Well Heeled Blog » Save Money, Have Adventures, and Travel the World

Masthead header

Living Without A Car: Am I Crazy?

Living in Southern California and having a 35-mile commute means that I drive. A lot. So one of the things I am most looking forward to graduate school is to living close to campus and trying out the car-free lifestyle for a couple of years.

Until I got into the awesome school I am attending and I realized that not that many people go car-free.

There are rumors of cars bumping up against bicylists on purpose. The vast majority of folks who do go without cars are international students. And even though I only live 2.5 miles from school, the road from my apartment to the school doesn’t seem the most pedestrian-friendly: the street isn’t well-lit, Google Maps show missing chunks of sidewalk, etc. I still want to live without a car. Am I crazy?

Financial reasons to live without a car

  • My car is creeping up on the 260,000 mile mark, so there is no way it can survive the trip from California to the East Coast. I’m not the most handy around cars, so I want something reliable, which means an expensive used car or a brand new vehicle.
  • I have enough to buy a car with cash, but the more cash I can conserve, the fewer student loans I’d have to take out.
  • Even though not having a car would mean that I’d have to get more rides from friends (chip in for gas), pay for car-sharing, and take the bus more often, it’s still going to be much cheaper than buying a car. My school offers a free bus pass to students and not having a car means that I don’t have to pay for parking, repairs, insurance, etc. Also, no car = no risk of traffic tickets! That’s the way to live like a student.

Lifestyle reasons to go car-free

  • I’ve spent my entire adult life driving. I enjoy it and the freedom it brings me (especially on the days without traffic… which in SoCal doesn’t come that often!), but I am ready to try not having a car for once.
  • I have no idea where I will be after graduation, so I would like to defer the car decision until I know that for sure.
  • Living without a car is the BEST way to ensure I get some form of consistent exercise (i.e. walking or biking). 2.5 miles is a long way – would take me 45-50 minutes each way – but it’s walkable. At night, I can catch a ride with friends – I will live within 0.5 miles of most of my classmates.
  • I can also take a bus, and that would be a 30 minute trip including walking to and from the bus stop.

The pros of a having a car would be many, with convenience first and foremost among them. The pros of not having a car are also there, but I would definitely have to make adjustments in how I live my life.

What do you think? Should I try out this crazy thing called “car-free living?” 😉

  • Meg - Have you considered having your existing car shipped to the east coast via car carrier? You wouldn't have the investment or expenses associated with a new car and you could still walk most days. But being female, walking alone at night isn't always safe, and weather should also be a consideration. ReplyCancel

  • Stories from Austin - I don't know where you are going to school, but one thing to consider is weather. Would biking in the snow be a possibility? I used to have a .75mile walk to the university when I was a senior and during the snowy winters in Ohio it was HORRIBLE. I really enjoyed the walk home at 8pm in the dark, when it was snowing. Biking in the rain is equally miserable. You can't always depend on someone to drive you in bad weather, so it's something to consider. ReplyCancel

    • graddeals - Agreed. How is the public transport ohere you will be?
      However, I would not want a car if I were, say, going to school in Metro Boston. Is a Zipcar membership a possibility? ReplyCancel

      • Kristin - I agree with both of these replies. If there's a bus that goes from near your place to near your classes, this is totally doable. If you have to walk more than a quarter of a mile to either the bus or to classes from the bus, I'd be consider it carefully. Graduate school can be incredibly hectic and sometimes you'll need to be someplace RIGHTNOW to turn in an assignment or get to an important meeting or class. I absolutely loved not having to drive to class and pay for gas, but that walk if I forgot something was a half-hour round trip that I didn't always have time to take, and yours would be longer.


    • Melissa - I'm with you. I honestly never had the patience for cycling, and I didn't want to get stuck in lousy weather. I always preferred walking. ReplyCancel

  • Meg - You might think about multiple ways to travel, depending on the weather and when you'll be coming and going. MY SO live together about 3 miles from a university where he is a grad student and I'm on the staff. We recently purchased a used motor scooter (never would I have thought about owning one) but it's been great! It was about $1300 and is very fuel efficient. That's his main way of traveling, even in the Utah winter. I tend to take the bus up to work, but will sometimes put my bike on the bus rack to take home, which gives me more flexibility in when I leave and is great when I need to run errands after work.

  • Meg - You might think about multiple ways to travel, depending on the weather and when you'll be coming and going. MY SO live together about 3 miles from a university where he is a grad student and I'm on the staff. We recently purchased a used motor scooter (never would I have thought about owning one) but it's been great! It was about $1300 and is very fuel efficient. That's his main way of traveling, even in the Utah winter. I tend to take the bus up to work, but will sometimes put my bike on the bus rack to take home, which gives me more flexibility in when I leave and is great when I need to run errands after work. ReplyCancel

  • @TekGems - I think in Southern California, you are blessed, if you managed to locate yourself in a walk friendly area. Your public transportation options can vary greatly. For your home and school, have you looked at your walkability (walkscore.com)? It is a measure of how friendly your area is to walking.

    My wife takes the bus most days from home to work. It is one bus to work. Unless your public transportation commute is one stop, making transfers is very time consuming. If your bike route is flat, 2.5 miles, is easy enough to do. You would need to figure out how you will make grocery trips, banks, eating out etc. Chipping in for gas money is fine, but remember to extend a little more since you are utilizing a resource beyond just gas (someone's time, wear and tear on the vehicle, insurance cost, etc — all the things you save by not having a car).

    When I lived in San Francisco, I biked from home to work. There were specific bike lanes and a plethora of eating options at work. I could bike to work in 20 minutes, get a little exercise in, and not worry about fighting for parking spots when I got home. Where I lived had a walkability score of 91. Where I worked had a walkability score of 98.

    If you are attending CSULA, it has an atrocious score of 67. That's a lot of biking or you really do need a car (not necessarily yours) to get around. ReplyCancel

  • Leah - As a woman, I would feel very vulnerable and unsafe walking around after dark. How about getting a used scooter? ReplyCancel

  • jeweliette23 - I never had a car during both undergrad and grad school and while inconvenient at times, worked well enough for me. You might wanna see if your school has the following: (1) my undergrad had a shuttle service for anywhere within x miles of campus so that was useful for grocery shopping, etc., (2) my grad school was basically in a college town so while I only had like a small grocery store, everything was walkable like restaurants and bars. ReplyCancel

  • jeff sustainlifeblog - I think you should go for it, though without knowing much about your situation it's hard to say for sure.
    I didnt have a car in grad school, though I lived in a small town near campus, so I could always walk or bike where I needed to go. I'm not female, so the concerns about walking/biking around in the dark were really a non issue for me.
    Austin makes a good point, but dont let that be a deciding factor – the weather is going to be awful sometimes and super nice sometimes, and to get the good you've got to take the bad.
    The worst part for me with out a car was going to the grocery store – it was such a pain in the butt – usually I'd make my sister take me when I was in grad school. ReplyCancel

  • Michele - I got rid of my car when I moved to the East Coast for grad school, and it was a great decision. In fact, I still don't have a car even after moving back across the country to California. I had a 2 mile walk to and from school, which was generally an enjoyable way to wake up or unwind from the day — except when it was raining or snowing, in which can it was miserable! I loved not having to worry about parking, car registration, insurance, car repairs, etc. One thing you may want to consider is whether you live within walking distance to a grocery store, as that's the biggest inconvenience I've found with not having a car.

    Also n'thing that you should look to see if ZipCar is an option in your area – I love ZipCar!

  • Angie - Would you be up for providing details on where you are going to school? I'm sure readers in that area could help you decide! ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - 2.5 miles seems like it would be very do-able. If I could, I would go without a car. ReplyCancel

  • heatherskib - How reliable is the public transportation? Do they run on time 99% of the time? How are the operating hours?
    Where's the closest grocery store? Is public transportation conveniently located to it? How about Doctors Offices hospitals etc? If Public transportation shuts down in the event of an emergency can you safely get where you need to be? (Example- September 11 I rode the bus to and from school from the outer perimeter of the city. After the attack they shut down the city buses and closed the malls, downtown offices and universities. I was stranded downtown until a professor offered me a ride.) If you are comfortable with the answers to all of these factors- I say go for it!
    Is your husband going carless as well?

  • lkrant - Aside from public transportation, there are rideshare and Zipcar services in almost every major city. I would give up my car in a minute. I am thinking of doing so in retirement. One car for my wife and I may or may not be possible. We will see! ReplyCancel

  • Jordann - I lived car free all through university. It was never an issue, I took transit to school and to work, I took the occasional cab if transit wasn't available, and I walked, a lot. Now I live somewhere where a car is mandatory and I hate it. I hate the expense, I hate not being able to get out in the sunshine and get exercise on a daily basis, and I hate the fact that I'm polluting the environment.

    I highly recommend a car free lifestyle, I wish I could go back! ReplyCancel

  • @frugalportland - Try it — what's your worst-case scenario? That you have to get another? ReplyCancel

  • Melissa - If you're going to be in a major city with a good transit system, once you go car free, you'll forget why you ever needed a car in the first place. Honestly. I lived in a city for six years and walked EVERYWHERE. Now that I live out in the burbs I drive most places, and honestly, I don't love it. It kind of bugs me that I can't walk as much.

    And for the record, I did a 50 minute (one-way) walk to work for four months, and then a 40 minute (one-way) for two years. It was nothing. I really enjoyed the outdoor time. The other thing, too, was that I enjoyed being able to control exactly how long it would take me to get somewhere. With driving and public transit,you're at the mercy of traffic, delays, etc. But with walking, if Google Maps says it'll take you 17 minutes, you know for the sure it'll take EXACTLY 17 minutes (or maybe a little less, if you're fast).

    Starting in the fall I have to do a one-way commute of an hour and a half, minimum, and I am SO not looking forward to it. ReplyCancel

  • Housewife Empire - I did the car free thing for while during my undergrad years, but we had a house on campus. If you live a couple of miles away, it might get kinda tough after awhile, but you would save tons of cash…
    Nell ReplyCancel

  • vanessasmoney - Even though we get crazy snow from Jan-Mar, I know some people who bike year-round. If you have that option I would highly recommend it because 5 miles round-trip of walking will be b-o-r-i-n-g after awhile ReplyCancel

  • Darcy - I'm in grad school right now and have never had my own car (I lived away from home for undergrad as well). There are times when I wish I had a car (like for grocery shopping) but in general I don't really need one. I live downtown and can walk to restaurants, the library, pharmacy, banks, etc.. and I have a couple of friends with cars who don't mind picking me up from the airport and things llike that. ReplyCancel

  • ashley - An MBA program might have late nights in the library and early-morning presentations. You don't want to jeopardize your safety OR your studying routine because you're worried about transportation to/from school.
    Also, buying groceies and carrying them (along badly-lit/little sidewaks) is very difficult.

    In law school, I have a car that I drive to run small errands and to go to the library on the weekends – but I BIKE to and from class every day. It's a 3 mile round trip route that ensures I get excersise.
    But I could *never* finish the rest of law school without a car. Before going back to school, I lived in DC sans car and was 100% fine (I never even used my Zipcar membership! honestly!), but going back to school has necessitates lots more trips the library and Office Depot. Not to mention the school gym (good for destressing, not safe to walk or bike to at night).

    Also be sure to look up the bicycle safety statistics where you plan on biking. You might be surprised which intersections result in serious injuries and fatalities. ReplyCancel

  • rachel - If we lived in a city that was friendly to commuters by bicycle and walking, I would be all about it ReplyCancel

  • Mochi & Macarons - I live without a car now, although I jointly share the use of BF's car when we go places and so on.

    I'm torn.

    Even when I had a car, I preferred walking and public transportation. I didn't have to worry about parking costs, and I could take my time to decide to do what I wanted, when I wanted.

    In the winter however, forget it. I lived in the car. It was horrible taking public transportation. ReplyCancel

  • Lance@MoneyLife&More - I don't think you are crazy. My advice is to try it. If your car isn't going to make it the worst case is you are without a car for a little while. If you figure out it absolutely will not work then you can buy a car once you are there. My freshman year in college I wasn't allowed to have a car and I did just fine. I'm sure you can too. ReplyCancel

  • eemusings - I say go for it. You'll never know until you try. ReplyCancel

  • L - Go for it, but have a backup plan.

    Having a car towed/sent by a service is usually less expensive than people expect. I think an old roommate of mine paid $200 for hers to be towed 1/2 way across the country. That way you have your car for emergencies, bad weather, etc, but try to use other forms of transportation as much as possible to get those benefits and squeeze more time out of your car.

    (you can usually also pack a few hundred pounds of stuff in the car, so that would help with your move)

    One other thought- I’d feel pretty irritated (and used) if one of my new friends constantly expected rides bc she was saving money by effectively using my car (and my time) instead of her own. I wouldn’t factor rides from friends into your decision. That seems pretty mooch-ish. ReplyCancel

  • insomniaclabrat - I bus and walk as much as possible, but the one time we ALWAYS drive is to the grocery store. It's so hot here, I can't believe people manage to get food home without it spoiling. Obviously it's possible, but it's not easy. I did live without a car for most of college, but I had a small grocery store only a block away for perishables, and took the bus to the big grocery store for nonperishables. A lot of international students here buddy up with someone with a car to get rides to the grocery store (and other places, but it seems like groceries is the big one). As long as you have a plan for groceries, I say go for it! ReplyCancel

  • Sense - Wait, you picked out your apartment already? Can you get closer than 2.5 mi?

    In my (car-less) experience, the two most likely places you will need to go are the grocery store and your campus, so if there are decent bus commutes to those places (just in case the weather is horrible, you WANT THIS OPTION), you're golden and ditching the car will totally work. But make sure those two places are easy for you to get to! I live about two kilometers from my office, and ditto for the grocery store. I've been walking everywhere, car-less, for 4 years now. Even in the cold rain, it isn't *too* long to be out and about. The grocery store used to be a 50 minute walk/35 min bus ride, though…and it was an absolute nightmare when the bus didn't come. Carrying heavy bags of groceries home for an hour is excruciating, and trust–you don't want to do it unless you have to. And that was only once a week I had to do that! I couldn't handle a 50 minute walk every day! But maybe you can if you are that motivated to save $$. :)

    Everything else is walking, buses, taxis, Zipcar, rentals, and bumming rides from friends and is intermittent enough to not matter too much. It is DEFINITELY cheaper without a car. Maybe sell your current car and put that $$ towards a taxi/bus/rental/Zipcar fund to use while in school? I'd bet it lasts quite a while without having to pay for gas, maintenance, etc. :) GOOD LUCK! ReplyCancel

  • Odd Cents - Like the others said, the weather and whether or not there is good public transportation should help you make your decision. Is the area that you're going to be in safe? ReplyCancel

  • Emma - The east coast does mean winters – I'm not sure if you've experienced much in the way of really cold temperatures and snow before, but it really sucks to walk in a snow storm, or wait for a bus when the temperature drops. I don't know the equivalent fahrenheit temp, but here it can go down to -20C regularly in the winter, and frostbite can become a real concern.

    That said, I lived throughout university car free, and as a teen, had to rely on the bus system and my feet to get around since my family wasa one car family and my parents didn't want to drive us kids around all the time. My fiance has a car and has urged me to get my license, so I've got part 1 of 3, but I still rely on the bus system in my city to get around throughout he week. The car is definitely convenient, but not absolutely necessary, provided you scope out the surroundings in advance. I always ensure we're living near a bus stop with a few bus options, there has to be a grocery store nearby, and I prefer to also have a pharmacy close by, too. Nearby walk-in clinics are also beneficial, and of course, not too far from where you have to get to most days! My commute to work on transit is currently 30 – 45 minutes by transit (15 by car).

    You may find it to be a bit of an adjustment having gotten so used to a car, but I'm sure you'll be fine. Living without a car gives you more opportunities to explore the city and definitely save money! I pay 111 for a monthly transit pass. My fiance's car sets him back $500 just for insurance, car payments and a few tanks of gas (gas is around $1.30 per liter here – a gallon is 4 or 5 liters!). He was given a work truck, so he drives that during the week. ReplyCancel

  • Jessica - Between my husband and I we only have one car since we both work/go to school less than a block away from where we live. We try to walk as much as possible, and we bought a scooter for short trips that are unrealistic to walk. We decided to keep a car since groceries won't fit in our scooters and we wanted to be able to visit his family who live an hour and a half away. ReplyCancel

  • cookiesncandies - When I was living in Auckland (New Zealand), there was no way I could survive without a car. However, the minute we moved to the UK, I decided, to my friend's horror, not to buy a car. We've relied on public transportation, taxi and if necessary, car rental which is really cheap. All in all, it saved us more than £4000 in fuel, maintenance and insurance. ReplyCancel

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter - I *wish* I could go back to not having a car. It's something I really miss about being a student/living in an urban environment. I say give'r, at least for awhile. The savings are huge. That said, all the universities I attended were full of walkers and bikers, definitely the majority. ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen - I’d definitely keep the car as a weather/safety backup. You can get reduced insurance rates if you’re not driving much, too. ReplyCancel

  • Kristin - For another viewpoint, I just had to replace my car battery today because I was using it so little during the school year and would let it sit for two weeks at a time until I had to go to the grocery store 3 miles away. ReplyCancel

  • Leigh - When I moved to my current city, I knew I would probably buy a car eventually, but I chose to put it off for as long as possible. I used a combination of busing, walking, and renting Zipcars to get around until the cost of renting Zipcars exceeded the average cost of ownership per month of a hypothetical car ($400-500 including the cost of the car amortized over 7 years, insurance, one tank of gas per month). Considering that you have no idea where you're going to stay, if there is a car sharing program near your school, I would consider just paying for that whenever you need a car instead of buying one. It might be more expensive in the long-term, but it would most likely be cheaper in the short-term while you're in school, resulting in taking out fewer loans.

    So no, I don't think you're crazy :) ReplyCancel

  • Julia - Go car free! I'm a graduate student in southern California and I live just fine without a car. As you say, you can give gas to friends and hitch rides as well as use car sharing programs for those random times when you want a car. Not paying for insurance will allow you to pay for all of those things and more! I think your mentality also changes after you go a couple of months car-free. I was initially worried about biking home at night (and there were a lot of nights where I didn't manage to leave the library until after 2am my first year) but there are also fewer cars in general at those times. Get a bike, a good set of lights and a helmet and you'll be all set! ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - I don't have a car, and It has worked very well for me. The big thing would be to make sure that you live very close to public transportation and are comfortable taking a cab when it's late at night. I live in Denver and have been able to live car free for quite awhile. It's great! I just find that I have to put more thought into the logistics of getting around. It's not for everyone. But, if you can do this for awhile do it! ReplyCancel

  • kevin@lemonlaws - If you can get by without a car, then more power to you, you definitely will save a ton of money in the long haul. I myself never could do the same, just for the fact that I like to be able to get up and go wherever and whenever I want to go. ReplyCancel

  • I NEED a Car… Now, New or Used? | Well Heeled Blog - […] movies, dance classes) that are a big PITA. So even though I feel like a bit of a wimp – given how excited I was about the prospect of leading a car-free lifestyle – I need to buy a car. On a scale of 1 to 10, having a car is pretty much a 8.5 or higher in […]ReplyCancel

  • David - I can live without a car.I'm leaving for 20 years without that.It depends also for those who was born with cars.I enjoy walking everyday.Thanks.. ReplyCancel

  • Terry - Personally I can't live without a car unless I can afford taxis all of the time. Waiting for public transport is a real time waster. They are also pretty unpleasant at rush hour. But if you are often just doing 2.5 miles then that is perfect for riding a bike, then just splash the cash on taxis for longer journeys. ReplyCancel

  • Tina - two words: Electric Bike!!!! this is The wave and choice of the future you can get a decent electric bike for around 1000 bucks and with a good lithium battery say 48 volts its possible to get up to 50 real miles. Thats more than enuff for most people to get where they need to go…just a thought google it and check it out!!ReplyCancel

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *