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Should condo-dwellers shell out for a car?

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Max, 37, and Rachel, 30, Toronto

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Should these downtown condo-dwellers get a car? He thinks so - mainly for their frequent trips to visit family in Quebec, and to golf and ski. She thinks not, preferring to funnel the extra cash into their coming wedding and savings - and take the train. As they get ready to walk down the aisle, can they settle this spat before their engines get too revved? (*Their names have been changed.)


We live downtown and have fairly short commutes to work: mine by streetcar and Rachel's by subway. The main reason I want a car is for leisure and family visits. We both grew up in Montreal, and try to go back as often as we can to see family - usually about 10 times a year. We also like going skiing while we're there. Renting a car may seem like the obvious solution, but it's a real hassle - most companies in Toronto don't offer snow tires, and it's not safe to drive in the Laurentians without them. When Rachel and I go out at night, we always seem to end up shivering in the cold, waiting for a streetcar that never comes. When we break down and take a cab, I always say, "This is why we need a car." In the summer, I go golfing, and it's not really practical to lug your gear around on the TTC. I had a Honda Civic for nine years, and I really miss the spontaneity and freedom of being able to go anywhere, any time. I'd like to enjoy that as much as we can before we have kids. I'm also angling for a promotion at work - or possibly jumping to another company - and that may add an extra $15,000-$20,000 to our income.


I don't believe that anyone who lives and works downtown really needs a car. I've had the same approach to money my whole life - I'm not a tightwad, but I'd say I'm a careful spender. The fact that I haven't started saving for retirement yet worries me, and I'd like to start as soon as possible. We've just emerged out of debt and we've got our wedding coming up in June. We don't think we'll take much of a financial hit from that - it's a tradition in both our families to give cheques as wedding gifts - but I'd like to play it safe for now. We use Zipcar [a car-sharing service]for grocery runs, IKEA trips and visits to friends in the suburbs. It does cut down on the spontaneity - I can understand that - but it's cheaper than owning a car. I think we should wait a year or two, when we'll be ready to start a family, and think about getting a car then.

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Vital stats

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Years living together: 1.

Occupations: He's a Web strategist, she works in public relations.

Annual household income: $135,000 (mostly his).

Mortgage: $800 biweekly at 3.75 per cent, five-year fixed, 25-year amortization period, plus $260 a month in condo fees.

Other debt: $0.

Savings: Max has $6,000 in a registered retirement savings plan; Rachel has none.

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Approximate cost of 10 weekend trips to Montreal, by rental car and train: $2,100 to $3,200.

Approximate cost of a weekly Zipcar rental: $23 for two hours or $1,196 a year.

Annual cost of two monthly transit passes: $2,904.

Approximate annual financing cost of Max's first choice, a compact crossover utility vehicle: $8,320 ($450 monthly with no money down and zero per cent financing over 60 months, plus $160 a month for insurance, plus $1,000 a year for gas).


Financial expert Kelley Keehn

Before I weigh in, let's just crunch the numbers and see if they illustrate a clear winner.

Option one: buy the car

- Loan payments over five years: $27,000

- Insurance over five years: $9,600

- Gas over five years: $5,000

- Max's level of enjoyment: priceless

Grand total: $41,600 over five years

Option two: stay the course

- Median trips a year: $2,650

- Car share: $1,196

- Transit passes: $2,904

Grand total: $33,750 over five years.

If we break that number down, that's $1,570 a year or $130.83 a month that you'd save remaining car free.

My verdict? For a few dollars a day, it's not worth the frustration and inconvenience of not having a car. Max is making enough income to justify the cost. But before you run out and buy your wheels, you need to check into parking costs for storing your new vehicle. And, promise to rerun those numbers. Especially in downtown Toronto, adding possibly hundreds of dollars to the monthly tab, it may not make sense. If you have a free stall with your condo and don't drive it to work, then it's moot. And, you need to consider maintenance over the 60 months as well.

Rachel and Max, if you seek to cut a few dollars elsewhere in your budget (perhaps stay in a couple of nights a month), I think buying a car now is financially justifiable. Plus, if Max is gets the promotion, he'll likely be working extra hours for the increase in pay. Run the numbers of what your time is worth and, in this case anyway, I don't think wasted time seeking transportation is in your best interests.

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