I got my first car when I was 15 years old. It was a gift. A payment of sorts from my dad, whom I went to work for almost daily, but somehow never managed to get on the payroll. According to dad, my payment was a ‘roof over my head, 3 meals a day, and spending money on the weekends‘ …. not a bad deal really. In fact, based on the quality and quantity of work dad received from me, I’m not exactly going out on a limb when I say that I definitely got the better end of that deal. Thanks, Dad!
When I got married nearly eighteen years ago, I was a car salesman. For the first few years of my marriage I sold new and used Chrysler minivans, Plymouth Prowlers, Jeep Wranglers, and Dodge trucks. For *almost* the entire eighteen years of my marriage, we’ve always had two cars. Usually they were new’ish, often leased.
I guess you can say that I am a car guy….err, was a car guy. A year ago I traded my car keys for a bus pass when my car finally kicked the bucket and and I didn’t replace it.
For the past twelve months we’ve been operating as a one car, six person family.
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I’M A CAR GUY AT HEART
This journey actually begins a few years earlier. Sometime in 2010 I got serious about getting out of debt, sold our two new cars and replaced them with older vehicles that we paid for with cash. For the first time in our marriage, we didn’t have any car payments. Those two cars what we paid cash for were some of the very first steps we took in our ‘get out of debt plan’, and they served us well for nearly six years!
Then one evening last fall as I was driving home from work, my van finally gave up. Something blew up and the engine was smoking like an old time steam locomotive. I had to pull over on the side of the freeway and jump out as the cab started to fill up with smoke. Good times.
But enough was enough. I’d been sinking money into that car for months just to keep it on the road. The list of things wrong with that car was loooong and it just wasn’t viable to keep her running any longer. I’d milked that thing for all it was worth. In the end, I had it towed away in return for a tax write off. But rather than replace that car with another one, I ended up replacing it with a bus pass, and I’ve been commuting to work daily for the past year. Here’s what I’ve learned, and how much I’ve saved during the past year.
IF I CAN DO IT, SO CAN YOU
We’re a family of six. We have two, soon to be three, drivers. Between the six of us if feels like somebody always needs to be somewhere. Very often, we need to be in two places at the same time. As a one car family, the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy is kind of tricky to pull off. A second car would be sooo nice, but with some planning and a bit of flexibility, getting by with one car can easily be pulled off.
End of the world? Nah.
Look, owning a car is absolutely more convenient than riding a bus. I admit it and you’ll get no argument from me on that front. Still, it’s easy to make excuses as to why you could never do without your car! I’ve made (and still make) the same excuses:
- The bus is inconvenient
- It’s not efficient
- I can afford a second car
- There are some wackos on the bus
- There isn’t a direct bus route to/from work and home
- The weather sucks to bus in. Rain. Snow. Rain. Heat. Wind. Rain. Rain.
- We’re a family of six – we *need* two cars
- I have an image to keep up at work
- I don’t feel safe on the bus
- What if there’s an emergency and I need to get somewhere ASAP?
- I like to come and go from work on my schedule, not on a bus schedule
- The bus stop nearest my office is over a mile away
- I have to leave work earlier/later than I’d like to catch the bus
I’m sure you could make the same excuses, and even add to this list. Maybe ditching your car isn’t a good option for you. Maybe you have a valid excuse why it won’t work in your situation, but don’t say that you “can’t” do it, because you absolutely can if you want to. If I can do it, then you can too.
It’s not always convenient, or even pleasant. Coordinating can be frustrating, but it helps to remember that none of this needs to be permanent. If you want to give it a try, just set a short term goal. Try riding the bus for one week. Then for a month. Then three months, or six, or for a year! Once you reach that milestone, reassess and figure out what you want to do next.
Here’s the deal: if you want to Get Rich Quick’ish then you need to make some significant changes. If you’re unwilling to make those changes then it’s going to take you longer to reach financial independence.
Short term pain, long term gain.
Transportation is usually one of the top three expenses in everyone’s budget, along with housing and food. So if you can greatly reduce, or even completely eliminate transportation costs from your budget then you can start to make some significant financial gains. I wasn’t able to see past the excuses until I was forced to start riding the bus. I didn’t want to start riding the bus. I had to. Didn’t have a car.
I wasn’t exactly planning for my car to blow up, but when it did I had no other way of getting to work. So I hopped on the bus out of desperation. Then a funny thing happened once I started riding it. The world didn’t end. It wasn’t that bad. The wackos on the bus? They weren’t there. Instead I was riding with a bunch of white-collar workers that lived in the burbs and bussed into the city for work. It was actually pretty vanilla.
For me, the real inconveniences of riding the bus are these:
- Fixed bus schedules
- Walking 2 miles from work to the bus stop
- Walking in the rain for 2 miles from work to the bus stop
But these inconveniences kinda, sorta turned out to be a benefit. Just depends on how you look at them.
- Fixed bus schedules
- Because I live in suburbia, the bus doesn’t run as regularly as it does in the city. If I want to catch the last bus of the night to my neighborhood then I HAVE to leave work at a certain time, otherwise I don’t make it home. This hard-stop helps me prioritize my time better and I actually get more done during traditional business hours.
- Walking 2 miles from work to the bus stop
- Guess what happens when you hike two miles a day? Your legs get stronger. You lose weight. I get to walk in the fresh air. I have time to think and clear my head as I walk to and from work.
- Walking in the rain for 2 miles from work to the bus stop.
- I now have an umbrella. If it’s really raining hard, I wear these hiking boots, which are FAR more comfortable than my regular shoes. The rain isn’t a big deal, it’s just rain.
In my just-over-a-year-of-bus-commuting adventures, I’ve had exactly ONE time when I needed to leave work immediately. Having my own car would have been nice that day. So what do you do when you need to leave work RIGHT NOW, but don’t have a car? You open up your phone and summon a ride via Lyft or Uber. ($50 credit from Lyft or a free Uber ride (up to $15) if you register an account using these links).
My Lyft ride home cost me about $50. Pretty steep under normal circumstances, but in an emergency, you’re not thinking money. And considering the huge amount of money I’ve saved over the past year by not driving a car, dropping $50 for a chauffeured ride home was more than OK.
Mostly my bus rides are uneventful. I almost always use the time to catch up on reading blogs, responding to comments, listening to podcasts, or Tweeting up a storm. I’ve watched documentaries on Netflix and streamed all of The Wonder Years (what a great show!). In my otherwise busy and hectic life, my commute is now a time to relax. Funny how things work like that sometimes.
HOW MUCH HAVE I SAVED?
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how much I’ve saved by taking the bus over the past year instead of buying a second car, but I take a swing. The average cost of owning a car is $8,698 per year. That comes out to $725 per month: $475 in financing (lease or car payment) and the rest coming from insurance coverage, fuel, and maintenance costs like oil changes and tire replacement.
That’s the average cost of a car in the U.S. You might be paying more or less than that. Turns out that I’m pretty average because that’s pretty dang close to the amount of money I calculate I’ve saved by riding the bus. If you were to invest that $8,698 as a lump sum, assuming a 7% return, you’d have over $17,000! That’s a lot of money!
IS IT WORTH IT?
Can I live without a second car? Yes, it’s really not that difficult. Lyft and Uber are there if you need a car. Riding your bike is also a quick, easy, and healthy option for you to consider. The CycleLogical benefits of biking are seemingly endless….that said, my one car experiment is coming to an end.
I’m currently shopping for a second car. Rather than investing the nearly $10,000 that we’ve saved, I’m going to trade it for a car. Because I’m buying this with money saved from not driving, it kind of feels like this will be a free car. I know it doesn’t’ work that way, but it feels like it. My goal is to be “out the door” with the second car for less than $8,000. That’s a bit less than the amount of money I’ve saved over the past year.
I’m not in a hurry to get the car (rushing is a great way to overpay), but I’m actively looking. If and when a great buy presents itself then I’ll be ready to pounce. But even once we’re back to being a two car family, I still plan on riding the bus to work on a frequent basis. There isn’t a good reason not to.
Would you ever consider eliminating your second car? Why or why not? If you are a bus commuter – what has your experience been like? Leave a comment below.