Living Car-Free Saves Me $7000 per Year

Modo Car with a Bike Rack
When I moved to Vancouver six years ago, I made two crucial decisions that have saved me thousands of dollars – I bought a bike and joined the car co-op.

Being a data nerd, I’ve kept detailed records of all my spending for the past decade (first in a spreadsheet, then in Quicken, and now in mint.com). I went back through my records to see how much I’ve spent on transportation since moving to Vancouver. In six years, I’ve spent nearly nearly $8000 getting around by bike, public transit, taxi, car sharing, and car rentals. That’s less than what most people spend on their car in 1 year.

Note: Updated charts with 2013 data are available here

According to CAA, the annual cost of owning a car (driven for 12,000 km per year) ranges from $7,723.72 for a Civic to $10,465.12 for an Equinox. When you don’t drive much, 80% of the cost of car ownership is fixed costs (insurance, license and registration, loan payments, and depreciation). Only 20% is proportional to the distance driven (gas and maintenance). CAA doesn’t include the cost of parking, which can be quite expensive in Vancouver. In my building, it costs $100/month for a parking spot.
Transportation Expenses by Year Pie
My expenses have averaged $1257 per year since I moved to Vancouver, almost equally split between car rentals, car sharing, cycling, and public transit (including taxis).

Transportation Expenses by Year Chart
Cycling is my main form of transportation, and most years it costs less than $200 to service my bike (new parts and maintenance). I purchased a bike in 2006 and 2009, spending an extra $500 (my commuter bike isn’t that expensive).

Bike LineupNormally, I don’t use the bus that often (it’s faster to bike), but in 2008 and 2009 I was working in West Vancouver and commuted a lot by bus (2 zones), which explains the higher public transit costs those years. Otherwise, I spend less than $200 per year on bus tickets and cab rides.

Living in Vancouver, the times I need a vehicle are rare. When I’m buying furniture or playing in the North Shore mountains, I often use a car sharing vehicle from Modo. In the past year, I’ve started using car2go for short trips when public transit and biking are inconvenient. For traveling around BC, I often rent a vehicle from Enterprise. car2go VancouverThe cost of each car trip is high (a car rental for a long weekend is between $100-$200, plus gas), but I only rent a car once or twice a year. My car sharing trips with Modo average $30 (including gas). Even though I only drive a few times a year, the cost of renting a vehicles and using car sharing accounts for more than 50% of my “car-free” transportation budget. But I appreciate the flexibility I have to get a car when I need one, and it is still way cheaper than owning a dedicated vehicle.

Now, it can be argued that living close to downtown Vancouver, where a car-free lifestyle is easy, is costing me more for rent. Which is true, but it’s an easy tradeoff to make for a healthy lifestyle. I’m willing to spend my transportation savings on more expensive rent so that I can replace hours stuck in my car with minutes on a bike and pleasant walks to the grocery store any day.

18 thoughts on “Living Car-Free Saves Me $7000 per Year”

  1. That’s great to see!
    I’d love to know just how much I’ve saved over the years, although I’ve never actually owned a car or even have a license (thankfully Ontario caught up with BC last year in having a provincial ID card!)

    Before I started riding a bike I use to walk and take a bus. I believe the fare was/is $2.50.
    Two things got me into riding a bike…
    1. My Dad. He kept nagging me to learn to ride a bike for years.
    2. The final straw was when my bus transfer was 3 minutes expired (never knew they expired that quickly), the driver refused it. I was flat out of change and had to walk. In fairness to local transit, it has improved significantly since I use to use it.

    I was going to ask why not rent a car, but I see the cost differences! I know that is what some people in Toronto do when they want to get out of the city. Car share is only starting to catch on.
    Apparently a (small) group is trying to bring a car share to Niagara, however I have my doubts about it working in this region.

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    1. I’m a big fan of car sharing. It makes it possible to transition to a more car-free lifestyle and it makes you realize what the costs of car ownership are (giving you a price per trip). It is interesting how it works best when combined with a good public transit system and good cycling infrastructure. If you can get by without a car most days, then car sharing is perfect.

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  2. It is pretty stunning on the amount of money that can be redirected from car ownership/driving to to other things in life. I wrote up about this: http://thirdwavecyclingblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/30-car-free-years-cycling-pumps-money-into-my-wallet/ But unlike you, I’ve never been a car-owner at all. Though it may have not been clear in my blog post, I grew up in southwestern Ontario and our family (of 6 children) couldn’t afford a car until I was 14 yrs. old. I am the eldest. But we lived within 10 min. walk from transit stop in downtown core of a small city (now bigger) , etc. So the concept of living without a car, goes far back in life.

    We rent a car 1-2 times annually. My partner used to drive alot for his job but no longer enjoys it. For him it really is a risk factor: he has a lifelong sleep disorder which makes him drowsy at the steering wheel after an hr. of driving.

    For myself personally, I had problems learning to drive and was never comfortable speeding along on expressways. So I let go of my driver’s license in my early 20’s.

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    1. I’ve never owned my own car either (unless you count car sharing), and a brief time in high school when I had almost exclusive use of my family’s second vehicle.

      I do find having access to a vehicle convenient at times (mostly for exploring BC), but it’s liberating not having to worry about it the rest of the time (or pay for it).

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  3. I really love all the data and graphs. Infographics are so pretty.

    I sold my car many years ago to put a down payment on my apartment. That was freeing. However, my wife needed a car for work a couple of years later and we had to take on the shackle of a car again. I hadn’t been paying for any of the expenses until this year. I can’t believe people can $2000-3000 a year for a car and think that’s fine.

    I wonder when we would ever be able to go car free again?

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    1. Hey, thanks for the shout-out! I decided to write another post on living car-free, focussing on the financial aspect & after more carefully crunching the numbers, I realized that my original tally was off. We actually spent over $4000/year on a car that we drove once or twice a week.

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  4. Hello!

    We are moving to Vancouver in 2 weeks and this article is helpful. Can I contact you via email for some more guidance?

    Thanks
    Kartiki

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  5. In my opinion there is something missing on your calculation: TIME
    Add time saved on car vs biking or while using public transit. You will be surprised.
    How many minutes difference per day?, and in a week?, and in a month?, and in a year?
    Are you really saving money?
    Just a different point of view.

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    1. For most of my trips, cycling is the fastest. I have a 15 minute door-to-door commute to work. It takes 20 minutes on the SkyTrain. I haven’t timed it in a while, but the drive would take just as long and parking would cost $15 a day.

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  6. Thanks for the post. I’ve been car free since 2000 when I moved back to Vancouver. I always rented within walking distance to work (or later a seabus ride). I got married we bought a house in 2003 – about 6 km from d/t work. My wife cycled and I took transit. She was faster.

    After some years we started a family and I finally got a bike. My commute is ~ 18 minutes each way by bike (~ 25 by bus). People told us “now that you have a kid you’ll buy a car”. It’s 2018 now and we’re still car free. When our son was 8 he did 40 km one Saturday on his bike (Steveston and back to Vancouver). We rent cars often (at least every 2nd weekend) – We usually spend about $80/weekend for the rentals + ~ $15 in fuel. I won’t say how we get our legit deals. :).

    This has allowed us to significantly increase our disposable income without sacrificing much. In truth, there are times when we don’t get to go on some unplanned trip if we had a car but those are rare. One of the additional things I do love about renting a car is choosing the appropriate vehicle. Most times it’s a compact car. If we’re going up to the mountains in winter it might be a 4wd vehicle. Family visiting town? Minivan… And we never clean or maintain a vehicle. πŸ™‚

    Thanks again.

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    1. Thanks for sharing Ted. This is an old post (I should probably write an update), but not much has changed for us. Like you, we live car-free with a kid and don’t suffer for it. Vancouver makes it easy and I love that.

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