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You still haven’t gotten a car yet? part five; survival without a car

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Disclaimer: Finances and money management are personal decisions, and this particular to series is not meant to tell the reader what to do or how to live their lives. It’s meant to reflect on my own experiences, lessons about personal contentment and delayed gratification, and kick around some alternative ways of thinking about a fun topic which affects everyone; money.

This article will be the final installment of the You still don’t have a car yet? series.

“You still don’t have a car yet? You don’t seem to be in a hurry to get one,” my mother said to me in a recent visit home. She had recently gotten a newer car herself. Living in Buffalo, N.Y. with its modest public transportation system and long winters, it was wise for her to get one.

“Actually Mom it’s been great,” was my reply. “I don’t miss having to spend money on the insurance every month, the up keep, putting gas in the tank, paying personal property taxes (in states like Virginia), getting it inspected every year, watching out for cops who are eagerly looking to give out tickets (especially in Fairfax County, Va.), and worrying about parking the thing.”

“Well how do you get groceries when you need them?” my mother asked me. There were several answers to that question. First off, there is a Harris Teeter near my job and a plaza a little further away (with a Target, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, Staples, etc.) so walking to get items after work is pretty easy. If the need arises for me buy a large amount of groceries, a Zipcar can be rented on an hourly basis.

Just briefly, the Zipcar is a Rideshare program where one can rent a car on an hourly basis. Zipcar pays for the gas, and coverage for the car can be purchased for a small fee. The only major requirement is to have the car back on time so as not to inconvenience other users. If you do bring your Zipcar car back late, you will incur a $50 late fee, a really good incentive for having the car back on time. Enterprise has recently launched a similar program. At any given time you can see multiple Zipcars driving around the Washington DC area as many people have decided to not own a car for one reason or the other. Most are trying to save money.

When my tutoring and volunteer activities pick up, one of my other favorite programs is Enterprise’s Weekend Special where you can rent a car for $10 a day from Friday to Monday. When doing something like this for business purposes, it’s very important to run the numbers ahead of time to determine how much profit will be generated from the activity (a Cost-Benefit analysis).

If you have good credit and are in good standing with a company like American Express, you may be offered rental car coverage at a flat rate of $25 per rental for up to 44 days where damage to the car is covered up to $100,000 which is a really good deal. You may also want to carry your own personal third party insurance in case you accidentally hit someone else. These are good alternatives to the insurance packages the rental car agencies like to tack on to your rental.

Even if it’s just a little bit of profit or none at all, under the current tax code the IRS allows the mileage ($0.55 a mile) used for business or volunteer activities to be deducted, which equates to an even better deal ultimately decreasing your tax and potentially increasing your tax refund through filing what’s called a Schedule C.

Other than that, public transportation has become my friend. The thing that has made this so convenient for me personally is the fact that my residence is literally right next to the Washington, DC Subway system, and multiple bus routes. Using public transportation requires one essential tool that not everyone has; the ability to plan.

Transportation is an expense both with non-ownership and ownership of cars. The advantage of the Zipcar program is that you can sidestep a major expense of car ownership; the upkeep and maintenance though you are trading off the around the clock availability of a vehicle.

When using public transportation everything has to be planned out, which is a relatively small price to pay for the money saved. Much of what we pay for when owning cars is the convenience of being able to immediately come and go when we chose, but that convenience can have a considerable cost.

In closing, this series was not meant to convince anyone that they shouldn't get a car or they are foolish for having one. The intent was to look into my life and current sacrifices that are willingly being made to get to a better place financially. This sacrifice has drawn varying reactions, and a final lesson is that even if what you’re doing is smart on paper, not everyone will understand it, and doing things like being frugal and saving money aren't always viewed as the sexy things to do.

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