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Household Finances Gen Y money: Why a car will likely be my last ‘adult purchase’

A GO Transit train heads west after leaving Union Station in Toronto.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Thanks for reading our Gen Y money blog, where a recent grad chronicles her real-life journey to becoming a financially independent adult.

Between job hunting and paying off my student debt, I've been living a pretty frugal lifestyle over the past couple of years. In fact, I've gotten so used to defaulting to thriftiness that I've started to feel frustrated over some of my regular, necessary expenses – namely, transportation.

Last year, I spent an estimated $4,517 on public transportation. Given that this amount is approximately 12.5 per cent of my annual salary, it seems like a lot.

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I feel very strongly that $4,517 would be better spent paying off my student loan, buffing-up my savings account or funding a trip to Vegas. I also feel that this $4,517 should not go towards owning a car.

As my savings slowly but surely grow, I think about where I want to put my dollars first. So long as I continue to live in downtown Toronto, owning a car is probably one of the last things on my list of "adult purchases" – it would be more of a financial burden than a necessity at this stage in my life.

The estimated $4,517 I've poured into commuting is specifically a business-related cost. I live in Toronto and work in Pickering, which involves taking both the TTC and GO Transit twice a day, adding up to a daily transportation cost of $18.82.

Having spent my university years living close to campus and enjoying student discounts on transportation, I wasn't used to spending so much time and money just to get places.

As a new grad finally enjoying a steady paycheque, it stings to see my Presto Pass balance decline as I tap my card before boarding the GO train. The Presto machine's happy beeps have become dings of financial pain that frame my workday.

While my situation isn't ideal, it certainly could be worse, and definitely isn't unique. And as much as I love to moan and complain about how public transportation guzzles my hard-earned dollars, it really is my best financial option.

An annual transportation cost of $4,517 is still less expensive than buying or leasing a car. Between the cost of the actual vehicle, insurance, gas, maintenance and parking in downtown Toronto, I know for a fact that I cannot afford a car, nor will I be able to attain one until long after my student debt is paid off.

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More importantly, my lifestyle doesn't necessitate car ownership. While I often crave the convenience and freedom that having a vehicle would allow, I can still figure out ways to get where I need to go.

Driving and parking downtown can be just as unpleasant as sitting next to a misbehaving toddler on the subway, and being stuck in traffic is just about as painful as a transit delay. At least I can plug in my headphones, read a book and get some work done on the train.

Of course, the most obvious way to cut my transportation costs would be to find a job downtown or move out to Pickering. For now, I'm putting the value of my work experience ahead of my transportation costs.

I see my current position as a crucial foot in the door of the digital marketing industry. I'm getting great agency experience, learning from industry experts and networking – all aspects that are vital to the foundation of my career.

My underlying frustration lies in the fact that I know how far $18.82 can stretch in a day, and it's a lot further than Pickering. While commuting isn't necessarily a cost I'd like to sustain long-term, the pros of my career currently outweigh the cons of the commute.

If $4,517 is going to physically get me somewhere that will launch me a few extra miles ahead in my career, then it's a small price to pay. I'll try to look at it as a small toll for the career highway.

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