How to Afford the L.A. Life: To Drive, or Not to Drive?

Driving may be a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be a road to ruin

A car isn’t just a mode of transportation. For most of us it’s a home on wheels, an extension of self, and an overall money sucker. Driving may be a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be a road to ruin.>

1) Draw a two-mile circle around your house>
Make it a rule not to drive anywhere inside that circle (about a 40-minute walk). You’ll start to see how many car trips you can replace by walking. Plus you’ll notice how your daily needs can be largely met by local businesses

2) Start wearing a pedometer
By sweating an hour on the treadmill at the gym, you may rack up a few miles. But by monitoring your steps while walking and taking public transit during the day, you’ll quickly realize you can do three or four miles just the same.

3) Stock up
You’ll need to prep for life on foot. In addition to that pedometer and your smart phone, get a reloadable TAP card for riding public transit (you can buy one at most Metro stations and on buses), as well as reading material. Invest in stylish yet sensible shoes, too.

4) Download Metro’s excellent app
Yes, our bus and rail system is massive and intimidating, but you no longer have an excuse not to use it. Metro’s new app can help you plan trips, find the nearest station or stop, and view real-time bus arrivals. You’ll crack it in no time.

5) Have your groceries delivered
Many local community-supported gardens will bring edible goods to your door. Web sites such as and save your purchase history, and since most of us buy the same items every other week, arranging for a routine drop-off is a time-saver. (Delivery charges are $4 to $13.)

6) Join a car-sharing service
Just because you don’t own a car doesn’t mean you can’t drive one. Need to escape to Joshua Tree for the weekend or take a meeting in Orange County? The subscription car-share company Zipcar is better known, but LAX Car Share is locally owned.
6 Small Steps to living a Car-free Life

Craigslist index

Extra or Excess?

Leather seats? Yes.
Butt warmer? No.
Here’s our list of practical perks

  • Sunroof
  • Rearview camera
  • Bluetooth
  • Satellite radio subscription
  • Leather seats
  • LED headlights and taillights
  • Headlight curve illumination
Don’t need
  • Convertible
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Wi-Fi/LTE adapter
  • Expanded sound system package
  • Seat warmers
  • Headlight washing system
  • Heated side mirrors

Affording L.A.

Is it worth it?

Valet Parking

Answer: Yes

Paying for someone to park your car sounds decadent, but relative to other cities, we’ve got it pretty good. All-day valet parking at the downtown Standard hotel is $36—that’s $20 to $40 less than the same service at the same hotel in New York and Miami. It’s also less than a parking ticket.

How to buy your baby

Three ways to nab that dream car

Save Hard
You want an Audi but can’t afford the latest model? Buy used. Savings start when a car is four to five years old. Sock away cash for maintenance, since the warranty has likely expired.

Study Hard
If you have the time, take two months to scour blogs, consult CarMax and AutoTrader, and bone up on Consumer Reports and Blue Book reviews for the best deals.

Play Hardball
Angling for a new car? Print out the lowest Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) and invoice price (what the dealership paid) that you can find. Begin negotiating $2,000—or more—below the dealer’s ad price.

The Foot Soldier

The Foot Soldier

A richer (and skinnier) writer explains why she’s better off ped

By Alissa Walker

I’m not Anti-Car. Far from it. When I abandoned my four wheels, it was part of a game. I had noticed how my car sat motionless in one place—my garage, the parking lot at work, the 101—and I wanted to see how long I could get by without driving it at all. Six years later I can confidently say I’m healthier, happier, and wealthier. I estimate that I have $10,000 of “extra” income every year that used to go to car expenses.

I also have more time. Walking, biking, and taking public transit require a lot of planning ahead, but the time shift works to my advantage. I read more books and answer more e-mails. I can effortlessly ride a bike a few miles during the day instead of forcing myself to squeeze in yoga at night. I lost ten pounds in the first year, even though I could swear I was eating more than ever. (It’s a lot tougher to avoid taco trucks when you’re on foot.)

It’s not all biped bliss. I’ve waited on dark corners for buses that never came. My phone was stolen out of my hand on the Blue Line. I don’t regularly see my friends on the other side of town. And yes, the city still has a ways to go when it comes to infrastructure. But with the money I’ve saved, I can easily afford a cab when I don’t feel like hoofing it. (I realize my fellow riders may not have this option.) Being car-less is not for everyone, but it’s worth trying one day a week as an experiment. You might find it as liberating as I did. It’s called going car free for a reason.

Reality Check

15% Average amount of the household budget taken up by car ownership

3-D photo-illustratons by Comrad
Illustrations by Chris Gash