Almost one year ago we moved our family of four lifelong suburbanites to the city. We ditched our car, got rid of most of our stuff, and squeezed into a tiny apartment. Becoming carfree with kids and adopting an urban lifestyle has been one of the most adventurous and rewarding moves we have ever made. Each Monday I’ll be writing an article about different aspects of urban living with small kids that I hope you find interesting. Please contribute to the discussion in the comments, on Facebook, and on Twitter!
Today I want to write about our carfree lifestyle and how we have lived without a car for nearly two years now! That’s right: two kids, one commute, no car. But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this story…
2012 in Phoenix, Arizona
Rewind to the end of 2012. We were living in the exurbs of Phoenix, Arizona. We owned a large house (4 beds, 3 baths) with a giant backyard. We owned one pretty old car that got us around just fine. My husband, Ben, worked remotely and I was a stay-at-home mom to our two kids, so all four of us were home basically all the time.
In October 2012 Ben’s company downsized and he was unfortunately one of the casualties. He applied for jobs all over the country and ended up getting a job in Portland, Oregon. In February of 2013 we relocated to Beaverton, a suburb of Portland.
Right up until about two weeks before our move date, we had planned to drive our car up to Oregon. We knew it wasn’t in great shape and that it was leaking some fluids, but we didn’t know just how bad it was until we took it to our mechanic for a little pre-trip tuneup. He basically said that we should only attempt the drive if we really wanted to get stranded somewhere in the middle of the desert and subsequently get eaten by wild coyotes. That didn’t sound too fun, so we started considering alternatives.
Long story short, we decided to leave our car in Phoenix with some friends and sell it online. We flew up to Portland and had to decide what to do at that point. But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this story…
The Financially Disastrous Trifecta
The year 2012 was a financially strenuous year for us. We were debt-free (besides the house) at the beginning of the year, but by the end we had incurred over $10,000 in medical debt because our then-baby got MRSA, underwent emergency surgery, and spent a couple of days in the hospital. Add onto that Ben’s job loss. Add onto that our car went caput. Add onto that the fact that when we moved to Oregon our house in Phoenix still hadn’t sold, so we were making our mortgage payments and paying for utilities in Phoenix while paying rent and utilities in Oregon. Needless to say, we were strapped financially and it was uncertain how long we would be making payments on two houses. And we didn’t have a car.
Unwilling to go into more debt, we decided to buy some bikes and try our hand at carfree living. Portland is well known for its public transit system and biking infrastructure, even in the suburbs. We kind of shrugged our shoulders, looked at each other, and said, “Why not? Let’s see how long we can go without a car. Let’s just see how long we can do it. Maybe it will be fun?” It was an experiment that wasn’t supposed to last more than a few weeks or months.
Carfree with Kids
We scoured Craigslist and found a couple of bikes and a trailer* for the kids. We learned to navigate the public transit system and found that we could basically get everywhere we needed to go via bus or bike. Ben commuted nearly an hour into Portland everyday on the MAX (Portland’s light rail), while I took the kids all over the place in the trailer or on the bus. We fell in love with our new lifestyle. We were getting exercise daily. We were saving hundreds of dollars every month. We found that our life was simpler and less stressful. We found that we were happier. So much happier.
In October 2013 we became 100% debt-free again, thanks, in large part, to our decision to forego buying a new car. It has been nearly two years since we owned a car and we are more convinced than ever that being carfree with kids is awesome. We hope to go many years more before buying a car again.
Next week I’ll tell you more about how we moved from Beaverton to a 750 sq ft apartment in inner Portland and how all our friends thought we had finally lost our minds for real.
What do you think? Have you ever lived carfree? Would you? What if you tried it?
*I get asked about bike trailers all the time now. We bought the Chariot Cougar 2. While pricey, it is the only trailer I recommend for families who are biking more than to the park and back. It’s a bike trailer/stroller for families who are serious about using it as a primary mode of transportation.
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