If you grew up with two cars in your parents’ driveway, you’re not alone. Like most Canadians, the generation before us spent thousands of dollars per year maintaining their vehicles, fueling them up and paying for them through car loans. For our parents, cars were a sign of freedom, mobility, and independence.
Fast forward 20 years and not much has changed regarding car ownership and the amount we spend on them. The average Canadian household spent $11,761 on transportation costs in 2015, and the average household has 1.5 cars at any given time. What has changed is how many Canadians view vehicles. What was once a symbol of wealth, and prosperity has now become a drag on our finances, one that we can, and should, cut loose.
Personally, I can think of a lot of things I would rather $11,761 on than owning and maintaining a vehicle. Here are a few, just off the top of my head:
- Student loans
- Credit card debt
- Emergency savings
- Retirement savings
- A nicer home
- My children’s’ education
Fortunately, I don’t spend $11,761 per year on transportation. Not even close. In fact, transportation makes up just 12% of my monthly budget, and that includes the $300 car payment I have for a vehicle I just purchased to replace my ageing Volkswagen in January. Before that, transportation accounted for just 6% of my monthly budget.
I’m able to achieve these low monthly costs because I have diversified transportation habits. Instead of relying on two cars, my husband and I get by with a single vehicle and use other forms of transportation to supplement that vehicle. Here’s are some of the ways I diversify my transportation habits to help me spend an average of just $4,230 per year on transportation.
A big part of existing without a second vehicle is living in a walkable neighbourhood. My neighbourhood has a Walk Score of 80, which means I can walk to most amenities. Within half a kilometre from my home, I’ve got a grocery store, a liquor store, a pub, two diners, a coffee shop, and a bank. Having these options so close to my home means I rarely need to involve my vehicle for routine errands, which saves on fuel costs.
While walking is excellent for quick nearby errands, what about longer commutes such as work, meeting up with friends, or going to the library? For these errands, I rely on my trusty bicycle. I purchased it two years ago upon moving to the city, and it’s a great option for any errands less than five kilometres away. Even in Canada – when the weather is often terrible, a bicycle is fine for 90% of my commuting.
For longer journeys or on days when the weather won’t cooperate, using a Car Share program is a great alternative. Car share programs allow you to rent a car for just a few hours and usually require a membership up front. Car share programs typically place vehicles all over the city, so there is often one near you. For me, a CarShare is a good option when I have a doctor’s appointment in the suburbs during the work day because my husband uses our vehicle for his regular commute.
Trains and Buses
Finally, there’s long-distance travel. My husband and I travel together in our single car for vacations, but I also travel frequently for work. Once every other month, I make the journey to another province to visit my corporate headquarters, and admittedly this is when my diversified transportation habits get a little creative. Instead of hopping into my second vehicle and hitting the highway, I ride my bike (or take the bus) down to the train station and ride the rails to my destination. It takes a little longer, but the view of the countryside is spectacular, and I’m able to get work done on the way thanks to Via Rail’s wifi.
Designing Your Life Around Transportation Options
Ultimately, being able to diversify your transportation habits hinges on one major factor: Do you live and work in a location that lets you change how you get to work? If you are a two-car household and you and your spouse both require a vehicle to commute (as in, there are no public transportation options, and it’s too far to bike or walk) then it will be difficult to take advantage of the many alternative transportation methods out there.
That said, the fact that my husband and I live and work in a place that lets us do this is not an accident. Two years ago, I pitched to my boss the idea of working from home full-time and spending a week in the office every other month. Six months ago, when my husband and I bought our first home, we intentionally looked in areas with good walkability, easy access to transit and amenities, and proximity to bike lanes. We paid more for our home than if we’d lived in the suburbs, but less than we would’ve paid overall if we’d had to add a second vehicle to our budget.
You Don’t Need to Ditch Your Car to Save
If you already live in a location that lets you walk or bike for transportation, you don’t need to sell your cars to lower your transportation costs. You can start small by leaving your vehicles home one day per week. Choose to walk or ride your bicycle, or purchase a monthly pass to your local transit system. Just leaving your cars at home will save on fuel and wear and tear on the vehicle. Start small and work your way up and one day you might wake up and realize you haven’t driven your car in a week, or a month. At that point, it might be worthwhile to consider selling one or both of your vehicles, and then – welcome to the world of serious, life-changing cost savings.
Photo Credit: Alisa Anton