Back in the fall, I wrote a post called How much is your car costing you?, where I calculated that I was spending around $300/month for gas and insurance (11% of my net monthly income). And that didn’t even include maintenance like oil changes, repairs, or the actual cost of buying the car.
Even though I concluded that having a car was a clear “want” and not a “need,” I still depend on my car to lead the lifestyle I want for myself. Deciding to live in the suburbs, that’s the choice I made. And it’s the right choice for me now, but I’m not sure if it’s the right choice for me in the future.
When I start my new job later this month, I’ll be commuting from the suburbs to just outside of the downtown core. In the 6+ years I’ve lived here in Vancouver, I’ve never actually worked in Vancouver before… so I’m not sure what my commute will be like. Based on where I’m located, I think it will be similar to my old job (35-40 mins.). But the big difference is that when I’m over at BF’s house, he lives just 5 minutes away. AND since I’m working in such a populated area, most offices don’t have designated parking – so I had to rent a parking spot for $65/month.
Now that $65 parking stall is almost 50% less than any other stalls I’ve found in the area. That’s because I’m renting a space in an apartment building about 3 blocks from my office, and not in a regular parking lot. But if you combine that expense with having to rent a parking stall near BF’s house, my car costs have immediately risen by 25% to approximately $375/month.
I ran the numbers again, comparing my car costs with buying a transit pass, and my car still wins out even with this added cost. But just barely. If expenses go up again, I’m going to have to make some serious decisions. Even though I love where I live and I love my home, I’ve been spending the majority of my time in the city, and that’s only going to increase with this new job.
So maybe it will mean moving to a more central location down the road. Or maybe it will be as simple as letting go of some of my hobbies and buying a bus pass instead.
I’ve owned a car for most of the 6 years I’ve lived in the Vancouver area, and it makes up a significant portion of my monthly budget.
Car expenses represent approximately 11% ($275-300) of my monthly spending (or 5% of my approximate gross monthly income) – and that’s just for gas and insurance. These are just my regular monthly expenses, and doesn’t take into consideration oil changes, repairs, wear and tear on my vehicle, or the actual cost of buying my car (obviously). Thankfully, my car is new enough that it hasn’t needed any repairs, but I know it’s only a matter of time until something needs fixing.
So what does that $300 get me each month? Let’s break it down (along with my reasoning):
- A shorter commute to work. Taking transit would take anywhere from 2.5 to 3 hours roundtrip. My commute by car takes 35-40 minutes each way.
- Access to the things that I love doing. Everything that I love to do in my spare time requires a car, and I do these things almost every day of the week – which is why renting a car or belonging to a car co-op isn’t that great of an answer.
- Transit is expensive. A full transit pass for Metro Vancouver costs $170. That’s approximately how much I pay for gas each month.
These are all somewhat valid reasons for owning a car. It’s worth it to me right now, because my car hasn’t needed a lot of maintenance. But will it be worth it in the future? I don’t know. I purchased this car new back in 2009, and the only other car I’ve ever owned always had something wrong with it – so it’s hard to say.
Here are my rebuttals to my own above-reasoning:
A shorter commute to work
- I could move closer to work. This is a pretty extreme option, but there are definite downsides to living in the suburbs. And truthfully, I’ve thought about moving into the city of Vancouver on more than one occasion. It just hasn’t gotten to that point yet. And I really, really love where I’m living right now.
- I could find a job closer to home. Not surprisingly, there aren’t many marketing jobs in the city that I live in, but it’s always worth investigating.
- I could bicycle to work. There are no female shower facilities at my office. But, if I pushed hard enough, wouldn’t they have to provide something? That being said, I’m mostly concerned with the 50km roundtrip commute on very busy roads and bridges. Not that I couldn’t do it physically, but it would likely affect my running. Could I (or would I) really bike 25km in the morning, run 1-2 hours after work, and then bike 25km home? And what if I wanted to go out after work? I’d be all sweaty
Access to the things that I love doing
- I could find alternate ways to have fun. Playing field hockey 3-4x/week is fun, but excessive and kind of expensive. Especially since the practice field isn’t located near transit (and twice a week, I go to practice straight from work – so no car pooling available). Plus games are spread across a very large area. If I wanted to quit the car, I’d likely have to quit field hockey too. But running is free, and there’s a great 20+km running trail just steps from my office that I’ve been using multiple times a week over the past few months.
- Hiking could be done with a rental car. True. I bought my AWD car so I could have access to the mountains and ski hills. But really, I only do that once a month – maybe twice in the summertime. I think it would be cheaper to rent a car for those specific times.
Transit is expensive
- I would save on the wear and tear of my vehicle. By taking transit, I will be prolonging the life of my car. This makes me happy, and it’s actually something I’ve really wanted to do. I love this car – it’s perfect for me.
- Transit is a green solution. It’s obviously better on the environment if I leave my car at home.
- I could buy a one-zone pass. It doesn’t really make sense to buy a one-zone pass, since I would need access to all three zones. But maybe it would be cheaper to buy a one-zone pass ($91/month), and then just add on additional fare when I need to cross to other zones. Otherwise a full-zone pass costs $170/month. Which is ridiculous.
I guess the point of this post is that I can justify having my car as a “need” all I want, but based on my own arguments, it’s obvious that a car is a “want.” My car definitely fits in nicely with the lifestyle that I want to live right now, but is it absolutely necessary? Of course not. Who knows if my thoughts on owning a car will change in the future, but I’m actually pleased (and a little surprised) with how easy it was for me to come up with solutions to get away from owning a car. Some of them are pretty extreme (like selling my house, quitting field hockey, or finding a new job), but all options have to be considered whenever you’re dealing with money.
Having an extra $300/month would be nice. But considering a bus pass would eat up half of that savings, I’d be losing many hours commuting by transit, and I’d be forced to quit a lot of the fun things in my life, I’m okay with the cost for now. But just barely.
How much is your car costing you – and could you live car-free if you had to?
I’ve driven a car for my entire adult life, and I’ve become dependent on that sort of lifestyle. For nearly 10 years, a car has helps me get up into the mountains on the weekends, drive to field hockey practice in the evenings, get to work, and run errands on a daily basis. So I was a little apprehensive about not having a vehicle when we moved to Germany. And after 5 months without a vehicle, I can’t say that I don’t miss having a car, but it’s a lot easier to adapt to a car-free life than I first anticipated.
Going without a car seems normal in Europe. Whether it’s a crowded city or rural countryside village, people in Europe walk and bicycle a lot more. It’s so much easier than trying to find parking (old buildings = no underground parking), plus the last time I checked, gas was around the equivalent of $1.90/litre ($7.20/gallon). And what’s most remarkable is that people of all ages are walking or bicycling around the cities – it’s not just for youthful, fit people. I’ve seen men in expensive suits and women in sky high heels riding bicycles in Prague, old women peddling with a basket full of groceries, and “cool” teenagers in skinny jeans riding their hipster fixed-gear bicycles.
Transit also appear to be much better in Europe than in most North American cities. The networks reach farther, and systems are generally quite good in smaller cities.
Additionally, those Europeans that do own cars, usually drive small, economical cars. It is extremely rare to see a mini van, SUV, station wagon, or truck parked on the street. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that a 4-door VW Golf, or Suzuki SX4 is considered to be quite big over here. Our “small” cars in North America are spacious, family-sized cars in Europe. People drive tiny cars like the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper, Smart Car, and scooters are everywhere!
There are so many pros to going without a car: not having to pay for insurance or gas or repairs, it’s better for the environment, and I’m getting exercise every day. From where we live, it takes 35 minutes each way to walk downtown, 20 minutes to the grocery store, and 40 minutes to the train station.
That being said, I do miss the freedom of having a car. Last weekend we wanted to go to IKEA, but it took us over 2 hours roundtrip just to get there (2 trains + 3km walk each way), and then we had to lug what we bought with us all the way back home. Plus, when we go grocery shopping, we can only buy as much as we can fit into our backpacks – meaning we go shopping at least two or three times a week. Transit is somewhat expensive if you take it irregularly, and when it rains or gets too hot or too cold, you can forget about riding a bicycle. It’s the worst.
Even though I’m enjoying life without a car (for the most part), and I will definitely ride my bicycle a lot more when I’m back in Vancouver, I don’t think I could go completely car-free. Living in the suburbs of Metro Vancouver, too much of what I like to do is car-dependent – and I’m willing to pay for that.