June 27, 2007

Get Rid Of Your Car

I'm not going to tell you to get rid of your car for the environment's sake, to sacrifice convenience for the well-being of the planet. I'm not going to mention the environment at all--no global warming guilt trip, no climate crisis lecture, yada yada--nothing. Because ultimately it shouldn't take that to convince you. Getting rid of your car is just plain common sense. In fact, getting rid of your car isn't a sacrifice at all. Your life will be all the better for it and I'll explain how. Don't do it for the world. Do it for yourself.

Let's begin by listing just a few things that drive you crazy. Perhaps you have a long commute. Maybe heavy traffic puts you in a bad mood. And wow, those gas prices are not going to go down (maybe another war would help!). But you have the power to leave all these troubles behind. You're not giving up anything by giving up your car unless you think you're going to miss the big ‘ol pain in the neck that the automobile is. It's weighing you down. It's restricting your freedom. And it's burning a hole in your pocket.

I know what your number one priority is, so let's talk about that first. You want to get to work and back home as fast as possible. No matter how far away your workplace is, you can get there faster in a car as opposed to any other method of transportation, right? Obviously, if you're using public transportation it'll take even longer to get to work. I won't argue that point. If there's anything we can both agree on, it's that public transportation in the United States does not work (excepting New York City) and in too many towns it is nonexistent. Anyone who depends on public transportation is doomed to a long life of waiting, whether it's for trains or buses.

So here I am, trying to tell you that everything's going to be swell if you give up your car, and you know this is not true because it will take you three transfers and two hours on the bus to get to work. Well, then...I think you may have found the solution to your problem all by yourself. You're going to have to move. Your home and workplace should be close together. They should be within walking distance of each other. It's that simple.

Yes, giving up your car means moving, but that's okay. You'll be happier in your new neighborhood. You want to know why? Because since you don't have a car, you'll choose a neighborhood that has everything you want in it, all within walking distance. You'll go to the grocery store, post office, library, restaurants, bars--you name it--all on foot. Everything will be right there, including your work. It will take time to relocate and you may also have to find a job in your prospective neighborhood but it is all worth it. You'll even save money.

I know--living in this type of neighborhood could cost you an increase in rent or force you into a higher mortgage payment. And it's normal to worry about costs like this. But before you draw any conclusions, I want you to total up all your car repairs and car payments and the money you spent on gas last year. Still think you can't afford a change in location? A better question is: how do you afford your car in the first place?

You did do the math, right? No? Okay, then, we'll do it right now. Let's assume your car payment is a reasonable $200 a month. Let's add in modest car repairs and regular maintenance of $300 every year, a pretty good insurance rate of $150 for six months, and of course $3.50 per gallon for every 30 miles you drive (let's assume you only drive 10,000 miles per year). I'm not even counting how much you spend on registering the vehicle, or even taking it to the car wash. Add all these costs up and you get a total of $4,167 per year. Is that a pretty significant portion of your salary? I thought so. Even if your rent goes up $200 a month because of your move to your new neighborhood, you still save $1,767. Could you use that money? Would you like to go to Europe? And the estimated costs I used above are fairly conservative. You might spend five, six, or even seven grand, depending on what you drive and how far you drive it. Getting rid of this vehicle will save you money, money enough that even if you rent a car once a month to go to PodunkTown to visit relatives, you're still coming out ahead of the game.

But wait--the savings don't stop there. You'll save money on health care costs, too. Why? Because you'll be healthier. You'll accomplish this by walking. You'll be in shape in no time, because you'll be exercising everyday, everywhere you go. And then you'll go in to see the doctor and the doctor will wonder how it is that you're so fit when you don't necessarily do anything but walk (by this time, you will have realized how absurd it is to drive a car to a gym in order to walk around a track for a half hour before driving home).

So now you're saving on your gym membership, too. But the benefits are not all about money. You'll be happier, whether you go to Europe or not. You'll be healthier, sure, and perhaps you'll have a little bit more money to spend, but you'll also begin to truly enjoy your community. You can't know a place until you walk it, and you'll walk through your neighborhood on a daily basis. You'll get to know it well and this will make you feel connected. It will make you feel like you are a part of the world instead of a cold, dead body in a metal shell. You'll see the world in a completely different (and natural) light.

You'll be more spontaneous. Whenever you feel like it, you will stop at a quaint shop or a tea house. You won't have to worry about where to park your car or if the car will be safe. You won't have to dig for change for the meter or buy a parking stub from one of those machines. You'll just walk right in. You'll be walking along and see some place you want to go--maybe it's a park--maybe you'll walk right by a park and decide to stroll through it on your way to get groceries. You can't cut through the middle of parks in a car. You can't cut through anything in a car. In a car, you're confined to roads, confined to linear thinking. That's why this incredible solution to so many of life's problems doesn't occur to very many people.  They're stuck on the road.  But you--you can be free.

Your whole life will be transformed. You'll forget all about the car you used to own. Maybe you'll travel to see the Pyramids. Maybe you'll just put the extra money away for an early retirement. Whatever the case, you'll be more free than you've ever been.

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