This is part of an ongoing series where I dissect and discuss the reasoning behind various facets of my lifestyle. Through this, I’m attempting to separate the money aspect from the decision-making process, showing that I live a lifestyle that’s largely divorced from concerns about money whatsoever. Essentially, this is a lifestyle that I’d live regardless of my income/wealth. These facets thus aren’t about the money at all, but rather the result of thoughtful choices based around what I value and what drives my happiness.
Ahh, the bus. It’s wonderful.
Don’t hear that too often, do you?
I suppose that’s partly because our culture (here in the US) has been in love with the automobile and the freedom it provides ever since Henry Ford started mass marketing the Model T.
And so the vast majority of our cities and infrastructure are based around the car, wide roads, freeways, and open space.
I used to be a car lover myself.
After all, I spent my entire career in the auto industry, working for a variety of luxury car dealerships. I’ve been behind the wheel of an R8, a 911 GT3, and a special-edition EVO FQ300 (not all at the same time, of course).
Hell, I even wasted part of an inheritance I received at 21 years old on a Corvette. Going back even further, I always had a nice car in high school, and I worked hard to attain and maintain these cars.
But at some point in there, I realized it was all absolutely ridiculous.
As someone who grew up in Motor City, always loved cars, and spent an entire career in the auto industry, I’m here to say that cars are a huge waste of money. And they’re arguably a great way to lower your overall quality of life (depending on how you set your life up).
I first decided to try out car-free living back in late 2011, selling the 2006 Pontiac G6 that I had, up until that point, owned for a few years.
I was spending around $500 per month to own, maintain, and drive this car. I realized that it was a huge barrier to me becoming financially free before 40, and so it had to go.
It was a little scary, though. Car culture was so ingrained in my psyche that I almost couldn’t imagine living without one.
How would I get around?
What if the bus was late?
Isn’t public transportation dangerous?
At first, I’ll admit, it was a bit of an adjustment. (And it’s not like Sarasota, Florida is some kind of mecca for public transportation.)
But it soon became an incredible relief.
I mean, here I am, being driven.
I felt like a millionaire!
It’s funny to me, but I think being driven is one of the very few things that really rich and really poor people share in common, or it’s at least perhaps perceived to be that way. You have limos, taxis, and private drivers on one hand and buses and trains on the other.
It’s simultaneously seen as a sign of luxury and poverty all at once, depending on who’s doing the driving and what kind of vehicle you’re sitting in.
Sitting on a bus? Poor.
Sitting in a limo? Rich.
This is, at least, a viewpoint that’s common outside of really large US cities, where public transportation is robust and widely used; cities like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. come to mind.
As such, you can imagine the irony of showing up to a luxury car dealership by bus, where I was paid to serve high-end Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche clients. It was… interesting, to say the least.
Nonetheless, I feel just as rich as the guy who’s being driven in a limo.
I’m able to get on, take a seat, and just… go. And every seat has a great view – with huge windows.
I don’t have to worry about traffic, red lights, dodging debris in the road, speed limits, directions, or weather.
I just sit back, relax, and enjoy the view.
In fact, being able to see the sights around me rather than focusing on the rear bumper right in front of me has definitely improved my quality of life.
I feel like I’m a greater part of the world around me. Not just sitting in my bubble and upset about traffic, I become a less-stressed and more in-tune member of my community and nature. I see trees, architecture, businesses, new construction projects, people, the sun, and the sky. I actually experience the world around me, rather than it being nothing more than a blur as I shift through traffic.
My productivity has also improved.
I can’t tell you how many ideas about financial freedom and this overarching lifestyle have come to me while sitting there, just thinking. This very article is an obvious example. But there are many. I can read, write, and theorize – none of which is really possible in a productive manner if I’m driving.
I also love the health benefits.
Going anywhere is a totally different experience.
Instead of walking from my apartment to a car, parking as close to my final destination as possible, and walking from my car to a door, I’m walking to a bus stop, then anywhere from a block to multiple blocks away to my final destination. Then there’s more walking around from place to place, back to the bus, or even to another bus (if I have to go in another direction).
I’m basically forced into walking a lot more, which is great for my body.
And it’s better for the environment.
Our world is our ecosystem. And while nature is astoundingly tough, I feel good about myself knowing that I’m negatively impacting it less than I otherwise would be if I were driving everywhere. I become part of a system that saves 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually here in the US.
Of course, the money I save is awesome.
It’s $1.25 per ride. I jump on the bus a few times per week, and I average somewhere around $25 per month in transportation expenses these days.
But it’s honestly not even part of the equation any more. Sure, saving money became the original impetus that led me to a car-free lifestyle, but I honestly now prefer not driving. You could give me $1 million – and I still would prefer to take public transportation over owning and driving a car. That’s the honest truth.
In addition, I’ve developed somewhat of a passion for urban planning and sustainable urban infrastructure design, where effective public transportation is a cornerstone to building sustainable cities of the future. So I’m eating my own cooking here, as I always do.
Now, there are drawbacks to public transportation – nothing is perfect.
Late buses, waiting around in the elements, and close contact with riders that clearly have personal issues are just a few potential problems. But the benefits, in my view, far outweigh the drawbacks, especially when comparing these drawbacks to owning, maintaining, and driving a car.
In the end, I love using public transportation. I love it so much that I have a desire to move to a larger city where the public transportation infrastructure allows me even more options to thrive.
Using public transportation isn’t about the money at all for me; I instead see it as a way to live a more dynamic, productive, green, serendipitous, healthy, and easy lifestyle. The fact that it’s so cheap is just icing on the cake. I’d pay more!
I’m having this dialogue with you readers in order to point out that the lifestyle one creates in order to become financially free at a young age doesn’t have to and shouldn’t lead to a decline in one’s happiness.
Not only does spending more money not automatically lead to more happiness, but spending less money can actually lead to more happiness.
It’s counterintuitive – which makes it that much more amazing. For some reason, people largely believe that money and happiness operate under a constant 1:1 ratio where the increase or decrease of the former always leads to the equivalent change in the latter. But it’s just not true.
And that’s not just due to the permanent shift in one’s internal “happiness thermostat” that one attains after becoming financially free, but it’s also due to the realization that the creation of a more robust lifestyle that concentrates on life and experiences more than stuff and money alleviates oneself of a silly and undue burden. This can actually improve the world around you, which simply compounds the benefits.
Finally, being in a position to make lifestyle decisions not based on money but rather the pursuit of happiness is, in my view, a wonderful way to approach life. I’ve found that I think not about money when I make decisions but instead about whether or not something makes me happy. And it just so happens that what makes me happy doesn’t cost very much money. It’s an incredibly virtuous cycle that’s part of an overarching holistic lifestyle that feeds into itself. Once you open your eyes to it, it’s almost like you can’t help but succeed, become financially free, and live life on your terms.
What do you think? Regularly use public transportation? Own a car? Is it about the money for you? Or is it a lifestyle choice? Would you change the way you approach transportation if you had a lot more money?
Thanks for reading.