Overrated: Owning a car isolates you from your world

In 27 months without a car, I have saved thousands of dollars and become an entirely new person; happier, more balanced, and much more muscular. Though I spent decades of my life in love with the American car culture, and then happened into the decision to give it up without much forethought, I've learned that owning a car is highly over-rated. I'll tell you my story.

In the year 2000, I was young, sort of rich, and definitely single. Living in Northern Virginia and working in management for a dotcom startup I'd helped get off the ground, I was spoiled and spendthrift. I bought a brand-new Mercedes ML320.

Cut to June 2006. I'd finally paid the Mercedes off, but myriad mechanical issues (note to self: don't buy German cars manufactured in the American south), insurance and gas were costing me $300-500 a month. I had two little boys and an under-employed husband. Living in Portland, Oregon, I was becoming more and more concerned about our impact on the environment every day. Then I got a flat tire; it was unfixable, I'd have to replace all four tires to the tune of $650 (for the cheapie version).

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I parked the Mercedes, still rocking its "donut" spare tire, let the insurance expire, bought some bus tickets and fixed up my mountain bike.

Over the ensuing two years I've spent about $2,400 on bicycles, tuneups equipment and $500 on bus tickets and passes; a savings of at least $6,000 over driving the Mercedes (and even an economical car would have cost a similar amount). After I had a third child, we bought the sweet setup pictured here -- I call it my mamabikeorama -- that can haul three children and groceries.

It would take me days to list the benefits of our new car-free lifestyle, but here are some highlights:
  • Doing it all: Riding the mamabikeorama combines travel, exercise and family togetherness all in one; no more making time for the gym and I'm running faster than I did when I was 24 and training five days a week.
  • Simplification: If I have to bike and bus everywhere, it forces me to make decisions about what's truly important. I don't say 'yes' to invitations to parties I really don't want to attend; I don't overextend my kids with too many activities.
  • Freedom: I never have to think about whether the gas for a trip is in the budget. I just unlock the bike and go.
  • Good excuse: You need help moving? Sorry, can't make it, I don't have a car.
  • Guilt gone: I used to toss and turn over the melting ice caps. Now I remember that I'm living the life I believe in and doing just about everything I can to reduce my impact on the environment, and sleep soundly.
  • Get out of debt: I'm using the money I'm saving on a car (and its inevitable replacement) to pay extra on my mortgage and pay off other financial obligations.

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