Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Don’t Buy a Car

Revised 12/4/16

This is the flip side of one of my other money-saving tips, “Take the Bus.” Naturally, if you don’t have a car, you will in fact take the bus, cab or walk more frequently. Elaine St. James, in her book, Simplify Your Life, classifies “get rid of your car” as “Hard-Core Simplicity” We couldn’t agree with her more. If you are from the U.S., giving up your car may be one of the hardest things to do. There, the car is king…some might say that it’s even un-American to not have a car – it’s inextricably linked to the consumer economy.

Almost by definition, you will drastically simplify your life without a car. You will automatically do less and, ultimately, save money. By not owning a car, you just can’t do as much. Your life will revolve around the bus schedule. Everything you do is scaled back dramatically. And because your options are limited, your choices are fewer and easier.

So how much can you save monthly by not owning a car? Let’s use our expenses for our 1996 Toyota 4-Runner as an example. In 2015, we spent, on average, $359/month, and for the year, we spent $4,312. What does that include? Since we track all of our expenses, we can tell you. In 2015, that $4,312 included everything car-related: gas, insurance, Marchamo (registration), repairs & maintenance, Riteve (annual inspection), a new clutch, 2 new tires, tolls and parking.

Of course, you will still spend money on the bus, and taxis once in a while, but that would still be a whopping savings. It’s easily conceivable that one might spend $100/month for these conveyances. Therefore, saving approximately $259/month, or $3,108 annually. Still very good. I know that if I didn’t have a car, our monthly budget would be reduced by at least $250, from $2000 to $1750. That seems pretty good to me, a substantial savings.

Unfortunately, not buying a car is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” things, because I bought a car in May 2009, just after arriving in-country. So what did I pay for this car I so dearly love?

  • $13,800 total:
    • $10,200 purchase price
    • $600 transfer fee
    • $1500 suggested repairs, including a tire and an aeriel
    • $350 car buying service fees
    • $150 compression check
    • $400 to set up a corporation to own the car, which limits personal liability
    • $600 optional car insurance (6-months)

Just think what you could do with $13,800. That being said, we are extremely pleased with our used 1996 Toyota 4-Runner. It was the right decision for us.

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