Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Not Car-Free but Car-Lite

The Conscious Shopper's fascination with car-free living, part 2

One of our primary modes of transportation - our feet

As I wrote last week, I would love to give up our car and get around as much as possible by bicycle, but at this point in our lives (with three young kids and living in a sprawling small city), it's not a practical plan. So for now, we are not car free, but we are what some are calling "car lite" - my husband and I share one car between the two of us. Over the next couple of posts, I'm going to share why my family made that decision and how we're able to do it.

Seven years ago, my husband and I moved to the DC suburbs. My husband was starting his first job after graduating from college, and I planned to stay home with our six-month-old baby. Those two factors combined to equal one very poor young family living in a very expensive city. As we brainstormed ways to keep our spending to a minimum, one obvious solution in a city with excellent public transportation was choosing an apartment near a subway station and getting rid of one of our cars.

When we moved to Raleigh three years ago, we stuck to our one-car decision by choosing a house within walking distance of my husband's office and my boys' school. Being a car-lite family is not always easy, but if you're able to do it, having one car has some definite advantages:
  • Financial. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average cost of owning and operating a vehicle was $8,487 in 2009. Based on my own estimates, buying a second vehicle would cost my family an additional $5000 a year (including insurance, maintenance, and car payment). If we bought a second car and moved out of the city, we'd also have to add an extra $2000+ a year for gas and parking.*
  • Physical Health. Because we only have one vehicle, we end up walking a lot. My husband walks to and from work most days, which not only saves us money on gas and parking, but means we don't have to pay for a gym membership. And I love that all my walking erases any evidence of the number of cookies I consume each week.
  • Mental Health. Going car-lite may not lead to improved mental health for everyone, but it definitely does for someone like me, who equates driving with stress.
  • Environmental. Owning fewer vehicles means less gas, less air pollution, and fewer resources used in manufacturing.
With so many benefits, I generally love the car-lite lifestyle, but I'll admit that it often takes some planning ahead. At the beginning of every week, my husband and I sit down and discuss who is going to need the car when. Occasionally when our schedules have conflicted, we've had to hitch a ride with friends who were already going that direction, but that community building can be a benefit (and we certainly return the favor whenever possible).

Have you tried going car-lite? What benefits/downsides have you seen?

Next week, I'll follow up with some tips for using your own two feet as your main mode of transportation when you have complaining kids.

*As usual, your costs and savings may vary.


Bridget said...

Living in the sticks in Ireland we reduced to 1 car 4 years ago. Like yourself there are times when access to car time clashes but we have always been able to work it out be dropping each other off or getting lifts with other people or simply rescheduling when possible. We also got rid of our oil central heating 3 years ago. We now have a solid fuel stove which heats the whole house.

Georgia said...

lovely post!! we only have one car too. btw thanks for you comment! my chickens also starred at the sunflower for awhile before trying it. i have one rooster, he is always the first one to try everything. i guess that is what men are for :0)

Anonymous said...

We have been a one car family for 75% of our 10 year marriage. We currently live two mile from my husbands job, so he bikes or carpools most days. I am a SAHM, so I can work around his schedule, usually dropping him off early and then going about my day.

I love saving that money for something more beneficial for our family. We also use the library for books, magazines, movies and entertainment (storytime, summer reading club, guest authors, carnivals, puppet shows). We save tons and always have something to read/watch/do.

I love living lite!

Jessica Nichols said...

We have been a one-car family since 2004 and my husband has commuted by bike/train varying distances from 2 to 30+ miles. We relocated to Portland, OR two weeks ago from the Bay Area and one of my primary goals was to get to a more walkable neighborhood. I'm so thrilled that our last house had a walk score of 35 (couldn't walk anywhere practical) to a walk score of 92! I am in heaven! Walk to Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, farmers market, library, bank, school and a two giant parks. I am only getting started and our car insurance went way down!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Bridget - The sticks in Ireland! What a great place to be.

@Georgia - I think that was actually Green Bean, though I headed over and commented myself.

@Anonymous - The money savings are great!

@Jess - Oooh, so jealous of your walk score. I've heard that Portland is a wonderful place to live.

Jaesi said...

I just started it and am still driving but gradually trying to avoid it more and more. It's amazing how easy it is to get a ride from someone else though if I'm in a hurry. Our bus system here in southern Utah still needs a lot work. It takes me like an hour just to go up the street lol.


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