Thursday, September 19, 2013
The Car-Free Lifestyle (Coming To An End)
Close your eyes. Now imagine a city that allows you to live relatively easily without a car. This city has a robust public transportation network of subways, trains, taxis and clearly marked bicycle lanes. The things you want and need - home, work, grocery stores, shopping, entertainment - are located close to one another which eases your ability to walk to and fro.
Where is this place? Was this city Chicago? New York City? Washington D.C.?
I'm quite sure you didn't pick Sarasota, Florida.
But that's exactly where I live, and where I've been living for over four years now. And I've spent more than half that time car-free.
Sarasota isn't easy for those living without a car. There is no subway or train system. The buses do a fairly satisfactory job of getting me to and from work, but don't cover a great part of the city. Downtown is well covered, and major landmarks like the airport, the beaches and the malls are easy to get to. However, many residential neighborhoods are not located anywhere near bus stops. So how have I done it?
I purposely designed my life around not having a car. I choose the apartment I live in because it's located along the bus line that takes me to work, and also sits right next to a bus stop. I bought a 49cc scooter for days when the bus is running late or when I need to run errands that the bus doesn't easily allow. There are sacrifices to be sure, but the savings have been immense.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average "consumer unit" spent almost $9,000 on transportation last year. That breaks down to $750 per month! Pretty insane. Take a look at my budget for August: I spent a total of $47 on transportation needs, which included bus passes and fuel for my little scooter. Immense savings, indeed.
Walking to the bus stop in the rain isn't fun. Leaving home earlier in the morning because I can't speed to work in a car isn't fun, either. But you know what else isn't fun? Spending a bunch of cash unnecessarily.
And while this post is designed to show you that living in a small city without a car is relatively easy, albeit not without sacrifices, if you really want it, I'm also writing to inform you readers that my car-free lifestyle (and many of the savings associated with it) is unfortunately coming to an end.
My employer has decided to purchase land in another part of the city and will soon be breaking ground on the new location. My entire department will be relocated when the new building is built. As luck would have it, this new location is not bus friendly. Furthermore, although I could probably move to an apartment that is close enough for a 2-3 mile walk to the new location, my girlfriend currently uses the bus as well as she is living a car-free lifestyle. The bus picks her up right outside of our apartment and whisks her away to her job with a fair amount of efficiency. Moving closer to my job would make it impossible for her to catch the bus to her job without having to leave home two hours early and complete a couple bus transfers. It just wouldn't be realistic for her.
So, my car-free dream is ending. It's been an incredible ride. I wanted to prove to myself (and the world) that you don't need to live in some major metropolis to live successfully without a car in modern America. I've done it. And I could continue to do it if I really wanted to push the issue. But that's not the point. The point is to sacrifice in a realistic manner so that you can live well below your means and save your money for a brighter future.
What will I be buying? Well, I can tell you it won't be a brand new SUV that gets 10 miles per gallon and can traverse mountains with ease. Florida is flat and I don't want to be broke.
I'll likely be looking for a fuel efficient model that's 5-10 years old where most of the depreciation (one of the biggest costs to car ownership) has already been accounted for. Something cheap to buy, maintain and operate. I'm thinking Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas and Chevrolet Cavaliers. I'll let you in on a secret: I'd really love a Mini Cooper. They get around 30 mpg, they're awesome looking and they're a lot of fun to drive (my parents have one). Unfortunately, I think they're out of my price range. I'd like to spend no more than 5% of my net worth on a car.
I'm looking to spend somewhere around $5,000 on a car, but preferably less. We'll see what I can get. I'm willing to pay up for quality, but only to a degree.
What I'm going to do is "pre-pay" for this car by amortizing the expense on upcoming monthly budgets. You'll see some funds allocated towards my "car fund" in my upcoming September budget report and you'll see this money listed as an expense so that when I do purchase a car it isn't listed as one giant expense that makes it look like I saved 0% for a month. I'll amortize the expense out over a few months or so to limit the damage to my budget, much in the same way many people go out and finance a vehicle. I'll be paying cash, obviously, but I don't want my savings rate to be skewed by one off month. I don't need to complete this transaction until mid-2014 because the new building isn't expected to be up and running until later 2014.
So that's it. I was hoping to be car-free for much longer and reap the rewards inherent in such a lifestyle. Unfortunately, I just didn't see a work-related relocation in my future. But life happens and you have to roll with the punches. And to be honest, there are some things I'm looking forward to once I own a car again. It'll be much easier to pack up some gear and head to the beach (getting to the beach by bus is a 1.5 hour nightmare). It'll be nice to have more time, as I can leave home for work later and I'll also get home earlier. Also, I might just have a little fun with it!
If you were ever thinking about living car-free I'll be the first to tell you that it's possible in all but the most remote locations. But you have to want it. And you have to be willing to make sacrifices. The savings are immense, but it's up to you whether the lifestyle is worth it. For me, it's been incredibly rewarding. I've learned about how to deal with adversity all while increasing my savings rate tremendously.
How about you? Living car-free? If not, ever thought about it?
Thanks for reading.
Photo Credit: ponsulak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net