Of course, for millions of folks this is a silly question. The great recession of the past few years means the answer has been decided by other forces. Through repossession, the inability to afford insurance, because of a lifestyle change, or conscious decision to make do in other ways, being car-less is a way of life for millions. There are approximately 260 million cars registered in the U.S. But, I could find no reliable figure of how many folks are making do without one, either by choice or due to circumstances. AAA cites studies that show the typical American spends close to one-fifth of his or her income on maintaining cars.
Obviously, what others are doing shouldn't affect your decision. A happy retirement lifestyle is built on making choices that are right for you. Last week's post, A Satisfying Retirement is Simple....Sort of, detailed what I have done to cut back and make my lifestyle conform to what makes me happiest. That post did note that Betty and I have two cars because of where we live and our schedules. At this stage of our retirement two cars simplify our life. So, I am not the person to tell you to cut back to one car or none at all. Only you can make that decision.
However, being the helpful cuss I am I did a little research on what others are saying on this subject. There is general agreement that most communities in America make it very difficult to be completely car-less. One article claims there are only a handful of urban areas with enough population density to fully support sharing autos or having mass transit in and around the downtown area. Many cities have buses or light rail available, but those systems are highly subsidized and usually underutilized.
In those situations several sites had a reasonable suggestion: develop neighborhoods with many regular shopping needs close enough for walking. In other situations a car would be needed for convenient travel but used much less than is typical today. Unfortunately, this would require re-engineering present neighborhoods or building new ones from scratch since single family homes on larger lots in areas zoned for only residential building makes walking a problem.
Here are links to two excellent overviews of being car-less, why to do it, and how it can be done:
*Living without a car
*Commuting and getting around without your own car
For now let's assume that you don't want to be car-less but are struggling with whether you can have a happy retirement lifestyle with one car versus two. I can describe our situation and see if that helps you decide.
Still being relatively young retirees (63 for me and 58 for Betty) we have separate volunteer and church commitments that cause conflicts. A good example is my monthly trip to the prison in northwest Arizona. On those days a car is gone from the house from 6 in the morning until 7 at night. Betty and I think leaving her alone for 13 hours without a car is both dangerous and too inconvenient for her.
On other days of a typical week she has a church meeting that consumes all morning. True, I can schedule my needs around that or could drive her to and from church though that would take an hour out of my morning.
When one car is being repaired we don't have to commit to one of us sitting at the the service center for several hours. Yes, most offer a way to take us home but I have found them time consuming and inconvenient. Having a second car solves that problem.
Betty and I both agree that having a car available when we need or want it is important to our sense of freedom and control. Being retired means we spend 24/7 together. Having the ability for "me" time and not having to coordinate everything with the partner means there are times when we don't have to be joined at the hip.
It also helps that both cars are long since paid for. Gas, maintenance, registration and insurance still means a few thousand dollars per year per car. But, at least for now, our budget can handle those expenses. Having the freedom of separate cars makes those costs a worthwhile investment for us.
The RV impacts our decision
When will this change? Betty and I have discussed this and I think we are on the same page. When the older of the two cars becomes too expensive to keep, we will probably buy another car for a very particular purpose: to be towed behind the RV. With us planning on being on the road at least 3 months of every year, being without a car while traveling is too restrictive.
As I have learned a little too late (!), our older car cannot be towed unless it is on a dolly. Based on my Internet research towing with a dolly presents several specific and expensive challenges that I won't detail here but make it a poor choice for us. So, all this says we will be a two car family for the foreseeable future.
There is one possible change to this scenario. We will be buying two bikes and taking them with us on RV trips. If we find they are sufficient for most of our local transportation needs that might make a towable car unnecessary. We are also open to using local buses, taxis, or even renting a car for a day if necessary on those times when a bike just isn't practical.
Our bottom line is we are a two car family and plan on being one for the next several years. It is an investment in our happiness.
What's your take on this subject? What have you done? Would you like to cut back or even eliminate an automobile from your life? As I noted, this subject does interest folks so the more input and ideas the better.