We actively choose to live our lives without a car. When our truck died, way back in 2004, we probably could have found enough money to get another one if we’d really wanted to. We wouldn’t have been happy about it, but we could have done it. Really though, we were just happy to see it go.
Since then, our financial situation only improved (what with finishing grad school and actually getting jobs, not amazingly well-paying jobs, but it doesn’t take much to beat grad student pay). We paid off all our debt (well, other than our tiny condo), saved up a nice emergency fund, and bought our house, all in no small part due to our savings from not owning a car. I’ve always assumed we could get a car if we wanted one, but since we don’t, we just enjoy that extra cushion in our cash flow and try our best to save it or put it to good use.
Since we’ve gone from a three member to a four member family though, things have definitely been tighter. We’re nearly erasing one of our salaries for this year that we have two kids in 3-day-a-week daycare (take your pick whose, we make about the same, public kindergarten for H come Sept is looking mighty nice). I’d be hard pressed to say we have plenty of money, but we certainly have enough, especially with that emergency fund as reassurance.
Since I’ve always assumed we could if we wanted, it was with some surprise that I realized right now, if we really needed a car, we’d be very hard pressed to afford one. Even if a decent car or truck were flat out given to us, the expenses of insurance, gas and repairs would be extremely hard, if not impossible, to fit in our current budget. This doesn’t really change things, but it does change my perspective a bit. As I said, we’re OK. I’m not worried about money. But right now, as a family of four in a region with a very high cost of living, if we had to support a car, I would be. I would be very worried. So even if I’ve lost that sense of “Well, I could if I wanted,” I feel even more grateful for the slight financial breathing room we do have.