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Do You Really Need a Car?

The best thing about having a car at your disposal is the freedom it gives you. You can go wherever you want. Just pick a destination, hop in the car, and you're off.

Other than that, there's really not that much about having a car that's so great. They're expensive to buy and to maintain. They break down occasionally, leaving you sitting by the side of the road in a thunderstorm. They require time and attention, and by the time you pay for them, they're hardly worth the metal they're made of. But most of us still can't imagine life without our wheels. Our lifestyles would change dramatically if we were to go carless.

Yet plenty of people get along perfectly fine without a vehicle of their own—no car, no truck, not even a scooter to hop on and ride across town. Some of these folks hitch a ride with somebody else when they need one, or they walk. Others use something collectively known as public transportation, which includes the buses, trains, subways, and trolleys that carry people across town and across the country every day.

Taxicabs are available for those without vehicles, as are bicycles, in-line skates, and nifty scooters for trips around town. Need to travel farther? Buses, trains and airplanes are available for longer trips. Our country is fairly unique in its “a car for every driver” attitude. In other countries, cars are still pretty much seen as luxuries, and a family would never aspire to have more than one.

Show Me the Money

Public transportation is the collective name for the system of buses, trains, subways, and the like that carry people to and from their intended destinations.

Dollars and Cents

If you use public transpor-tation regularly, be sure you check out commuter passes, which enable you to buy quantities of bus, train, or subway tickets at re-duced prices.

Not Everybody Needs a Car

If you live out on a farm in Iowa, you probably need a car or truck to get you from one place to another. The nearest store might be 15 miles down the road, and you'll have a long, long wait for the transit system bus to come along.

On the other hand, if you live in the middle of New York City, you probably don't need a car. Keeping a car in the city is terribly expensive, and it's a hassle. With abundant public transportation, you can easily get where you want to go without your own vehicle.

If you live in the suburbs, you probably think you need a car, and you're probably used to having a car. If you don't have one, though, you no doubt could get along without it. It would be an adjustment, but most suburbanites have access to public transportation, which could transport you to work and the other places you need to go.

Renting a Car When You Need One

Still, taking a bus when you leave New York City to go to visit your college roommate in Washington, D.C. can be a hassle. It can turn a 225-mile, less-than-four-hour car trip into an all-day adventure, depending on how many stops you make along the way. And sometimes you're just not in the mood to chat with the person in the next seat, who just found out that her husband is having an affair and is going home to her mother.

The thing to do in that case is to rent a car. Extravagant, you say? Not really. Rental rates vary tremendously, and they change depending on availability and other factors. To rent a car in New York City would cost about $70 a day, or $210 for a three-day weekend, plus gas. More than Greyhound? Yeah. More than Amtrak? No. And if you're traveling with somebody else, renting a car becomes an even more viable option.

Pocket Change

You can pick up a car at a Budget rental car location in New York City on Friday and return it on Sunday for about $205, plus fuel charges. A round-trip Amtrak ticket from New York to Washington, D.C will cost you $249. Greyhound will take you from New York to D.C. and back for about $70, but it will take you six hours each way and you never know whom you'll end up sitting next to.

Some people live in the city without a car and rent one when they need it for business purposes. Hopefully, your employer will reimburse you for that expense if you find yourself in that situation. The point is, it's not always necessary to own a car.

More on: Family Finances

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in your 20s and 30s © 2005 by Susan Shelly and Sarah Young Fisher. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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