Living without a car – Is it easier than you think?

News released this week shows that the American “Driving Boom” may be in decline. Specifically, millennials (people who were born between 1983 and 2000) are driving much less than their counterparts from older generations, and in many cases they are living without a car at all. Why? Well, there are a few factors at play here:

  • In a recession, less people are working, driving, and commuting.
  • Many people are looking for creative ways to cut costs, and transportation is a logical area to do so.
  • Millennials seem to care much less about car ownership. Instead, they are more interested in access.

Is Living without a Car Cheaper?

All of this got us thinking about car ownership and how consumers might be able to save money when living without a car. Think about how much you spend at the gas pump each month and how much you put toward car maintenance in your monthly budget. Wouldn’t it be nice to cut some of these transportation costs by getting rid of a car altogether? Sure, living without a car isn’t for everyone. But, even if this sounds extreme, you might be able to use some of these strategies to reduce your monthly transportation costs.

Before you commit to living without a car, be sure to think about where you live and the structure of your city. There are many online resources that evaluate factors like public transportation safety, walkability, and so forth. Just be sure to have a game plan and know what you are getting into if you commit to living without a car.

#1 Rent a Car

We know millennials don’t drive as much as their parents, but we’ve learned another key fact as well. They don’t value car ownership. Young people today want access to vehicles; they don’t necessarily care about owning one. This is why companies like ZipCar and car2go are doing so well.

The cost: ZipCar offers several plans. To join any of them, be ready to submit a $25 application fee. [Note: you also need a credit card. Don’t have one yet? Read this.] From there, you have the choice to pay a monthly commitment in a value plan or an annual fee for the “occasional driving plan.” A few other differences:

  • Occasional driving plan: Rates as low as $9.25/hour and $84/day Monday through Thursday (expect to pay more on weekends).
  • Extra Value Plans: There is a wide variety here, and the rates get cheaper as you pick plans with higher “monthly commitments.” These can range from $7.86/hour to $71.40/day to $8.33/hour and $75.60/day.

Compare these costs to other services, like car2go and HertzOnDemand, to get the best deal.

Is Zipcar worth it?

That really depends on a lot of particulars. Zipcar has a calculator on its website that attempts to show how its service can save you money. If you have a car payment (on top of insurance, gas, and all the other costs), you might save some serious cash by ditching the car. If your car is already paid off, though, it may be more favorable for you to hang on to it a little longer. You also will need to think about what your needs are. Zipcar isn’t really designed for daily use. So, if you use your car to get to work every day, Zipcar may not fit your needs. If you already use public transportation, and living without a car is a reasonable option for you, Zipcar might be a good service to consider. Also, keep in mind that a car you own will have resale value. You don’t really get a return on the money you put into Zipcar.

#2 Biking

College towns are accustomed to high volumes of bike traffic, but the movement toward biking has expanded in recent years. What are the pros and cons of using a bike for transportation?


  • don’t spend money at the gas pump
  • get a healthy burst of exercise
  • enjoy low maintenance costs


  • the chance of theft
  • potential inconveniences (think: rain showers)
  • requires a basic level of mechanical knowledge (changing your own chains and doing other basic labor will keep costs low)

How it’s changing: Bike share programs, like the one about to launch in Seattle, are lowering the cost of biking even more.

What’s it cost? The price of a new bike can range from the low hundreds into the thousands. Like with cars, there are differences in quality and various tiers of luxury and performance. There are also great used bikes to be found on sites like Craigslist. Also, a bike used for regular short trips will probably require about $25 in monthly maintenance. Whichever bike you choose, be sure to protect your investment with a durable U-lock and use anti-theft practices such as storing it indoors (when possible) and locking it in high foot traffic areas.

As for Bikeshare programs, the rates vary depending on the form of membership you select. But, whether you choose daily or annual membership, extra charges kick in after the first 30 minutes. As with services like Zipcar, consider your needs and how often you will use the service. Also, keep in mind that a bike you own will have resale value.

(Note: signing up for the bike share service requires a credit or debit card. Don’t have one? Learn about building credit and getting a credit card)

According to Bicycling Magazine, the top 5 biking cities are:

  • Portland
  • Minneapolis
  • Boulder
  • Washington DC
  • Chicago

#3 Public Transit

Depending on your needs and the structure of the public transit in your city, this may be a cost-saving option worth considering. Think about what your needs are when evaluating this decision. How long of a commute you have, how much gas you use, and how much you pay for parking are all factors to consider. When living without a car, consumers may be able to successfully use public transit for getting to work and then use a service like Zipcar for trips to the store or other nearby locations. Also, public transit can be used to get you part of the way to your destination. Maybe you can take a bus and then bike the rest of the way. Really, this comes down to your situation and finding what works for you.

What’s it Cost?

A recent study showed how much a two-person household could save on transportation costs if it used one less car and instead used public transportation. The study compared the cost of a monthly public transit pass to the “cost of driving” as determined by AAA, plus the cost of parking. Here are the savings they found for some top cities when one member of the household committed to living without a car:

  • Seattle, WA – monthly savings, $950
  • Portland, OR – monthly savings, $849
  • Washington, DC – monthly savings, $820

We’ve listed several options and shown the potential savings in transportation costs, but what do you think?

Could you commit to living without a car?

Thomas Bright is a longstanding Clearpoint blogger and student loan repayment aficionado who hopes that his writing can simplify complex subjects. When he’s not writing, you’ll find him hiking, running or reading philosophy. You can follow him on Twitter.

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