Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Change One Thing and Save $12,000 a Year

Want to reduce your expenses by $1000 a month in one fell swoop? Consider ditching your second car (if you're particularly brave, you can consider getting rid of the first one, too). The Canadian Automobile Association estimates that it costs $11,964.85 annually to own a car as of 2011. That's more than we spend on our mortgage!

Now before you shake your head in disbelief and click on over to the next blog on your reading list, stick around and read the rest of what I have to say - it might just convince you to at least consider the possibility of life with less cars :)

I'll admit I'm often amazed at the fact that cars are one thing even families who are quite frugal in most other aspects just won't consider giving up. Of course, I know there are some situations where it's just not possible, but many families (especially those living in urban areas) could easily live with a single car if they seriously explored other alternatives. We currently have one vehicle, and were entirely car-free for about three years with two small children. In addition, we know several other families that live quite happily with one car (or none at all).

There are quite a few factors that allow us to live quite easily with only one car. We live in a highly walkable urban neighbourhood, with many amenities an easy 5-10 minute walk away (that includes everything from the library, bank and grocery store to the community pool and arena). We're also a half hour walk from our city's downtown, with a shopping mall, Farmer's Market and many other facilities. We also have access to public transit (although it's far from a stellar transit system). We don't often ride the bus, though, because cycling is usually a quicker and more convenient option. The bike in the photo above is my primary form of transportation, along with walking. It was trash-picked and rebuilt by my husband a few years ago (mostly using parts he'd scavenged from other free bikes). It takes me everywhere from yoga class to my yard sale rounds, and I often ride with my boys down to their drama classes, about 5 km away.

Yes, we have a lot of advantages that allow us to live easily with only one vehicle (and, in case you're wondering, it's largely my husband's job, which absolutely requires a car, that's keeping us from going car-free again). The bottom line, though, is that we are really committed to the idea. Yes, sometimes it is slightly inconvenient not having a second vehicle. At times, it can take more planning and creativity to get everyone where they need to go. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, though. We're getting a lot more exercise than most people, and my kids are learning not to be depend on driving, which will serve them well later in life. Hopefully they will give careful thought as to when (and if) they need to own a car of their own.

If you're thinking about ditching your second car, what I would suggest doing is what we did when we were first considering going totally car-free: Keep a log of how you're currently using that second car, and brainstorm the alternatives you could have used. In the book Cutting Your Car Use by Randall Ghent, it states that more than a quarter of all car trips are one mile or less. These trips can easily be made by walking or cycling. Many trips could be eliminated altogether by better planning to combine multiple errands, or by taking advantage of Internet shopping rather than driving to the store.

It's also important to keep in mind that just because you get rid of that second car, it doesn't mean you can't occasionally have access to a second vehicle if you really need it. Car sharing groups are an option that is available in a growing number of cities (local reader can find information about the Hamilton CarShare here). Of course, you can also rent a car on occasion, too. When we were car-free, we found we needed to rent a car only a few times per year to meet our transportation needs (there wasn't a car sharing option back then!).

This is a topic about which I feel particularly passionate (in case you haven't already figured that out!). I feel that reducing car dependency has many benefits beyond just the financial ones and it's something I wish more people would consider exploring. I hope I might have convinced you to give it some thought, anyway. Here are some resources I would recommend checking out for more in-depth information about alternatives to driving:

(Disclaimer: The above are Amazon affiliate links - of course I recommend checking out your local library first, but if you decide to purchase any of these resources, you can help support this blog by using these links). 

Does your family live with one (or no) cars? Do you have any great resources or tips to share?

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