It’s understandable that not everyone, everywhere will be able to go car-free; and just to be clear from the start, this interview highlights ways in which to become “car- lite” not “car-free.” It is my sincere hope that you will be encouraged to use your car less.
Again, I am extremely honored to present to you this interview with Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens. She is, without a doubt, right up there on my list of blogging heroes! Tammy is as authentic as it gets, which is evidenced through her fabulous writing.
Andrea: In your opinion, how has our (American) love-affair with cars shaped our culture?
Tammy: I used to see cars in this way: they symbolized freedom and wealth. And that view was shaped by very sexy advertising messages. Advertising and consumer culture has created an illusion that everyone “needs” a car. However, in my experience owning a car saddled me with debt, constrained my life choices and hampered my health.
Andrea: How do we begin to live car-lite?
Tammy: Selling my car was part of my downsizing process and it was one of the best financial and health related decisions I’ve ever made. It took over two years to shed our cars and downsize our debt. Now we get around by bike and by foot.
If you’re thinking of going car-lite, start small. For instance, leave your car in the garage for a week and do all your local errands by foot, bike or via public transit. Go for a test ride and see how you do.
And remember . . .
Biking isn’t the only way to get around without a car. Consider taking the bus, train, or walking to your destination. Taking a multi-modal approach to transportation is a great solution and will make your life a lot easier. For example, on days when it’s pouring rain or snowing you can take the bus.
Andrea: What are the benefits of going car-lite?
Tammy: Ohhh there are lots of benefits, like improving your health, saving money, decreasing your environmental footprint and more. For example, going car-lite is an amazing way to see your city in a new light. For instance, as a result of selling my cars my world view has shifted. Rather than rushing from place to place, I slow down and observe my surroundings, patronize local business and say hi to my neighbors. By biking and walking my city, I truly experience it.
Andrea: Can this be done with kids?
Tammy: I don’t have kids. However, there are many people who have gone car-free or car-lite with kids and rave about the benefits. Here are a few tips I’ve heard from my parents who are car-free or car-lite:
- You don’t have to spend $5,000 on a bike to get around safely. There is an abundance of family cargo bikes, child seats, and trailer options to consider. Totcycle.com is a great place to start poking around and exploring options.
- Don’t forget to connect with parents who have gone car-lite or car-free. Ask questions about bikes, gear, challenges and successes.
- Read What is this thing we call safe? and In Praise of Car-Light Families.
Andrea: What do you suggest for those of us who live in the suburbs? How can we go car-lite in areas with little to no public transportation options?
Tammy: Get plugged into your local community. If your community doesn’t have an organization devoted to cycling or a car sharing service, maybe you should start one? Or consider combining resources with your neighbors. Use your local resources and think outside the box.
Andrea: How does going with one, smaller car (or no car at all) set us on a course toward financial freedom?
Tammy: Even if you’ve paid off your car, do you really know the true cost? According to AAA:
- Americans spend 1/5 of their income on cars.
- An American Automobile Association study pointed out that the average American spends about 9,000 per year to own a vehicle. That’s about $800 per month. The figure includes car payments, insurance, gas, oil, car washes, registration fees, taxes, parking, tools and repairs.
Car ownership is the second largest household expense in the U.S. According to Bikes at Work, Inc. “the average household spends almost as much on their cars as they do on food and health care combined for their entire family.”
One of the best money saving strategies available to you is going car-lite.
Now It’s Your Turn
Daily Goal: Plan a time in the near future to do a tiny experiment: Keep your car parked in the garage and try going to your local grocery store through an alternative method (i.e. on foot, by bike, or by bus). Foot, bike or bus not an option? Plan a trip into town and coordinate a carpool with a friend or neighbor.
Side note: If you take your bike, it has a rack, a carrier, or a basket so you can bring your purchases home.
Download: The 23 Day Frugal Living Challenge Daily Goal Sheet
Connect With The Community: Take a few minutes and head over to the forum. Share your “Frugal Living Daily Goal“, encourage, and support one another.
Subscribe: Be sure not to miss a day of the Challenge! Click this link to receive the 23 Day Frugal Living Challenge by email.
Tammy Strobel is a writer, coffee addict, and tiny house enthusiast. The connecting thread in her writing is simplicity. She created her blog, RowdyKittens.com, in late 2007 with the goal of improving her writing and to share her story.
Tammy is a full time writer and is working on her first print book. Her story has been featured in the New York Times, The Today Show, USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, and in a variety of other media outlets.
Tammy spends her free time volunteering at Living Yoga, a Portland based non-profit, taking photos, and hanging out with friends and family.
She currently lives in a very tiny house in Portland, Oregon.
Click here to check out the books Tammy has written.
Another amazing perspective on the world to give me brain food for the day! I have lived all over the UK (military wife!) and the difference between public transport from town to town is astounding. In the big cities, public transport is amazing and a car unecessary. Now I am living in the outskirts of a small village, where I need to walk for 45 minutes to get to the nearest shop for basic groceries. Last week my youngest child needed to see a doctor out of hours so we were advised to go to the nearest hospital, which is a 40 minute drive away so I was grateful for our car. I hate the expense of owning a car, and we are one of the few families on our street who only own one. Next door has four cars, one for each adult member of the house! I try not to use our car wherever possible, the cost of petrol is not a luxury we can afford. However public transport for us is non existent, which is a crying shame.
Wow Emma! Different seasons of life require different approaches to living. Your heart’s in the right place:) And believe me, I’m right with you! It simply comes down to not being able to afford the gas!
I’ve loved reading the comments on this post. I try to walk wherever I can, but I’ve now got hubby overhauling my (very!) old bike in the hope that I can be confident enough to start cycling more. I look forward to reading this series every morning, it’s become part of my daily routine. You are changing my life! Keep up the great work x
We also live in a rural area, and the last time I tried to bike to town it took me two hours. My husband works 25 minutes away, and my son and I work in the opposite direction. We have no public transportation and taxi’s are way too expensive, so having two cars is a necessity. We do try to double up whenever we can, and limit our extra trips to town. I wish there were more car-pooling opportunities, but with different companies having such different shifts, so far we haven’t been able to find one that works.
No way our cars cost us $800 a month each to own! They were bought with cash, our insurance is only $72 a month for both of them. I use one tank of gas every 3-4 weeks and hubs uses about the same amount as he works from home 2-3 days a week. We live out of town so giving up vehicles is not practical besides the lack of public transportation in my area. We do try to combine errands, etc but it would be horrribly inconvenient to be carless!
Stacy @Stacy Makes Cents says
I have to agree with Lana – there is NO way our cars cost us $800, and I’m including two. We drive old, reliable cars and we try to stay at home as much a possible. I think going car-less is only possible if you live a big city…..how do you get groceries? How do you tote 25 pounds of wheatberries on a bike?
I think it comes down to being smart with the cars you do have – pay cash, drive them less often, make your trips count, don’t buy new cars. But, I live in the country…so maybe I”m just skewed. 😉
You got it Stacy!
This is a great post. Tammy gives great advice and it really is possible (yes, even with kids). We have certainly saved money in our years of carfree living (since 2004, since 2006 with kids), but the benefits go so far beyond the financial.
As far as the day to day logistics stacy asks about, we definitely can carry groceries, a full two weeks worth for a family of four, by bike. We have a couple fancy bikes we use for this, but we originally did it with a free secondhand bike trailer that worked just fine. We do this for a grocery store about two miles from our house, but I think it would be do-able up to 3 or 4 miles.
And yes, living in a city definitely helps, but we’re in touch with carfree families all over North America, including a family in Winnipeg and smaller towns like Huntington West Virginia. You can see our series on these families here: http://carfreecambridge.com/category/true-life-stories-of-the-carfree/
Is it for everyone? No, there are definitely life, geography and family factors that can make going completely carfree seem out of reach, or just not the best place to put your energy. But I do think many people will discover that their life is happier and more manageable as they find ways to drive less, and walk, bike or ride transit more, even if they don’t go completely carfree. The initial adjustment can take some work, but once you get in the rhythm, it really can be lovely. We wouldn’t want to live any other way.
And thank you so much for linking to us! But it looks like several of the links in the “can this be done with kids” section are broken…
I agree! We couldn’t go carless either:) But it sounds like you and your husband are already living car-lite! That’s awesome!
Michelle @ Simplify, Live, Love says
I love this idea and have lived it in larger metropolitan areas in the US and in Europe. It’s just not possible right now (for me) with 4 children in rural Iowa. During this challenge, I have really limited our driving trips and we’ve stayed home a lot more, but I need my vehicle to take my kids to homeschooling activities and to get groceries. We walk and bike as many places as we can in our town, but with only 2,000 people, we need to get to the larger town for just about everything. And at 15 miles away, it’s just too far to go car free. One of these days, I will downsize vehicles again, but at this time in my life, my car is a must have.
You’re right Michelle! It’s not possible for everyone, especially for those of us living in rural areas. But you’ve totally got the idea! It’s about going car-lite and reducing our usage. You give excellent examples!
We live 2 1/2 miles from our tiny town, which has no resources, other than the local grade school that my son attends. We live 15 miles from the nearest town that actually has stores! And to get there you have to take a state (very busy and dangerous) highway. So, until they decide to put rural passenger trains back in business (which won’t happen because they tore all the tracks out 20 years ago), we HAVE to have a car!
I lived in Paris for almost 5 years without a car. I loved it. However, it’s very difficult in the typical suburbs of the US. I have no public transportation options near me. I do have 2 shopping centers and town center that are within walking distance. But my definition of walking distance is a lot further than most I do leave my car parked on weekends as much as possible & keep my trips “walking” local.
Also, I have to disagree with the costs of car ownership. No way my car costs that much per month to own. I paid cash, comparison shop insurance to keep costs down and maintain it. It’s a 2006 and I expect my daughter, born in 2006, to learn to drive it.