Sell All Your Cars – Smooth Move

October 12, 2009 at 3:31 PM 1 comment

Can you think back to the last time in your life when you lived—probably comfortably and happily—without a car? For plenty of you city dwellers, that time’s right now. Some of you might be remembering college, or maybe a little window of time after college. And plenty of you haven’t gone without wheels since you turned sixteen. You’re sure you need your ride right now . . . and you’re probably right.

But do yourself a favor: take a minute to imagine—in the context of your real current life—not having a car of any kind.

But first, why bother?

The Perks

Here’s why going carless can be a net win:

  • No more car payments, car insurance, gas money, parking fees, repair bills, oil changes, tickets, fines, license and registration expenses . . . Let’s face it: Cars are money pits!

  • No more worrying about your most expensive possession: where you parked it, whether you locked it, when inspection’s due, what’s going to break next, and all that. Cars are constant worries.

  • Not driving reduces stress. Walking places gives you time to think and breathe. Walking and biking connect you to your neighborhood better than driving can.

The Drawbacks

Here’s where the deal gets a bit sour:

  • Ease of transportation is greatly reduced. Almost no commute anywhere is ‘a simple drive’—all your weekly grocery runs, bank runs, booze runs, or whatever you do are going to take planning and time. This can be attractive to some people (like us)!

  • You’ll have to rely on a train or bus (if you have that option), a bike, and mostly your own legs to get where you need to go. Again, this can be seen as a perk!

  • In an emergency or urgent situation, you’re bound to feel stuck: You can’t drive to the hospital, to the doctor’s, to the vet’s, or wherever. These situation can be solved, but they’re not easy.

  • Your ability to be spontaneous—to meet friend at the drop of a hat, take off to wherever for a weekend, or just go spend an afternoon in a park—is going to change (not decrease!). You can be spontaneous (more, in some ways—think of never worrying about where to park when you go on a trip!), but in different ways.

But really, think about life—your real, current life—without a car! Could it work? My fiancee posed this same question to me—“What if we sold both our cars?”—a couple months ago. And after rolling my eyes and laughing at her, I gave it some real thought—and thought we probably could.

How We’re Doing It

So we did. At the time we had her ’92 Honda Civic (which was becoming less dependable and more money-sucking every month) and a ’98 Mercury Sable that I’d just inherited. We sold both in two weeks and have been living car-free for six weeks.

Here’s what’s special about our situation that lets us do this:

  • We live in a great location (a NYC suburb in NJ) to be car-free. A NYC Express bus goes right past our apartment building, a train station’s a mile down the road, our grocery store is just over a mile away, and all our vital life locations (vet’s, doctor’s, department stores, her parents’ houses, etc.) are reachable by a train and/or bike ride, and we feel safe without lockable car doors.

  • As twenty-somethings without kids, stressful jobs, high-pressure responsibilities, or any emergencies that might depend on quick car ride, we’re totally capable of living a life without cars.

  • We’re cheerful, amused, and willing to deal with the hardships that not having a car can present—long hikes to the grocery store, the limits of public transportation, the difficulty of getting to out-of-the-way places, and the always-approaching cold-as-hell East Coast winter.

We’ve got some vital tools, too:

My first reaction to carless life was surprise at how easy it was to adapt to it. To be fair, we didn’t use our cars much, anyway: driving in NJ is stressful, and we like to walk to restaurants, movies, and around town. We’re doing that all the time now—and walking to the grocery store with a bright red cart, too.

The trips that used to involve a car take a lot more time and planning, though. Our weekly grocery trip, including the walk there and back, can take two hours. We’re lucky to be close enough that it doesn’t take more. Trips that used to take a longer drive—like going to my fiancee’s parents’ houses—now involve Google mapping the best bike routes from nearby train stations, writing directions on scraps of paper for reference, and being sure to know the schedule for trains coming home.

But I expected that. What I didn’t expect was how possible most trips are by foot, bike, bus, and train. Most highway-side store lots have a back entrance reachable by bikeable side roads, most towns are accessible without hitting major highways or even well-trafficked roads, and I’m willing to bike roads (and feel safe and comfortable) that I didn’t think were options. In six weeks, I know my county better, understand more about how its roads, neighborhoods, and towns interconnect than I did in a car, and feel more in tune with my area.

And walking has mental benefits, too. Walking to our errands gives my fiancee and I space and time to unwind a little, stretch our legs, feel like we’re living in the moment, and talk and spend time with each other. Our weekly grocery trip isn’t a nuisance anymore: it’s our favorite time of the week! (Talk to us in January.)

So for us, given our simple situation and car-free-friendly neighborhood, selling our cars has been a stunning success.

Can You Do It, Too?

Let’s be honest: most people can’t—or shouldn’t—consider selling their cars and going without.

Children are a dealbreaker: if you need to get kids to school, to daycare, to activities, to friends’ houses, or just around town, not having a car isn’t practical. And if a kid has an emergency—they will—not having the means to get them to a doctor or hospital (if you have the money for a car) is basically negligent. Don’t get rid of your rides if you might deeply regret it.

A busy, involved life is probably a no-go, too. Got something on your schedule most nights of the week? Busy weekends, too? Lots of travel plans that ought to involve a car? Then not having transportation isn’t the thing for you. Getting rid of your ride requires an investment: the money sunk into a vehicle is replaced by time, effort, planning, patience, and a resilient sense of humor. If you find it hard to picture finding a 3-hour period every weekend to get all your groceries for the week, you shouldn’t go without your car.

Location is a limiter. I grew up in a town rural enough that this could not happen. Going to the grocery store, to the doctor’s, to the hospital, or to a friend’s house was usually a 15- or 20-minute drive, without much traffic (never an issue) and at the speed limit. Cars weren’t a convenience—they were a necessity.

Safety should be a concern. Do you feel safe going everywhere you have to go in your life without the security a car provides? No? Then don’t be without one.

And finally, if you want to ditch your car, you need to invest money in that lifestyle. We couldn’t be living this way without our bikes, our grocery cart, and our frequent public transportation expenses. And making these purchases before we got rid of our cars was essential to making our transition. We put a carless life together before we removed our alternatives! Your needs are probably going to be different than ours, but if you’re not willing to make an investment and commitment to this life, to jump into the deep end, you probably shouldn’t put your foot in the water. Unless . . .

Consider Other Options

This isn’t the only way to cut your car costs and reduce the vehicles in your life, of course.

Have two or three cars? Consider the possibility (and the consequences) of selling one or more: you’ll save on car insurance, car payments, license costs, and gas.

Find yourself driving everywhere? Try walking or biking to closer places. You’ll save on gas and feel more connected to your neighborhood.

Always spending dumb money—parking tickets, parking fees, repair costs, fares, etc.—on your daily commutes? Try optimizing your ownership experience! See if you can save money using your work’s parking spots (or other parking options), be more conscious of how you get fined and what you can do about it, try to be more gas efficient, carpool, and drive less.

MintLife just ran a great blog post on living without a car, too!

Want more information about living without a car? Check out Wikihow’s and eHow’s guides.

Check your WalkScore to see how walkable your neighborhood is—but don’t put too much weight on it. Mine’s only a 51.

Oh, and someone wrote a book called “Living Well Without a Car.” Check out the first two chapters here.

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Open a Roth IRA and Keep More of Your Money Sell All Your Cars – Follow-up

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Sam Warren

I write about money matters that apply to my life—and hopefully yours!

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