Contentment Without a Car

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, September 3, 2006

I've had a car of my own since I was about 22. I couldn't wait to get that first car. For years, I had been held hostage by my grandmother, Big Mama.

She kept tight reins on me and my whereabouts by requiring that she drive me to most of the places I had to be. I went to just three dances in my entire high school career: the ring dance, junior prom and senior prom.

As a parent now, I understand Big Mama's desire to keep me parked at home so she could keep an eye on her granddaughter. Still, I remember the liberation I felt when I finally bought that car.

So when I picked up Chris Balish's new book, "How to Live Well Without Owning a Car" (Ten Speed Press, $12.95), I put it right back on top of the piles of personal finance books I get every week.

No sir, I ain't giving up my wheels, I thought. I live in the suburbs, have three children, and there isn't a bus stop near me for miles.

But as I thought about the rise in gas prices, I picked the book back up.

Balish's mission is simple. He wants all of us to challenge the notion that we need a car. Most importantly, he says we all should reevaluate the cost of car ownership.

Can more of us live without our cars?

I think it's about time we all seriously contemplated this question and not just because of the whiplash we've been getting with gas prices. This is why I'm recommending "How to Live Well Without a Owning a Car" as the September pick for the Color of Money Book Club.

Balish, a broadcast journalist who lives in Southern California, has been living without a car since 2003. He began his car-free existence after deciding to sell his $36,000 Toyota Sequoia SUV because of its gas addiction. His intention, he writes, was to buy a smaller, more fuel-efficient car that was still "sexy and impressive." He sold the SUV before he had a chance to find a replacement vehicle.

Those initial days without a car liberated him and his budget, he writes. At the end of the first month, Balish says he had an extra $800.

"I was actually angry with myself for never sitting down before this to figure out how much money I was spending on my car," he said.

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