When we were living in Tokyo, we didn’t have a car and that was a no brainer. Public transportation in Tokyo (and Japan in general) is so good that there’s no point in owning a car (also, traffic on Japanese roads is simply insane. Even though it doesn’t make sense to own a car, it seems a good portion of the Japanese population didn’t get the memo).
when we moved to the US, all our friends told us we’d need a car, that survival in the US without a car is simply impossible.
It turns out they were wrong, and that says a lot about the herd mentality that we humans tend to have. If all your friends tell you that you need this or that, then it is only natural to believe them. It’s called social proof, or something.
The thing is, my wife and I really didn’t want a car. We haven’t driven one in years, they are expensive and dangerous pieces of machinery.
Call me crazy, but all the cars I’ve owned or driven have brought me more stress and trouble than was really worth it. I guess it helped that my very first car was a worthless old piece of junk. The battery would die pretty much every morning of winter. The car was older than me, and had belonged to my grandfather until he died. The good news, I guess, is that insurance was cheap. Still, relying on this car to take me to school, then work, was one of the biggest things to do. Every morning I was wondering if I would be 1h late for me 10 minutes drive. And the fact that it was old and cheap did not even relieve me of the stress of someone else bumping into it, the costs of repairing it, and the awful maintenance costs.
That was back in France. When I moved to Japan and had to give up the car, I didn’t look back.
Anecdote aside, my wife didn’t feel confident driving a car, and if I could avoid it, I’d be happier. I still have a US Driver’s license just in case (and I enjoy the car2go service whenever I need to), but we basically tried to find a place to live where we wouldn’t need a car.
We ended up finding a very walkable area, and do not own a car. We’ve been living in the US for 6 months now and haven’t found a huge need for a car yet, so I think this was the right choice. There’s always the choice of renting when we want to travel!
So what are the benefits of not owning that car everyone told us we’d need?
Benefits of not owning a car are all over the place. First, we save ourselves roughly $10’000 a year by not owning a car (average cost of ownership in 2014, according to investopedia), and that’s not counting parking costs!
Speaking of parking, I can’t insist enough on how low my stress levels are these days compared to when I owned a car: I don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, I don’t have to worry about getting into an accident, I don’t have to worry about someone slashing my tires (happened to me in France, an angry neighbor decided to take things to the next level after I parked on their spot when someone else was taking my spot), and the list goes on and on. Yes, owning a car has always been a very stressful experience to me, so I’m glad I don’t have one anymore.
The hidden financial benefits are starting to show on our grocery list: since we don’t have a car, we carry our grocery bags ourselves. As a result, we’re extremely careful on what we actually buy. Unnecessary stuff means additional weight to carry, so we really think twice about buying that additional bottle of wine, or that nice looking carrot cake. Yes, it can sound like we’re not living a dream life when described like this, but I think it’s in line with the MMM approach of intentionally introducing discomfort in our lives, to increase our badassity.
Our entire culture teaches us to seek out all possible comforts, and to be unhappy when we don’t have them. And thus, it dooms us to a life of permanent involuntary discomfort, and therefore permanent weakness. -MMM
Last but not least, the impact on my health is also dramatic: I’ve never been so healthy, and this is in vast majority thanks to not owning a car. See, I chose to live in a neighborhood that had grocery stores, a park for the kids, a doctor’s office, all by walking distance. My work is also walking distance, but some could call it a stretch: it’s a 30 minutes walk, with very steep hills (note: I could bike it too, I think downhill would be way faster, uphill would be much more difficult). As a result, I walk at least 1h a day every day. Not only am I saving on gym expenses, I can see that this is dramatically helping my health. I’m much more efficient at work in the morning, and I also lost 5 pounds since we came to the US.
We chose to not own a car because we were worried about the stress of driving. As a result, we made several choices in our lifestyle to accommodate for this desire. It turns out not owning a car has lots of awesome side effects on our finances, our health, and how we approach life in general. Not buying a car has been one of the great decisions we made this year.
I realize not everyone is in a position to “not” buy a car. MMM has many great articles on how you can still own a car but try to use it much less, and replace it with a bike. Another thing is that many families in the US have two cars. Even if just to play “what ifs”, ask yourself what it would take for your family to downsize from 2 cars to 1. Would it be worth the extra $5000 or so that you’d save every year? For us, the answer was yes, and that was a much steeper decision: 1 car, or zero?
Do you own one car? Two? More? Have you ever considered getting rid of your cars?