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To the broke college student: Think twice before buying a car

To all the college students out there eating ramen and McDonald’s, this goes out to you. Higher education is expensive; from buying books to seeing a movie with some friends, money is in constant need, and many can’t afford to spend money right and left.

What’s more, many college students need to travel. Whether it’s to an internship downtown, a part-time job or even home for the weekend, traveling seems to always be top of mind. But rather than blindly jumping to the idea of purchasing a car and kicking those savings to the curb, consider all the expenses that go toward car ownership, and explore other ways to travel.

Purchasing a car - new or used

When purchasing a car, the normal person will scour numerous websites and journey to a number of car dealerships in the hope of finding something within their price range. For those lucky enough to have family or friends willing to help out with the purchase, buying a brand new car may be an option.

But while a new car may be safe, luxurious and efficient, according to NerdWallet, the average new car in America as of 2018 costs approximately $706 per month, equating to $8,469 per year until the car is paid off. If you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of money; why don’t I get a used car?” Think again. A used car may be less expensive, but typically these cars have high mileage, are not fuel efficient and may require constant maintenance, ultimately adding up to the cost of a new car.  

Don't forget about gasoline

This is a simple reminder that you must purchase gas in order for the car to drive. While this is an obvious point, it’s important to remember that there’s more money that goes into owning a car than just buying it from the dealership.

Gas prices today can range anywhere from $2.50 to $4 per gallon, and as stated by Huffington Post, the average American spends over $2,000 per year on gas. Add that chunk of money onto the price the car sells for, the fees from the dealership and maintenance, and you’re looking at thousands and thousands of dollars poured in each year.


So at this point, you’re probably asking what the alternatives are. And the good news is that you’re in luck! There are a number of ways to travel affordably that don’t require owning a car.

  1. The first is car sharing. This new concept of commuting is found through companies like car2go, DriveNow, Zipcar, and Maven. Car-sharing services are typically found in cities and simply provide a car for a consumer when they need a ride and do not have a car. The usual car-sharing service will require a membership that holds a monthly fee, and then it can cost anywhere from 2 dollars to 15 dollars per hour to drive the car. The cars are found parked throughout the city and are typically used through an app. Since people living on college campuses in cities have a difficult time finding a place to park the car they own, this method is seen as a significant way to save space, money, and is super easy to use.
  2. The second is ride-sharing services including Lyft and Uber. If car-sharing services are too strange or require too much responsibility, getting a lift is an easy and quick way to get around. Uber is found in almost every American city and are easy to call. Simply use the rider app and request a ride, and the car will be there within a few minutes, ready to take you to your desired destination.
  3. Lastly, public transportation or biking is always a viable option. While these sources of transportation may not be the most glamorous way to get around town, they are cheap and affordable ways that can help you save some money. For those living on college campuses in the city, consider investing in a bus or subway pass. For the college students in suburbia or rural areas, a bike provides a way to get around town while getting a built-in workout.

The choice is yours

Whether the desire is to own a brand new Cadillac or a used 2004 Toyota, utilize a car-sharing service or buy a bike, you must inform yourself on every aspect of transportation costs, and make a decision that is the best for you.

Emily Smith is a freshman majoring in Marketing and minoring in Professional Writing at The Ohio State University. She is an Account Associate at The Practice, a member of PRSSA, a Morrill scholar, an International Affairs scholar and a member of Cru. Emily hopes to pursue a career in corporate marketing.