simple living

Aiming For a Car-Free Life.

I have a car. It’s a beautiful bronze two-door 2001 Oldsmobile Alero.

We have a love-hate relationship.

I bought it  exactly two years ago on January 22, 2009. It had 61,000 original miles; now my car is nearing 90,000 miles. That means I’ve traveled about 30,000 miles in two years.

The car itself was $5,000 (cash).

The insurance is $120 a month ($120 x 24mo. =  $2,880).

Gas is about $30 each time I fill up my tank, which is 1-2 times a week ($30 x 104weeks = $3,120).

Let’s look at that again. $5,000 + $2,880 + $3120 = $11,000.

That doesn’t include license and registration ($100 each year), car repairs (at least $500), a fender bender ($300 to the other guy’s car), and various items associated with car upkeep such as replacement windshields, new brakes, fluids, car washes, parking, etc. So let’s add that all up ($100 x 2) + $500 + $300 + $500 [rounded, for random expenses] = $1,500.

So, that’s about $12,500 for purchasing & maintaining a nice used vehicle for two years (although I’m sure I’ve spent more). Many people spend thousands more on a brand new vehicle or to upkeep and replace their old vehicles regularly.

What!? I could do so much with $12,500 – travel, mission trips in other countries, extreme adventures, more dinners with friends, cross off items on my life list, or just save it. Financial security is nice.

So could you. If you had a few extra thousand dollars a year, what would you do with it?

This brings to me one of my goals: to live a car-light life that transitions into car-free living.

I used to borrow cars (from parents while at home or from friends during college), walk, and depend on public transportation. When I moved to Chicago after graduating from college, I was ecstatic about not needing a car since Chicago’s public transportation could get me anywhere at anytime. I had freedom. The bus stop was right outside the apartment door, the CTA station down the street, and I was within walking distance from grocery stores, bars, coffee shops, and eclectic toy stores. When I unexpectedly moved two weeks later out of the apartment and into a house on the border of Chicago, I still managed fine without a car. Again, I had a bus stop on the corner of my street, and the CTA station was two miles down the road.

It was a little bit different, though. The bus stopped operating past 7pm on weekdays, and stores were further away. I could only carry so much on my bike. My neighborhood was filled with middle-class houses, not apartments and shops. It was also difficult for me to visit with friends since most of them lived in the suburbs and depended on cars to get anywhere. I disliked my route to work during Chicago winter weather: standing on street corners, a few train and bus transfers, and ultimately, an hour and a half-long commute due to no direct transportation route when my place of employment was only a ten minute drive away! But I did it. Then I quit my job.

Then I made a mistake. A few weeks after quitting the job, I bought the car. A week after that, I found a teaching job in a nearby suburb and used my car to commute without looking into public transportation options first (a Google search right now tells me I could have walked ten minutes to a Metra station, had a quick ride to a few stops over, and walked ten more minutes to the school – very doable).  Then I moved out of Chicago and into the suburbs, away from decent public transportation. I have recently looked into taking public transportation from my current residence to my current job but it is not possible without a ride to the train station (or a bike ride – but I’m not ready yet to quit my car cold turkey and hop on a bike in the middle of winter!). Then there’s the fact that I also need to commute to other places spread out across the ‘burbs.

I need to stop before I become too dependent on my car. I need to depend on my own two feet. I need less time in a box on wheels and more interaction with the world. I want to feel the sun on my face. I want to notice the details along the streets. I want to go at my own pace instead of trailing behind an extremely slow driver. I’m tired of working only to pay for the thing that gets me to work! I love my car – she’s beautiful and fits me well, but I’m also ready to let go. As much as I am able to.

I have a confession: I don’t know how I will do this.

I’ve talked about car-free living with my family friends, I’ve researched transportation options, drooled over vintage Schwinn bikes on, and looked into finding a job that is local to where I live. I’ve read blogs and eBooks on car-free living. But I don’t know how I’m going to achieve this, especially living so far away from public transportation.

Things to consider:

  • We are moving in three weeks. We will be two counties away from Chicago, and down the street from the last stop on a Metra line. A drive less than ten minutes away will bring you to open country and endless cornfields.
  • At least the Metra is really close!
  • I don’t know where my student teaching placement is yet. Most likely, it will take a least an hour to commute.
  • Chicago area traffic is horrible.
  • When I start student teaching, I quit my job and stop earning money. I also lose my awesome health insurance coverage. Paying for for insurance and gas each month will be a struggle and I expect to be unemployed until September of 2011.
  • I am not guaranteed a teaching job in September.
  • I will still be in school until June – the campus is located just north of Chicago.

Thoughts that have crossed my mind:

  • Kyle won’t get rid of his car – working on cars is his passion. If I get rid of my car, and we have an engagement with friends or family that requires driving, we can use his car.
  • Waiting until I’m 25 (in five months) to see how much my insurance drops, and  if I can cut back on some of my coverage. This should help me save money on car insurance.
  • Looking for a teaching job that is a good biking distance away from where I will live.
  • Taking public transportation to my student teaching placement may take me about two hours but I will really enjoy the quiet time in the morning to read a book on the train instead of sitting in traffic.
  • Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!!! Am I crazy?!

So that’s my update on my serious consideration of car-free living.

You’ll hear more about my progress as I figure out the next few months…

Great reads on being car-free:
Simply Car-Free eBook by Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens
How To Bike Commute With a Baby guest post by Dusti Arab on Rowdy Kittens
Lessons from a Car-Free Life Leo Babauto – zen habits
From Car-Heavy to Car-Lite in Only 500 Miles
A Moral Imperative to Drive Less by Tammy Strobel at Rowdy Kittens
Save Two Million Dollars Going Car-Free over at Greenimalist


9 thoughts on “Aiming For a Car-Free Life.”

  1. How about you just live where you work? Or aim to find a job where you live? One of the most amazing things about the movement you’re part of is that it really encourages community- and if you live within a few miles of your job, that also means that you drive way less (if at all) and you can discover friends, etc where you live.

    1. Yes, I really want to live where I work.

      The reason I live where I do at the moment is because it is half-way between my job and his job. The place we are moving to soon is where he works – which will save us both money and he can walk to work. Unfortunately, that puts me far away from my current employment. Once June rolls around, I will be free to look for a job anywhere and will be searching within the area we live in (or talking to him about possibly moving near my future job). I also have to take into consideration that he has his own goals, too.

      Also, as you pointed out (thank you for reminding me!), living close to my job encourages community and I love this!

  2. I know exactly how you feel, Laura. Living where I did in rural Ohio it was literally impossible to be car free unless you worked from home. Now that we’re in NYC, it’s a lot easier to be car free – our public transit here is pretty reliable.

    I think maybe one thing that might help is focusing on car-lite living rather than straight up car-free living. When you’re in car culture, you’re so used to driving that you’ll drive to things that are completely within walking/biking distance. I think you’re on the right track with aiming to do your best to reduce your reliance on your car. But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t completely cut your dependence right away. It’s difficult when you’re not in the heart of a metropolitan area.

    (All this said, I’m doing my best to cut my dependence on public transit. The fare hikes are hitting everyone’s wallets pretty hard – an unlimited monthly card is now $104! Been biking to school as often as the weather will allow.)

    1. Going car-lite by paying attention to my options is definitely the first step in reducing my car dependence. And you’re right, it’s hard to cut dependence right away. I’m a little impatient so I have to remember that things take time and I can’t accomplish everything I want tomorrow. 🙂

      $104 is ridiculous! However, when you consider that to the price of gas per gallon and how many times you might have to fill it up in a month (plus insurance), it’s cheaper than driving… not that one would want to drive in NYC anyway. Glad to hear you’re biking as often as you can!

  3. I always am in-between. I like not having the car in the city, but at certain times, having a car is extremely nice. Sometimes I feel restricted in doing things I might do usually because I don’t have a car, but maybe it’s because I’m so dependent on a car culture.

    1. I think a lot of us think “I can’t” because of no car, but in reality, we are just so dependent on car culture. Why do you like having a car in the city? I ask because when I think of driving and parking and dealing with a car in Chicago, the thought makes me cringe.

  4. Hi Laura,
    When Aaron and I started car-free living (it was “car-lite” at first), we rented Zipcar to grocery stores and to church (30 miles away). Then we slowly realized that we could bike to shop for grocery. Then we tried biking to church. Now we really enjoy not having a car and all the hassles that come with it. I think if you take one step at a time, you won’t feel so overwhelmed. 🙂

    1. Zipcar is a great option! I’ve never used them before, but did consider it as I explored my options for car-free or car-lite living. The only issue with services like Zipcar is that they are primarily located in urban areas and aren’t available 30-40 miles away from the city, which is where I live. But I will keep researching renting opportunities! Thank you. 🙂

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