I’m Spending a Lot On Uber—Should I Buy A Car?

It is time to buy a car? Here's how to find out.

It’s time to talk cars, pals.

Specifically, when does it make sense to buy a car? (Trust me, you do not know where this is going.)

I got a really, really great question by email a few weeks ago, asking whether or not I thought it was time for them to buy a car. They were looking at their Uber receipts, you see, and realized they spent a not-insignificant amount Uber-ing around town to avoid the cold and get home from holiday events (which is totally fair and, based on quality of life alone, I’d say a good investment. Ottawa was not warm over the holidays.)

It was enough that they were wondering if it was time to buy a car.

And my answer?

Nah.

For a bit of context, I do have a car, so this is not some personal-finance-hates-cars rant. But it’s also not a never-take-an-Uber-or-spend-money rant.

Instead, I just want to look at what you’d need to consider to make this decision for yourself, even if you’re staring down what feels like an excessive amount of Ubers or cabs.

Is this a normal spending pattern?

First and foremost, if you’re spending $1000 a month on Ubers, and that is a consistent pattern every month of the year, holy heck just buy the car! You will save money. Unless you are so rich that you can pay $1000 a month for convenience (which FYI is very, very rich) then buying a car is a no-brainer.

But for most people—and specifically, the one who emailed me—this is a seasonal thing. Especially in Canada, where oh boy, do we ever get seasons.

Let’s say that for three months out of the year, the weather is bad enough that you end up taking a disproportionate amount of convenience cars, like Ubers. The rest of the time, you’re happy to spend a bit of extra time waiting for public transportation, or biking, because the air doesn’t hurt your face.

That immediately tells you that what feels like a very high level of spending right now isn’t a forever thing. That information will be helpful as you look at how much it’ll really cost you to own a car full-time (and whether it’ll be any cheaper).

How much does owning a car really cost?

Here’s the thing with owning your own car: you have that car every month, regardless of whether it’s nice enough outside to bike everywhere, or you’re on vacation for two months every year and you leave the country (a girl can dream).

So even if the winter months show a spike in your transportation costs, you need to consider it against the relentless, ongoing costs of car ownership. (Can you tell owning a car is something I do because my lifestyle requires it, not because I’m particularly jazzed about cars?)

Here’s what you’d need to estimate, with some example numbers based on literally no science and just the ranges I have paid or experienced in Ottawa. Be prepared to be horrified if you live in a small town, and jealous if you live in Toronto.

  • Gas: $100 a month, which is about two tanks of gas. Two and a half? Something like that.
  • Car Payment: $300 a month, unless you bought your car in cash, which is a feat in and of itself.
  • Insurance: $100 a month, but maybe less (or more!) I’ve lived through both.
  • Parking: $100 a month, assuming you live centrally enough that public transit is your regular go-to.
  • Maintenance: $50 a month, depending on how handy you are. Let’s say that this $600 a year covers getting your winter tires put on, oil changes, small fixes, that kind of thing.
  • License Plates: $10 a month, but you’d pay it annually (at least in Ontario).

That comes to about $660 a month to own a car, give or take. Your numbers might be way different, depending on your situation, but even in the case of a fully-paid-off car with free parking, you’re looking at about $260.

Every month.

Over the year, in the cheapest-case scenario, that’s $3,120. If you’re more in line with the first scenario, it’s $7,920.

If you usually get by with public transportation for about $1200 a year for your monthly passes, and you spend a few hundred bucks a month over the winter to Uber away the cold, you’d still come out ahead financially over the course of the year if Uber was a winters-only thing.

Are there other alternatives you could look at?

I think we’re all on the same page that getting from point A to B is a pretty big expense, no matter how you slice it. But there are a few other options you could consider when you’re trying to figure out if buying a car is the right financial move.

VrtuCar

This might not be available in your city, but there’s a service called VrtuCar that you should check out if you need a sometimes-car, but would really rather not pay for pesky things like parking, maintenance, and all that boring stuff. It’s basically a network of cars the company maintains, parked around the city, and you book them for a few hours when you need a vehicle. Easy peasy.

Rental Cars

If you’re taking a trip, or you know there’s going to be a week or two of heavy car use in your future, why not rent a car? Sure, it’s not the cheapest option out there, but compared to adding a car to your life for good, it’s a pretty great and available alternative. Some companies will even come pick you up to bring you to your rental vehicle.

However, pro tip: know what you’re getting into when it comes to insuring a rental car. Your credit card might already have coverage bundled in, in which case you should use it to save a ton of money. If you aren’t covered, that’s not a place where you want to scrimp and save—get the insurance. You’re just tempting fate if you don’t.

Bottom line?

How you choose to get around is partially about money, of course, but it’s also very much about personal preference. Your transportation might be a ton cheaper than mine, because you are a hardcore biker who is happy to put those giant snow tires on your bike and just keep givin’er all winter. Power to you!

Your transportation might also be much more expensive than mine, because you inherently enjoy and value having a nice car, and you’d be depressed as all get-out to drive my eight-year-old used Toyota Yaris. No problem.

Whatever you decide is right for you, you just need to go into it knowing your options, knowing your spending patterns, and knowing how much full-time car ownership really can cost.

After all that, you can comfortably hop into an Uber, knowing it’s an intentional financial choice that you make when it’s -40 and you might literally die because it’s too cold outside.

Desirae is on a mission to demystify and un-boring financial info for millennials, so that we can all save more money, spend on stuff that matters to us, and still have a latte or two along the way. Money is literally why we can have nice things, and Desirae is committed to helping make sure you know just enough to make the right calls for you. (She’s also committed to her expensive dog, her side hustle, and her retirement fund.)

16 Comments on “I’m Spending a Lot On Uber—Should I Buy A Car?”

  1. Janet

    I’ve been debating this recently as I now require a car/ride 2-3 times a week for the next 8 months and it’s been difficult to share our one car with my husband – you have just convinced me to heavily use Uber for now instead of buying a second car ! Thanks for saving me a tonne of money with your breakdown. I can afford to buy the car in cash, but seeing the total number of everything else per month was really helpful 😀

  2. Susan Daley

    Great summary Desirae! Only other thing I might add is to really take a look at those cab/Uber costs and see what you’d still pay even if you had a car based on your lifestyle. Would you still be taking those Ubers home from the holiday parties and on weekends because you were drinking and can’t drive?

    1. Desirae Odjick

      SUCH a great point Susan! Not every Uber ride is 100% a replacement for owning and driving your own car (I still take them sometimes in that situation, when I don’t want to drive!)

  3. Libby

    I’m in a situation where my teen just got his license & we have about 12k cash to buy a used car or for a down payment on a newer used or new car. He doesn’t necessarily go anywhere but school and I could continue to have him drive my car back & forth to school with me taking it back home but it would be so helpful if he could get to & from without me. Not sure what we should do?

    1. Desirae Odjick

      That’s a great question Libby! I’d think about it in terms first of whether a car for your teen is how you’d want to spend the money (aka if there are other priorities, or if this is important to you as a family!) There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s something to consider. Especially given the teen angle, I’d then have a conversation about ongoing costs. Would you be on the hook to cover insurance, maintenance and gas, or would your son be able to pay for those himself, and would he want to? Again, there’s no right answer, but it’s a big financial decision, so having these conversations is important 🙂

  4. Steve

    Nice approach to the concepts of Total Cost of Ownership, and Rent or Buy Decision Analysis. I like it, fresh scenarios, relatable. Good post. Identifying all the costs associated with a particular asset takes some research and careful thought, not only about the financial impact, but the security and storage space required (thinking of my new bike here) and what the value of this asset is worth to my lifestyle. Thanks for the refresher.

  5. Stuart

    Nice write-up on the summary of the costs of car ownership Desirae. I’m a bit jealous of your insurance costs!

    Here in Vancouver, there is a similar cost equation to consider with regards to car ownership and the proliferation of car share programs here (e.g. Car2Go). No Uber/Lyft (yet) due to provincial government regulations, for some strange reason.

    My wife and I manage as a one car household, in part, due to the ability to use a car share program on the odd occasion, though we wouldn’t consider it if we both needed to drive each day or if one of us worked irregular hours. Somewhat decent public transit options (at least in the City) and a more favourable winter climate also helps. As always, it depends on individual circumstances.

  6. Amelia

    Another reason to not buy car 🙂 Personally, I really love walking and use public transportation but My parents ask us to buy a car for family. Yeah, it’ll be useful when we have family trip on national holiday, but as you suggest, it’s seasonal and instead we could rent a car (plus the driver). Thank you!

  7. Kate @ Making it Rain

    Oooh great read! I weighed this so much when I was thinking about buying a car. My OC Transpo pass was $115/month and I would take the odd Uber or rent a car for the weekend, but my transportation costs would never usually exceed $160-170/month.

    With a car in Ottawa, my absolute bare minimum is now about $270/month for parking, gas, insurance (and this is in a perfect month where I don’t need to spend a dime on maintenance).

    Even with the added monthly cost, I pulled the trigger on buying a used car because I could afford it in cash and it brought my commute from nearly one hour to just over 10 minutes. Not spending 2 hours a day on OC Transpo (i.e. saving my sanity) has been well worth it, but I would still rather not own a car. Seems mad to do it while living in a city centre but it works best for my situation right now.

  8. Michelle

    I definitely bought a car. I live in an area where the bus comes by once every hour – so I’d either be very early for work or very late for work. But wow, I spend a lot more than your estimations, it makes me sad, haha. I spend ~$100 for gas/mo, I prepay for the year for car insurance (but I don’t have options to shop around in BC, it’s about ~$230/mo that I set aside to pay for the next year’s), my parking (at work) is deducted from my paycheque, and I pay just under $700/mo for my car payments (but it’s 0% financing over 36mos, and I can afford it). I definitely recognize that cars are a luxury!!

  9. Satwik

    Dear Desirae,

    First of all – I truly loved you bio “mission to demystify and un-boring financial info for millennials, so that we can all save more money, spend on stuff that matters to us, and still have a latte or two along the way.” Here is what I liked about your article – its a great way to think about the problem, give it a framework, and tackle each leg of the issue/ problem and put it back in an understandable perspective. Good job!

    Regards,
    Satwik

  10. Michelle@MichelleIsMoneyHungry

    I like how you broke down the cost. I own a car and I’ve discovered that while it costs me money-it’s also made me money because I’m able to do side-hustles that are car dependent. Happily, I paid cash for my car. But, I’ve spent some time thinking about the cost of owning this car (it’s my first one).

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