20 years ago, I went to the DMV and wrote my drivers test. Then I lived in a city for 12 years which I found prohibitively expensive to own a car. I worked downtown, where parking was incredibly expensive, so I took the bus, and was pretty content with that for many years. When I moved to Nova Scotia with a new baby, I had family support, so at first a license wasn’t vital. When I went back to work, and moved further out of town, the limited bus service along with taxis were my main transportation methods.
But something changed 2 weeks ago. I finally, FINALLY! passed my road test and got my driver’s license. I did some minor work to the car my mother-in-law gave us, and we hit the road! In such a short time, our lives have changed so much, in good and bad ways. Here are some of the things I’ve considered since our car “Blue” came into our lives.
- Grocery Shopping
We have 2 grocery stores and a number of other shopping destinations about 10-25 minutes away on foot. Going for a little walk to pick up a few things isn’t bad most of the time. Unless it’s snowing. Or raining. Or the middle of a heat wave. And even on a perfect day, we could only buy what we could carry, meaning more trips were needed. We could not usually go to multiple stores to get the best price. It took so much of our time just buying food that I started to hate having to cook it too. And on the occasions that we needed to buy something we couldn’t carry (recently a lawnmower) we had to wait until someone was able to help us.
Now I can go to the store once, buy everything I need and still be home in half the time. If I run out of milk I can grab some easily. And I don’t have to choose between buying cat litter and milk because they are too heavy to carry both.
- Kids Activities
My oldest daughter has been playing baseball this summer, an activity we have both enjoyed so much. She was in Sparks 2 years ago, and will be a Brownie this year. We skipped last year because of Covid, the cost (I needed every penny to buy the house) but mostly because the walk would have been too far once we moved.
Last weekend I took my daughter to an out of town baseball tournament and several practices, without the stress of having my partner drag both kids to the field so I could meet them after work. Now I can simply drive home, grab one kid and be at practice within a few minutes. I won’t have to call in favours to take her to meetings or camps anymore and the constant challenge of how to “get there” is now gone completely.
The last few months I’ve been working in two different locations for my employer. One is a 20 minute walk from home, or less than 5 minutes by car or bus. This is my home store, and my schedule is designed around it. The second store however is 30 minutes by car, or nearly an hour each way by bus! Exceptions to the rules were made for me to be able to work there. I was arriving minutes before opening and leaving right after we closed, often leaving a colleague to finish up the work. On Saturdays I would be an hour late, and Sundays I was not able to go in at all.
Now I can come and go as required, transport products from one store to another and be a better teammate overall.
This is probably the area that would be considered the least important, but for us, it’s been the biggest game changer. We’ve visited family that we have not seen in a long time, gone to several beaches, and just for the heck of it, taken a few drives up the coast just to see the ocean. The slogan on our license plate says “Canada’s Ocean Playground”, and now we finally get to experience it for ourselves.
We’re planning a tour of the Cabot trail for next month, and one key destination that I have never been to before. I might get kicked out of Nova Scotia for writing this, but in the 7 years I’ve lived here, I have never been to Peggy’s Cove! But since owning a car, all of this is possible.
- The Cost
This is huge. I managed to pay off so much debt and buy a house in large part because my fixed expenses were so low. And while we are grateful to have been given a vehicle, and have no car payment, the price is still adding up fast. Transferring and registering the car was around $200. I changed the battery and had the winter tires changed back to summers for around $150. Insurance for a new driver is costing me a whopping $120 per month! And that’s before filling up the tank.
Now we’ve joked that for the month of August we will spend more money on gas than our mortgage, ($435) because there is so much we want to do before school starts again. In the first 10 days it’s been roughly $130.
All of the added costs mean I need to add an extra work day each pay period to keep up with my other financial goals. At my current 4 days per week, my retirement planning would suffer to cover these new expenses, and my retirement plans are already pretty frugal.
- Repairs and Maintenance
As I mentioned, I’ve already put a bit of work in to getting the car ready for the road. I know I need a tune up and oil change sooner than later, the A/C isn’t working, and I’ll need some new tires when the snow hits. And that’s just the stuff I can expect. If something major needs replacing it could cost thousands and put me back on the bus again. Luckily my mother-in-law took good care of her car, and it’s in pretty great shape for an ’08. And given that we paid nothing for it, I feel like paying to keep it running longer is still well worth the cost. But I don’t like the idea of sudden, unexpected issues that need to be dealt with.
Also I am interested in learning some regular car maintenance skills to save money. I removed my old battery myself, checked the fluids, and now know how to change an air filter. But some jobs will never be worth the time and tools required to make it worthwhile for me.
- Impulse buying
This is a bit of a weird side effect of owning a car. Because without a car we could only buy what we could carry home, we were much less able to impulsively buy things we saw at the stores. I would often take pictures with my phone of things I would have liked to buy. If I kept thinking about them after, I would either make a dedicated trip or see if my sister wanted to go shopping with me in her truck. Buying things we needed was sometimes harder, but buying things we didn’t really need was rarely worth the effort.
Now I find myself wanting to buy a plant or a cute pot nearly every time I’m out. Plants have become my guilty pleasure lately. I started with one at a time, once in a while, but this month I think I’ve brough home around 10. I know this could be a slippery slope to buying bigger and more expensive things, simply because I can.
Additionally, several stores that I like (Costco and Ikea for example) were out of the question, being an hour and a half away. But now I can get there if I want to. This is dangerous. It was easy to be frugal when shopping options were so limited. Now I will have to work harder to keep my money.
Between walking to work, baseball, shopping and just taking the kids out, I was walking quite a bit. I almost always hit my step target. But it was not easy being on my feet so much with plantar fasciitis. And now I can drive where I need to go. I am definitely concerned that I will be getting a lot less exercise, and will need to find a way to add more in to my life. I could still walk to work, at least sometimes, but let’s be honest here – I probably wont. I’ll take a little longer to get ready in the morning, finish my coffee and be at work in two minutes. So now getting some exercise in is something I will actually have to make some effort to do.
So is owning a car worth it?
For us right now, absolutely!
Financially, we can cover the regular monthly expenses as well unplanned repairs without going in to debt. Owning a car opens up so many options for my family. Activities, adventures, perhaps job opportunities in the future.. who knows? And right away, the time I have gotten back from walking and bussing everywhere has given me more time with my kids. I am glad I got my drivers license, I am thrilled we have a car, and I love the freedom we now have to just get up and go.
Things to consider
I still feel like I made the right choice, all those years ago, not to drive. There were times when money was tight, and these expenses would have put me over the edge. At one point I was traveling a lot and being frugal was the cornerstone of those lifechanging experiences. Parking in the city could be such a challenge, but it was never mine to deal with.
Even with young kids, I managed pretty well without a car. If I lived in a city again, I’m not sure I would feel the benefit of owning a car outweighed the expenses. Bus service, uber, or an occasional rental would probably take care of the same needs at a much lower price. I will always be the frugal person who evaluates the best options in every situation, and it very well could be that I give up owning a car at some point. But for now, I am loving every twist and turn on this new road.