I bought my first car at 29

That one should probably go to some kind of frugal diaries or confessions, but if you know a bit the European culture, it is not that big of a deal, actually many of my cousins who are in their late 20s/early 30s do not even have their driving license!


I bought my first car

My first car!


I grew up in Paris, a city that has 14 lines of underground, 4 lines of express railways and a multitude of bus lines, three tram lines, and for the past few years a system of city bikes that you can borrow for 30 minutes at a time. There are bike stations every 500 meters, and it costs 2 euros a day ($3) or 30 euros a year ($50) to use those bikes as much as you fancy. You can use public transportation until 2am on weekends, 1am on week nights, and it starts again at 5am. If you partied too late, but not that late, a taxi will take you home for $20.

Then after college I traveled around the world for a year, and was happy not to have to worry about a car parked back home. I then moved to Guatemala, and Guatemala City is terrible for public transportation, there are only buses which aren’t that safe, but I bought a bicycle and cycled around. Same thing when I lived in Barcelona and London. I finally bought a car when I moved to Morocco as I thought it would be cool to explore the country with my own car, and sold it less than a year later when I moved back to Guatemala.

I have owned my second car for about a year now, so in 33 years of life, I have had a car for about 18 months.


What I saved by not having a car


First, there was the cost of the license. It costs around $2,000 to get your driving license in France. Yes, that is a big rip off, driving schools and the government are working together to push prices that hard. You have to take 20 hours of driving with an instructor, at around $50 per hour, but most schools push you to take more or won’t give you a spot at the exam, so you are stuck. I got my license in the UK for less than half that price, and it is valid in the whole EU.


Now, the purchase price of the car, obviously. As a broke student living on $400 a month, I would have had to take a loan, and that would probably have taken forever to pay off. Most of my friends who had cars paid around $5,000 for a beat up 10 year old car. Cars aren’t that cheap in France.


On top of that you have insurance, that is really expensive for a young driver under 25, and can be up to 20% of the vehicle’s value. Let’s say a reasonable $500 per year, from 18 to 28, that is another $5,000.


Then, ad up repairs and maintenance, at the very least an oil change every year, and $100 in miscellaneous repairs, that is $1,500 over 10 years. Considering the clunker I bought in my example, that should be way more.


Because I was living in Paris most of those 10 years, I would have needed a parking space. They go for over $130 a month at the moment. Say $1,000 a year since I didn’t live there all the time, $10,000.


Finally we have gas. A gallon of gas is $8 in France, $5 in Guatemala. Another $100 a month? $12,000. When you do have a car, you get lazier with your errands and you suddenly can’t take the bus anymore.


GRAND TOTAL OF OWNING A $5,000 CAR FOR 10 YEARS: $35,500. It seems more reasonable when you look at it like a $295/month expense. In my example, I bought a 10 year old car, costs are much higher if you buy a newer car, and my example assumes your 10 year old car will last 10 more years without major complications.


I do not think any of these expenses were exaggerated, I was talking with a reader trying to help her do a monthly budget, and she had $820 in fixed expenses per month for her car between the car loan, the insurance and the gas to go to work. Just because you spend it monthly doesn’t mean it won’t add up to crazy amounts over the years.

$35,500 that I did not spend on a car meant $35,500 that I was able to spend on travel, or save to reach financial independence sooner. Or $35,500 that I did not have to earn sitting in a cubicle just to pay the car.


Not owning a car didn’t mean that I was not moving around like I usually do, on the contrary. I was once or twice a month abroad, spending the weekend in a European capital or with my family, and often needed a car for work. So I rented one when I had to, or before I had my license, I shared the cost of a rental or gave gas money to my friends to go somewhere.




I rented my parking space and used rentals

When I bought a property with a parking space, I was tempted to get a car. At least, I wouldn’t have to pay for parking, right? Instead, I rented the parking space for $120 a month. It was enough to pay for two weekend rental at the local Enterprise, where you could have a basic car from Friday morning to Monday morning for $50. “Owning” a car six days a months was more than sufficient to do the things I needed a car for and it just cost me gas money. No insurance, no repairs, 100% peace of mind.


When I did decide to become an adult and get a car, I bought both cars cash. No interest or “easy monthly payments” to make the total balance even worse. Owning a car is an expensive luxury. And frequently, you just have one because everyone does, but if you figure out the cost per use of your car, it would be cheaper to rent one when you really need. Many family members living in Paris do just that, and rent cars on demand. There is a new service like Zipcars where they can rent by the hour to move a piece of furniture or meet a client out of town. It is much cheaper and quite convenient. Sure you waste time organizing the rental, but how much time do you waste with your own car going to the garage or doing your maintenance, even looking for street parking in a busy neighborhood?


Do you really need a car? Or two? Do you know exactly how much a car costs you every year?


This post was featured on the Festival of Frugality, Financial Carnival for Young Adults, thank you!

A 30 something French girl embarking on a journey towards Financial Independence. I blog about money, travel, simple and deliberate living, freedom and choices. You can find me on Twitter, Google+, or Reach Financial Independence's Facebook Page

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  1. I’m definitely challenged by this post. Living in America we are very dependent on our cars. It irks me to think of what I could have saved by not owning one for all these years. I long for the day that public transportation becomes more developed here. My wife and I are trying to go down to one car, but I’ll admit it represents quite the challenge. After reading this we definitely should go through with it.
    Jon@2-copper-coins.com recently posted..Can I Manage My Own Money?My Profile

    • You may not have saved the money and spent it somewhere else, like a smoker always has money for cigarettes but doesn’t necessarily save the amount when they stop, splurging on other things. Still, if you don’t commute daily with your car, chances are it is cheaper to rent one when you need. Even a $25 weekly rental to go to the supermarket is only $100 a month.

  2. Wow! I’ve heard that it can be expensive in other countries to get your license, but I didn’t realize it was that expensive! We recently sold one of our cars, but we still have two. We could probably get rid of another, but we do like cars. It’s one of our splurges.
    Michelle recently posted..$12,160 in December Business IncomeMy Profile

  3. DEFINITELY not exaggerated. I’ve done the numbers and they’re pretty similar in NZ (but licence is much cheaper as you don’t need professional lessons). Repairs and maintenance are definitely way higher though in reality, especially for older cars. Also registration ($300 plus a year)!
    eemusings recently posted..Enough with the whistling, alreadyMy Profile

    • I wanted to stay conservative with the repairs, although it could be $1,000s over 10 years for a 10 year old car. We don’t pay registration anymore, which is one less expense, it used to be in the same $300-ish range.

  4. I’ve had a car since I was 17, except for the 2 years of college where I wasn’t allowed to have it. I definitely wouldn’t say it was necessary for ALL of those years, but some for sure. But now our life is changing a little bit and I’ve started giving some thought to giving up one of our cars (between my wife and I we have 2). Things aren’t settled enough to really make that decision yet, but I could see it happening. It would certainly be nice to get rid of those expenses!
    Matt Becker recently posted..Use the Saver’s Credit to Turbocharge Your Retirement SavingsMy Profile

    • with good organization it can certainly be done. Running errands on your way to work, etc. Keeping a car is sometimes less expensive than selling/buying again when you need, although with parking and insurance it adds up quick.

  5. We’re currently testing out having just one car and so far it’s going really well. The only thing that bothers me when some people delay having a car is passing the expense onto others. I have family who didn’t get their driver’s license until they were 29 or 30, but they still made their parents drive them all around the city all the time instead of taking public transit.
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..This American Life’s Ode to SalesMy Profile

    • Yes, you don’t want to be the friend with a car in college either, or worse, the one with the van everyone asks to move in and out of the dorms. I think my mum gave me two rides to the airport in 10 years, and only because she insisted… Renting a $25 a day car is a simple answer instead of bothering people imo.

  6. Our gas in Hawaii is the most expensive in the country but it’s “only” $4.69 compared to you. Thankfully I have a company vehicle that I change out once every three years, saving me so much money.
    charles@gettingarichlife recently posted..Why Do You Choose Material Items Over Your Loved Ones?My Profile

  7. Your evaluation sounds about right. Cars are expensive! I actually checked the bus schedule and I would have to be at the bust stop at 5:30am and wouldn’t get home until 8pm each day, so I think having a car and having that time is worth it. If you can go without one, by all means do it, but sometimes it’s not a practical option.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..15 Ways to Improve your Finances in the New Year – Part 3My Profile

    • I was lucky to get the job before the house and look for a house near work. Crazy commuting times, be it by car or bus are not worth the extra money if you have no life.

  8. I have to have a car in the city I live in. Public transportation here is an absolute joke. It would take me 1.5-3 hours to get to work using the bus system and that is if it is running on time. With my car it would take me roughly 20 minutes in traffic. The grand total for me to get my license was prolly $500 including a fancy driver’s ed class (which isn’t ever required in my state but I would have had to wait an extra year to get it).

    • I get that jobs aren’t right out your front door, if you work a specific, technical job, and that a car is needed. My reader was earning around $2,000 working a basic job and spending $820 on gas/car to get there so I argued she would be better off working minimum wage around the corner from her house. I didn’t add the value of time spent commuting too but it would add up to quite a bit over 10 years.

  9. Ouch! $2,000 for a license, I can understand why you’d not be clamoring to get one. :) I lived in Chicago growing up and with the public transportation being so good I didn’t get my license until I was 19, because I had no need for it as I could get anywhere in the city for $1.50. It also allowed me to save a big chunk of money which was a nice benefit.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..How to Save Money on Groceries in 2014My Profile

    • wow getting a license at 19 is like getting it at 35 in Europe :) I regreted not having it sooner though, as there were a few occasions when renting a car would have been great.

  10. Great breakdown, Pauline, and I think you’re being very conservative with those estimates. I could see the final number being higher than $35k for a lot of owners. Cars are a huge anchor on our finances. But in American culture (outside of a handful of cities like NY) telling someone go to without a car is like telling them to go without water. They cannot comprehend it.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Mindless AccumulationMy Profile

    • Yes I wanted to stay conservative, buying a 10 year old $5K car that would last you 10 years with that little repairs is almost impossible. Yet the cost is $35K, with a $30K car we can easily be in the six figures.

  11. If public transportation was better in my city, I would not have a car. I didn’t have a car in college and I did well. But public transportation takes forever here. a 30 minute car ride could turn into a 3-4 hour public transportation nightmare.
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted..How a house is impeding me from becoming a BUMMy Profile

    • I get that governments don’t have lots of money to invest those days but public transportation should be a must so people can go to work quickly, safely and efficiently.

  12. You are extremely resourceful and adventurous Pauline! If I could get to work without a car, I would probably sell mine! But where I live PT isn’t that good. But I can definitely see the allure of living car-free! (I think of this everytime I have to drive in snow!)
    moneycone recently posted..How this toolset became my best home improvement tool!My Profile

  13. Wow, that is an insane fee for a license. In my state, we have our licenses for ten years before they need to be renewed. It sounds like it is much cheaper and convenient to take advantage of the public transportation over there. I plan on buying a bike when the weather gets warmer here, now that I live so close to work. I am only filling my gas tank up once a month, and my insurance is reasonable. The public transit system here isn’t the greatest, either.
    E.M. recently posted..An Expense Comparison Case StudyMy Profile

  14. Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    Wow! We complain about gas prices in the States but it’s easy forget that what we pay is quite cheap in comparison to some places. We have a pretty strong car culture here but I do see more people converting into a 1 car family. I honestly wouldn’t want to give up my car but we try to be smart about the costs too. We buy our cars in cash and drive them for many years.
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted..4 Smart Financial Moves to Start the New YearMy Profile

  15. Wow! I can’t imagine not having a car (or access to one) once I turned 16. A car (assuming you’ve paid cash for it) is FREEDOM – you’re not dependent on anyone else’s schedules etc and I’ll take FREEDOM in any form over a few bucks in the bank. I can’t imagine not knowing how to drive until you are “way old”. Nothing like a convertible with great music, cruising down the highway – on your own timetable – going anywhere you want in the land of the FREE.

    • I get your point as I have come to appreciate having a car lately, because public transportation is more challenging in Guatemala. However, having lived in big cities with reliable public transportation before, most of the time it would have been easier and quicker to take the train/bus to work and rent a car when needed on weekends. I remember my dad often going aroudn the block for half an hour after work trying to find a parking space in Paris, and things have only gone worse in the past decade. So much that people who still want their own transportation are turning to scooters and bikes instead of a car for commuting. In the U.S., most cities aren’t equiped well enough and a car is a must.

      • Different environments. If I had to drive around the block for 1/2 hour looking for a parking space I would definitely ditch the car. Fortunately, I have easy parking every where I go and I love cruising down the highway.

  16. We use our car to travel back and forth to family in rural PA from where we live here in Brooklyn, NY. While parking usually is difficult in the city, we live in an area where parking isn’t too hard to come by so even though we have to move the car four times a week for street sweeping, finding a spot to move it to is not a serious problem yet. My car is paid for and the insurance is cheap and annual registration is minimal so that keeping the car is no big financial or personal burden. But if our neighborhood becomes more gentrified (and it’s looking that way), free street parking will probably become more of a hassle and we may have to reconsider owning one!
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted..Materialistic Envy is So Easy to CatchMy Profile

  17. We don’t “need” a car, but we both come from places where cars were necessary (no public transportation), so it’s something we really grew accustomed to and enjoy. Now that we’re in the NYC area we can get everywhere by bus and subway during the week and only drive on the weekends (and when we go on vacation). In the next few years we’d like to move to the suburbs so we can have free parking and hopefully a garage. For now we’re paying a lot to have the car, but it’s an luxury we’re willing to spend on.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Box Wine: Frugal & Fun or Cheap & Chintzy?My Profile

  18. That’s nothing – I waited until I was 34 to buy my first car. Having said that, while there are definately costs involved with buying a car, I am aware of jobs that I haven’t got in the past because I confessed to not owning a car.

    I, like you, paid cash for mine and bought it outright. I only drive short distances so my monthly costs for ownership are very low indeed.

    However I do wonder about the opportunities I’ve missed out on from not being a car owner – and whether, for the right person, a car can actually be an investment in furthering your career and increasing your income if sensibly approached.
    Richard @ About Cloud Storage recently posted..JustCloud ReviewMy Profile

    • I would have bought one if the job depended on it. My last job had me promise I would get my license asap and rent a car when needed, which I did. However many times it was cheaper for the company to have me go by train than drive.

  19. My first car was a motorcycle.

    Didn’t by an actual car until I was 27, and this was living in California, the land of impossible public transportation.

    Cars are definitely expensive to own and maintain, but the convenience more than makes up for it, as long as you have a reliable, fuel efficient, inexpensive one…
    Jack @ Enwealthen recently posted..How To Buy Personal Checks Without Getting Robbed (By Your Bank)My Profile

  20. Car owners should remember that if their veehicles are
    still covered by warranty, the manufacturer wwill most likely offer emergency roadside
    assistance. This way you know when a company or even an employee of the company is trying
    to make extra money out of you. Flatbed tow trucks are
    preferred forr hauling vehicles since these vehicles do not put pressure on the vehicle or drag it for
    a long time.
    excelguru.ca recently posted..excelguru.caMy Profile

  21. Your blog is looking great with your first car and the car is also looking cool. Basically we are dependent on our cars, without cars we can’t travel. In this blog you shared full information in detail related to maintanance of car. I’d like to say thanks for sharing this detail information. Keep posting such an informative and useful posts……
    Car Rental recently posted..Cheap car rentalMy Profile


  1. […] not owning a car until I was 29, at the moment, I have two cars. One I bought at an auction in Miami, and brought back to Guatemala […]

  2. […] Having now owned a car until I was 29, I am pretty sure I would have been just fine without driving for a day, especially since on the next day you can do whatever you need your car for, like a big grocery shop or driving your kids to karate lessons. But I know many people who wouldn’t trade a car for the world, even if that means commuting in high traffic for almost an hour each way, when the train could take you there in less. […]

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