the initial cost of your car is even higher.

Then, add in how much you pay per year in fuel and oil, maintenance and repair costs, licensing and fees, buying tires, and depreciation, and it becomes clear that car ownership is actually quite expensive.

To calculate the exact amount your car is costing you annually and monthly, check out AAA’s Your Driving Costs pamphlet, which includes a formula for calculating costs.

True Transportation Needs

We are so used to driving anywhere we need to go that we sometimes forget that cars are not always necessary. Many of the errands we run are within easy walking or biking distance, but our default method of transportation is the automobile. If you’re considering ditching your car, start by figuring out when you really and truly need a car, and when it’s just convenient. Research the public transportation, biking and walking options in your area. You may find that driving has become a habit and is not actually a necessity.

To determine how walkable your area is, type in your address to WalkScore. This website assigns your address a score—the higher the score, the easier it is to get to services on your own two feet.

Even if you do need a car on occasion, it does not mean you have to own one. Services like Zipcar offer you the ability to share a car which you can use at a moment’s notice to drive up to 180 miles per day. So going car free does not mean you are stranded.

Downsizing is another option. If you are a two or three car family, you may be able to sell one vehicle to reduce the expense of maintaining multiple vehicles, which more often than not, may not even be used.

Community and Health

Individuals who have gone car free talk a great deal about the unexpected benefits of living without a ride. For one thing, walking or biking everywhere forces you to interact with your community and neighborhood much more. It allows you to really notice and treasure the changing of the seasons, as well as foster relationships with your neighbors.

Another benefit is getting into shape. By using your body’s energy, rather than fossil fuels to get around, you are improving your own health, the health of the environment, and your financial health. It’s a win-win-win.

Going car free is certainly not for everyone. Many individuals simply live too far off the beaten path to give up their wheels. However, even if you do not take the extreme measure of getting rid of your car, it can be worthwhile to think about your transportation options on occasion and decide if your choices are valid necessities, or just habits.

Published or updated August 18, 2011.
Print or e-mail this article:

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rita

I understand the idea of saving money fast. At the same time this takes advantage of all the people you know. It’s one thing to help someone out for a week when their car is in the shop. It’s another to do all the driving for them. Picking up their children taking them home. Taking mom to the grocery to get a weeks supply. Even for relatives this is a real pain for a lengthy period of time. If the need is one that can’t be helped that’s one thing. If it is just to save money and take advantage of others it’s another. I work in an elementary school and see some parents taking advantage of others often. Not out of need but out of laziness. Just my thoughts.


2 Emily Guy Birken

@Rita, that’s an excellent point. As I was writing this article, I was thinking only about how you could make things work without a car–but still taking responsibility for your own needs. You’re right that there are certainly takers out there who would look at this as an excellent opportunity to save themselves money and cause others headaches. Going car free is only a reasonable exercise if you can sustainably live without depending on others to pick up your ride-less slack.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: