Save. Spend. Splurge.

Why a car is a non-essential luxury

A car, is a luxury.

Obviously, if you live in the middle of nowhere, a car would be an essential, but only if you couldn’t move to an urban city where public transportation or walking would be an option.

Therefore, I would only buy a car if the following criterion were met:

  • I need it. Like seriously-can’t-walk-or-take-the-bus, need it.
  • ..and I need it for WORK. I need to make $$ to cover this car, after all.
  • I can afford it, taking into account insurance, parking, gas, and maintenance.

Otherwise, it’s a luxury.

In the case of this year, I needed it for work. Without the car, my commute would be at least an hour and a half, up to two hours. With the car, it’s 20 minutes to half an hour. Saving an hour to two hours of my life in commuting time (especially with a Baby Bun!) is WORTH IT.

That’s 10 hours a week or a full week’s of work (40 hours), which considering the price I paid for the car (around $10,000 all in), pays for itself in about 2-3 weeks in working dollars.

Now if I were to think about being able to expense the mileage for this car, I actually won’t be paying off this car with company reimbursements until a full 2 years of working or more.

I spend about $300 a month in gas or $3600 a year, so I am hoping to take that all into account by the end of the month to estimate when I could have the car “paid off” or repaid through mileage reimbursements.

Technically, I won’t be working long enough to pay it off through reimbursements but at least I have the car for the future.


So I’m always puzzled when people who live downtown right by subway stations say “I just graduated and I bought myself a car to get around because I need and deserve it!“.

Personally, I had to go through a huge mental exercise and all this rigamarole to even let myself buy a car, and a USED ONE at that above $2000 and I am far from being broke.

If they really did the math on what this car would be costing them, they might feel mini heart attacks if they realized it sucked up 30% or more of their net income.

So I don’t really get it when people treat themselves to new cars they can’t afford to keep.

It’s like buying a puppy without realizing that they cost money in veterinarian visits, food, toys and so on.

Or having a baby without realizing they will need to be on maternity leave at lesser pay, and that babies cost money in diapers, formula (even the best laid plans to breastfeed and save money, may never work out, like in my case)…

All of those things cost money after just the initial cost of the purchase, and no one deserves any of it. Deserving something is not linked to owning stuff.


  • Mrs. Frugalwoods

    This is a great point! We lived for years in the city without a car and were fine. We do have one now (our 18-yr-old minivan), but we definitely treat it as a luxury. We try not to drive when there’s another transit option (walking, biking, or public transit) and, we’d certainly never buy a car we couldn’t pay cash for.

  • Amanda @ My Life, I Guess

    I bought a car when I didn’t *really* need it. I had wanted one for years, and had convinced myself that I did need finally need it in order to take on this second part-time job I wanted (which involved driving to pick up and return empty liquor bottles) – but the catch is I only wanted a part time second job in order to be able to afford a car. So, yah…
    My car has become a need now, however, because my fiance works just outside of town where there’s no public transportation. But realistically, I could have be using all the money I spent on car payments, insurance, gas, etc. over the last 4 years to pay off a larger chunk of my student loan debt and/or to build up my savings.

  • Aleksie

    I just moved to a much more suburban/rural area, and everyone insists that I need a car.

    Admittedly, I know it isn’t going to be as convenient as Boston but there is still a bus system and walking. Maybe I’ll be singing a different tune come winter, but for now, it seems like it won’t be the worst thing ever.

  • Sal

    For sure if I lived and worked downtown I wouldn’t have a car. I bought my car when I moved up north. In fact, for almost 2 months I didn’t have it- and when I worked Sundays, by the time I left, there was no bus from the hospital where I worked to the bus station and I had to get a ride- or a taxi sometimes if I didn’t ask people beforehand.

  • StackingCash

    I love my car! Even though it is just a 2005 Acura RSX, it is fun to drive. Because it is not luxurious as a Mercedes or Audi, I spent $4000 to upgrade the stereo which turns my car into my personal nightclub/music festival. Also having a car allows me to explore and travel the city and country. Probably the most priceless aspect of owning a car is the amount of time we save. One last aspect that I cannot stand about public transportation is that you must endure people that you might despise personally but have no choice but to sit next to them…

    • save. spend. splurge.

      I love mine too, and it’s a minivan. The time I save in commuting is worth it to me to be home earlier for Baby Bun.

      I agree with avoiding sitting next to people you don’t like. Some of them have serious BO..

  • Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom

    Our car is paid for, so the math on which option would save money gets a bit fuzzy. Two bus passes around here is about the same price as minimal gas plus insurance. Car maintenance would be offset by the cost to take the bus/train/airplane to visit out of town family regularly. The internal excuses go on and on.

    We currently have two cars and I can’t wait to sell the second one. I have day dreams about going back to no car, but it’s just so much more convenient to have a car around for us (toddler, hockey, house in subburbs, out of town family). Still we don’t NEED our car. But it’s a pretty strong WANT!

    I’d argue that there are very few people who NEED a car and love that you called them non-essential luxuries. You said you needed a car for work, but then admitted that there was a way to get there with public transit. A frustratingly stupid long way for the distance, but a way. So, like you said, non-essential luxury.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      Yep a non-essential luxury. If I didn’t have a baby that I wanted to come home to ASAP .. if I were single, I may have just sucked it up and learned the bus schedule.

  • Charlotte

    I’m really fortunate that I don’t need a car. Living in downtown Toronto means I can walk almost anywhere or else take the subway/bus/streetcar or bike. I would hate to have to pay for a car right now!

  • Jordann

    I live in a rural area so I NEED a car, but that is one of the reasons I’m moving to the city, I hate relying on an expensive hunk of metal to get around. Most people around here have two cars per household, and if you don’t have a car, you are probably poor. My husband and I compromised by getting a used car, and we only have one to share between us – which most of our friends consider pretty weird.

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