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Could You Become Car-Free?

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Success stories are regular features of the Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter service, where we share profiles of people who have become financially independent. One of the most remarkable stories we've come across is that of Akaisha and Billy Kaderli, who retired almost two decades ago at the age of 38 and began traveling the world. They wrote the popular book, The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement, which has sold in 40 countries. Here, Akaisha talks about the decision to give up their car.

It wasn't a decision we took lightly.

In fact, Billy and I discussed the idea of becoming car-free for several years. There were good reasons to do it: no more maintenance and repair costs; no more fees for insurance, license plate renewal, or registration; no more fuel expense; and no more worry about storing the vehicle here in the States when we are traveling overseas for months or years at a time.

But there were also some obvious downsides. We wouldn't have the freedom to come and go at a whim. And because we live in the American Southwest, where temperatures reach triple digits in the summer, we wondered how we'd manage to get around during the sun season.

Silly idea or feasible plan?
Most people we know couldn't fathom the idea of giving up their vehicle and saw this new lifestyle choice as a hardship. Americans love their automobiles, and owning one is packaged as part of the American Dream. A look at the automobile and truck commercials today describe how we will be sexier, more popular, physically stronger, and obviously smarter if we purchase their brand of car.

As we've described on our Retire Early Lifestyle website, though, Billy and I live in an active adult community where we are within walking distance to stores, restaurants, and several different entertainment options. Most of what we need is near to us, and we appreciate the slower pace of life with all the rewards it brings. Many of our neighbors use a small scooter, golf cart, or bicycle to get around within a reasonable range. When we need to go somewhere farther, we trade services or pay cash to a neighbor or friend for their time. This is much cheaper than a taxi, more sociable, and we aren't bogged down with worries about maintaining a vehicle. Both sides appreciate the trade, and our lives are enriched.

After almost two decades of world travel, we realized that the only place where we need to drive is in the States. Elsewhere we take public transportation or hire a private driver. For the amount of time we live in the States, and for the amount of money that owning our own transport required, we finalized our decision to sell our vehicle.

What about you?
Retirement takes many expressions and even if you could never see yourself as becoming completely free of car ownership, maybe you have toyed with the idea of keeping only one vehicle instead of two.

The following sites may help you with this transition:

  • At Pace Bus, you can calculate your own cost of driving -- fuel, maintenance, tires, insurance, license fees, registration, taxes, finance costs, washings, parking charges -- from a chart that AAA provides. Differences lie in the size of vehicle you own, whether or not you have full insurance coverage, and if you choose to bring a car loan into your retirement. If the total cost per day or cost per mile startles you, weighing alternatives could prove appealing and good for your wallet.
  • Approaching retirement, some people consider relocating to a walkable city or town. Sources like Walkscore and Prevention Magazine can help you find the best walking cities in the States to live, while others such as CarFree.com give you information on places around the world. Fascinating and lively cities such as San Francisco, Boston, Honolulu, or San Diego head many lists. You could be living in one now while never having taken advantage of the green space or mass transit available to you. This would be a good time to consider that option!
  • Remember, each time you walk to the grocery store is good for your health, and it strengthens your muscles from carrying the groceries. Shopping nearby supports your local economy, and talking with your neighbors helps build community. Slow down and enjoy!
  • At eRide Share, you can find rides to share for shopping, medical appointments, or even long-distance travel. Just type in your ZIP code and find out what's happening in your own neighborhood! You can offer rides to cut costs or find one for yourself.

We also maintain a page with several links of our own right here.

Pursuing a simpler, more community-based retirement has noticeable advantages and it doesn't have to be grim or difficult. Being flexible and imaginative about your life away from work brings payoffs both personally and financially. And who knows? Perhaps you will be pleasantly surprised at the freedom you find.

We were.

For more Foolishness:

Fool contributors Billy and Akaisha Kaderli write regularly for the Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. They retired in 1991 from the brokerage and restaurant businesses to a life of international travel. Visit their website at RetireEarlyLifestyle.com. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2009, at 1:22 PM, pondee619 wrote:

    So, if you live outside of the States, or in a retirement community where everything is within walking distance, and have friends who don't mind maintaining their car for your convenience, you can ditch yours. Because, after all, when you need a car, you can just ask your neighbor to drive you where ever. He'll like it. What color is the sky in your world?

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2009, at 2:31 PM, VintageCat wrote:

    It can be done but most of us fools aren't in the position to do so, nor is there social, logistical or infrastructural support in many if not most places in the USA to be wholly transportation (car) free, NYC and a few large city cores being a notable exception.

    Our position as retired people in a mid sized northern city was to first cut down the number of vehicles that we owned, then to focus on the type of driving/transport that we do and will presumably continue to do to get the best fit with our remaining vehicles.

    Owning outright, buying used, self maintaining older but reliable models, carrying a good liability/comprehensive insurance policy while self insuring one's vehicle/s for collision will all take the sting out of what is probably necessary car ownership to a large degree.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2009, at 5:06 PM, Purpleheartfool wrote:

    My wife and I sold our car in 2002. We have been living on our sailboat since then. We've sailed down the East Coast, to the Bahamas and then to Mexico. For the past 5 years we've been in Central America. When we return to the US every 6 months or so for our medical/dental appointments, we rent. So far that has been more economical than owning. However, we just bought a condo in Green Valley, AZ. This is not a walking town, and much of what we need to do is in Tucson or Phoenix. So now we are looking into what to buy. As we spend more time in the US, we want to travel and see it. Our decision is whether to buy small and rent a "road car" when we travel, or buy something more "universal" that would cost more for our in town use, but would save the rental fees when we travel. Any thoughts?

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2009, at 5:52 PM, Somewhere wrote:

    I got rid of my car two years ago because most of the time, it sat around collecting dust. I deliberately chose to live in a location where everything I need on a regular basis is in easy walking distance, once even going so far as to find an apartment directly across the street from where I used to work so I could walk to work everyday. (Walked home to eat lunch too.) Nowadays I'm self-employed and working from home, so walking to work isn't a problem no matter where I live anymore.

    Most everything else around town I get to using public transportation. The *rare* times I need a vehicle to go out of town or to haul something like furniture, I rent a car or borrow one from a friend if they can spare it. (It helps to offer filling up the tank while you have it too. *nodding*)

    I've probably saved thousands of dollars ditching that car, and I don't miss it a bit. =) I'm still convinced most people who say they "need" really mean, "I'm not willing to make the necessary changes in my life to live without the convenience of a car."

    Which is fine--but that's not really the same as "needing" a car either.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2009, at 6:53 PM, xetn wrote:

    I haven't owned a car for over 14 months and the savings is great, the health benefits are great and best of all, I am a whole lot calmer.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2009, at 7:28 PM, knoconnor wrote:

    After my car died about 8 years ago, I put off getting a new one and am still putting it off. I live downtown in a reasonably bike-friendly town, and bike to work, about 2mi away. I have baskets on my bike to go food shopping about 4 blocks from where I live. When I can't bike to get what I need, I mail order.

    Do I miss the convenience of having a car at my disposal? Sure, at times. But not as much as I don't miss not paying for gas, oil, routine maintenance, more expensive repair jobs, insurance and car payments. When the bus or train doesn't work for me, I can always rent a car. And I am in the best shape of my life (I am 56).

    I realize that most Americans don't live in an environment like mine and would likely find not owning a car inconvenient at best. But I also realize that the car traffic in my town is much higher than it has to be, that most people probably just drive across town when they could walk or ride a bike, and that most people are simply lazy.

  • Report this Comment On August 26, 2009, at 12:46 AM, autodriver123 wrote:

    For most of the country, outside the dense metropolitan centers, the auto is a way of life to cover the most territory in the most reasonable time period. The vehicle has been chosen to match one's lifestyle and needs, and not as a commodity to satisfy some political or social objective.

    Further, it reflects the independence and the transportation requirements of millions of different drivers. To do without for most drivers is unthinkable, unless there is a financial or physical limitation. Most of the country is spread out and demands the reliability and flexability of personal transportation

    As is true in most products, the marketers make an array of products that will appeal to a wide variety of potential customers. That is no different from transportation choices. The typical family with children cannot operate without a vehicle and choice that meets their needs, whether that is a wagon, SUV, truck or sedan. Public or alternative methods can be nonexistent or so poor that many areas of the country would have to return to the buckboard and horses to get anywhere.

    As a retired person, I could seek alternatives to my auto, but it would sure make me feel dependent, deprived and relegated to a second or third class citizen. Life and freedom are about choices, and Americans pride themselves on that self determination. Let's consider that when designing social matrices for the typical citizen's choices of transportation.

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