The cost of not owning a car

It’s been eight months since I have been living without a car in Toronto. Sometimes when people hear this, they gasp a bit.

Over the weekend I attended a family brunch to celebrate an 80th birthday. Most of the people there haven’t seen me for a long time, they didn’t know about my carless status. When  I mentioned to a few folks that I didn’t own a car, somebody asked “how did you get here?” It wasn’t a stupid question. The brunch was in London, a good two hours west of Toronto. We are so accustomed to having a car in the driveway, usually when I say “I rented one” they feel a bit stupid.

When I started out on my carless journey, I was honestly thinking it would be a hardship. I was prepared to suck it up and really analyze what I’ve spent on transportation after six months. After the sixth month went by, I thought I’d be on the market for a little, affordable ride. Boy, was I wrong.

Eight months later, I can honestly say there is no hardship. Sure, there have been days when dragging my little bundle buggy with groceries down an icy sidewalk has made me cuss a bit. Yes, it’d be easier to throw the 7 kg bucket of cat litter in the trunk than it is to haul it home.

When I started to get religion about budgeting and retiring my debt, I knew there was no room for a car payment or car savings. At the six month mark, I didn’t bother to do an analysis – I knew it wasn’t a priority for me to shift my budget in order to put a depreciating hunk of metal in the driveway.

I’ve spent $1,325.77 renting cars since September 2009 with the nice people at Autoshare. Of that expenditure, $487.09 was reimbursable. Therefore, my outlay is $858.68, or an average of $107.34 per month. This is my total, all in cost. This includes fuel, taxes and insurance. I don’t pay for car repairs. I didn’t pay for parking (just got lucky).

I cannot own a vehicle and put it on the road for $107.34/month. The insurance alone would exceed that amount. Add to that the car payments (if there were any), fuel, maintenance, licensing and parking. I wouldn’t save any money on my regular public transit spending if I had a car.  The kids still need bus tickets to get to school. In the city, it’s easier and often faster to take public transit. Parking in my neighborhood is a nightmare. (Although there is a vacant parking spot at my house!)

This month I’ll be doing some serious car renting. There was last weekend’s brunch. This is a long weekend and I’m heading up to Georgian Bay for a couple days. The last weekend in May I’ll be heading up to my rental property in Barrie to prepare it for new tenants. Now that I’ve done the math for the last eight months, I’ll stop fretting about racking up rental charges for May.

If I had a car, I’d likely go to places (that really means stores) that I don’t go to often to “browse” around. It’s a lot easier not to spend money when you’re not in the store in the first place. If I had a car, I’d hear a lot more of “Mom, can you drive me to ……”  One of the things I love about the city is the freedom the girls have. One subway token and they can go from Scarborough to Mississauga. I don’t have to go along. That saves me time, and my time has a value too.

Folks that live in cities with less than adequate public transit may not have as easy of a time being carless as I do in Toronto. I’m usually not waiting any more than 10 minutes for a bus or streetcar. Rarely more than 4 minutes for a subway. Being without wheels forces me to shop locally. Thankfully, I live in an area where I can easily walk to Loblaws, Sobeys, Foodland (formerly IGA), Food Basics and a couple of great, independent fruit stands. A short bus ride and I can be at No Frills. My doctor, dentist, bank and library branch are within walking distance. There’s a great florist and garden center within a stones throw. The drug store and post office are close, and there’s both a new and used book store near by. What seems like the smallest Home Hardware in the world is a short walk. Honestly, I have never gone looking for a gadget or problem solver this hardware store didn’t have. They’re amazing.

Yes, the real estate is pricey here. That 15% that I’m supposed to be able to allocate on transportation goes largely to housing. I only spend about 3% on transportation.

Now that I’ve stopped even considering owning a car, I wonder if I’ll keep thinking that way when I have a greater cash flow? I really hope not. Anyway you slice it, I still can’t put a car on the road for $107/month. When the cash flow is greater, it still seems like a good idea to pack it away for the future. I really don’t need to depreciate my money in the driveway.

At least when guests come, there’s somewhere to park.


10 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting!
    I live in a small town – it’s about 7 km long by 1 km wide.
    Unfortunately we don’t have any sort of public transit in our town.
    All I have within walking distance (say 2 km) to me is a Drug store, a Hospital, my Dentist, the kids’ school, and a small town diner. All the grocery stores are at the other end of town – about 5-6 km from our house.

    I love the small town feel – when we first moved here I felt like I was vacationing in cottage country, but I do need access to a car for so many reasons. Kudos to you for managing without one.


    • Before I moved to Toronto I lived in Barrie. A person really needs a car there, even with their (lame) public transit. If I still lived there, insuring a car would be much cheaper than it is here in TO.

      Your town sounds lovely. I grew up in a really small town too. Heading back there this weekend to see Mom. Happy Victoria Day to you!


  2. Posted by Jenn on May 20, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I have been following your blog for a while (found it through Gail’s TDDUP) and I was wondering if you rent out your availiable parking spot since you mentioned you live in an area that it is difficult to find parking?


    • Hi Jenn, thanks for stopping by. You raise a good point. I did advertise on Craigslist for a while to rent out my parking spot. Then I took it down because I also value my privacy, and I just wasn’t sure about having somebody coming and going in the driveway, as a single mom with two girls. So, although the $60 a month would have been handy, I opted to just keep it vacant.

      I do let the odd neighbor know if they need a spot for guests, they can let me know.


  3. Posted by Money Funk on June 20, 2010 at 12:49 am

    I was just telling Jacq SMRM that my fixed percentage is being killed with $600+ in auto costs ($400 car payment, $150 gas for commuting, and $70 Insurance payment). I am upside down on my car payment, but only have a year left to pay. I work a very good job, so I cannot give up the commuting. Thought about the train, but since I cannot sell the car to being upside down and would need a car to get to the train… I am screwed for now. That’s a rather hefty sum of money to be screwed for (not to mention I paid double than the car’s worth).

    What I was trying to say is Kudos to you for taking the awesome initiative in making your finances work for you!

    And when I did not have a car, at one time, I did like you by renting. It was nice to drive a new car. Kind of a luxury. 🙂


    • Hi MF, thanks for stopping by. Well, it sounds like you’ve at least learned one valuable thing: no more expensive cars! I do miss the convenience of having a car, but I don’t need one to get to work.

      Once this car is paid for, sounds like you’ll be driving it a long time, huh?

      I know a lot of people feel their vehicles are a reflection on their success, or even fashion sense. I can’t get over the notion that they depreciate so fast! Ages ago I bought a new car, but never again. Hope you get the pleasure out of keeping this one on the road for a long time!


  4. Posted by Umar on May 2, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Being new to TO (and to Canada also- ie: immigrant), I could not afford to buy a car right away. Now that I am sort of settled, I can afford to buy a car, but choose to rent instead.

    I understand and agree with you, renting makes more sense with the ridiculous charges for auto insurance in TO…



  5. Posted by vervalred on May 19, 2011 at 5:38 am

    how easy is it for you to go places spur of the moment? i live in oakland california (bay area, sf, berkeley, decent public transport) and was ~okay~ being carless, but having a car is SO convenient. when i didn’t have a car i used citycarshare, you can generally get cars at any time of day/night for about $7/hour. but there were stresses associated w/ that path… worrying about getting the car back on time was a big one. and the public transport here is good for us standards, but the buses are not terribly reliable, and depending on where you’re going, it can take hours longer to get places using public transport rather than driving… are there similar issues in toronto?

    (my situation: i’m moving to toronto for a year, and trying to figure out if i should bring my car or not.)


    • You’ll be glad to know, it’s pretty easy to go places in TO spur of the moment! The car sharing company I use (AutoShare) has a number of cars parked near where I live. So if one isn’t available, I can always look to another one. Of course, if you know in advance you’re going away for a weekend, booking earlier is always better, particularly if it’s a long weekend. There are two car sharing companies that I’m aware of (AutoShare and ZipCar). A few colleagues were discussing car sharing the other day, and I didn’t realize that there was a prevelance of one downtown, and one just outside of downtown. So you may want to investigate, depending on where you settle here, which company has more vehicles closer to you.

      The public transit system here is great. Most of the buses that I’d take come about every 5 or so minutes most of the time. Subway trains are on about the same schedule. Yes, sometimes you’ll hear us complain about crowding, and people doing stupid things on public transit – but I’ve seen service so bad in other towns that nobody uses it, therefore, it’s not sustainable. In Toronto, most people take transit at some point or another. I don’t think you need to bring the car, particularly if you’re only staying for one year. I’ve survived almost three years without a car. Think of the exercise! Thanks for dropping by.


  6. I am so glad I found your blog! My family and I just moved here from south Florida/Texas and will be living in Toronto on Dalesford Rd. Since I have never driven in snow and I really prefer not to drive (long story) I am really hoping to being able to not need a car. My husband has a company car so I will have transportation on the weekends. We have a 4 yr old boy and a soon to be 7 year old girl that don’t mind walking too much. The main reason I think I might need a car is to get them to and from school. Their school is 2 km away so they have to ride the bus and that means my son who is in jr. kinder (half day) will have to ride by himself one way. I am not sure if he is old enough to ride the school bus by himself. Honestly I never thought I would even consider letting my kids ride a bus but it is close and I hope safe. To explains some of my safety and driving issues I have, someone very close to me was killed in a car accident .

    One of my questions for you is do you think he is old enough to ride the school bus by himself?

    Do you know how the pubic transit is near Dalesford?

    What is a good cart to buy for carrying groceries?

    Thank you!


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