It’s been over a decade now since I decided to try living without a car. At the time, I was in college and the vehicles I could afford seemed to break down almost as fast as I could repair them. I switched to getting around on my bicycle and immediately found that I had less stress and more spending money.
As time went on, my income improved but I kept finding new reasons not to drive: saving money, saving the climate, and saving my sanity when I lived in the city. It’s true that I have not always been able to go completely car-free. Sometimes I had job commitments that I just couldn’t fulfill without a vehicle, especially during the years I worked construction. But overall, I’m proud of how car-light my life has been.
My lifestyle is fairly uncommon here in Southern California, and I often feel myself having to defend it. One of the more common comments I hear is: “I could never give up my car. What do I do when I need to move?” This argument always struck me as spurious, but I’ve heard it so many times that I think I need to address it.
I suppose I understand where the question is coming from. It’s true that we Americans are a mobile society. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average 30-year-old can expect to move at least five more times in their life. But is it really worth making payments on a car—not to mention paying for maintenance, insurance, parking, and gas—just because you may need to move every few years?
And when you actually move, how useful is your personal vehicle actually going to be for hauling things like furniture and appliances? Even for a short move across town, you’d be better off renting a moving truck.
Better yet, hire some professional movers and let them rent the truck. Not only do the pros have stronger backs than you, but they have experience (and insurance) to deal with any problems that might arise. Meanwhile, the personal car just becomes one more bulky item that needs to be transported.
I know this advice seems simplistic, but it highlights one of the big differences between the car-owning philosophy and the car-light philosophy. As an automobile owner, we try to pick a vehicle that will do everything for us. The same car is supposed to fit all of our needs for commuting, hauling cargo, and vacations. No matter how much money we spend, we always wind up with a compromise. Then we’re stuck with it for years.
Car-light people, however, have the freedom to use whichever equipment they need for the job. If I need a moving truck, I rent one and return it when I’m done. If I need a pickup, I can get a nice heavy-duty one from the local home improvement center for an hourly rate. If I’m going on a trip somewhere where the train doesn’t run, I rent a sporty little compact car for the week. I always have the right vehicle for the job.
Even when I don’t rent vehicles, I still have choices. Within my neighborhood, I usually just walk. If I need to go farther, I can bicycle or hop on a city bus and let the driver worry about traffic while I read a book. If I need to go into the city, I take the train, then get directly onto the subway at the station.
Car-driving people, on the other hand, have invested so much (financially and psychologically) into their cars that they feel that they need to take them everywhere. They have given up their options.
Personally, I like the option of arriving at my destination calm and rested, instead of stressed from fighting traffic and late because I couldn’t find a parking space. Likewise, I like the option of using some of the money I save by not having a car to hire professional movers when I need them. Keep your options open.
Kevin A. Straight is an MBA candidate at the Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Riverside.