By Lucas Owens

How much do you actually “need” a car during college? Growing up through high school, there are a lot of expenses that people do not realize the true cost of. Health insurance, clothes, food, but more than anything, for myself at least, was travel. 

Living in a car-dependent suburb of San Jose, California, a city that is notorious for how limited the public transit system is, I relied on a car to get pretty much anywhere in a fast time. Now by the time I was in high school and got my first job at 14, I earned a little more trust from my parents and was able to walk the two miles down the road to the mall over summer, but for the most part, if I wanted to go anywhere, it was by car.  

That all changed when I took the leap after my senior year and moved almost 2,000 miles east to Columbia, Mo. for college. On the surface, Columbia looks even worse for walkability, but the difference was living in a dorm near downtown and later an apartment directly in downtown, I no longer needed a car. Frankly, I did not even have the option, and my wallet never felt better. 

Not only did I not have to pay the fees for parking on campus (which run at $154 per school year), I did not have to pay the upfront and hidden costs that come with owning a car. When I was first earning money, I thought the major cost of owning a car was simply buying it, but I could not be further from the truth. While that does take a bit of money, the costs that really get you are gas and insurance. 

For college students who own cars, I do not think it needs to be said that insurance rates for young adults can be huge. According to, Drivers who are 18 pay on average $5,242 per year for their own insurance policy. This, however, goes down a great deal if you stay on your parent’s policy, and some students have their insurance paid by their parents even while at school. Even for those who do not drive often, expenses like gas can add up quickly.  

Take for instance, sophomore student Aidan Pittman, who despite driving very infrequently, pays $40 to fill his tank every month. With gas prices rising, students who use their cars more will see even larger costs, like senior Lacey Reeves, who with her commutes to work, classes at KOMU (a television station located an eight mile drive from campus), and visiting her family in Washburn, Mo. Reeves estimates she spends $80 a month on gas and $40 a month for liability insurance, which means that she would pay out of pocket for any repairs needed for her car in exchange for having a much lower insurance cost. 

When you consider that in-state tuition at the University of Missouri is just $12,396, owning a car can take up a big part of your expenses.  

Even though it is far cheaper, life without a car is not perfect. For instance, the only grocery options within walking distance are convenience stores, an organic shop, and an Asian market. Like with everything, I make do. If there is somewhere I want to go, odds are somebody with a car is going, it is perfectly bikeable, or there is always the option of paying for a rideshare service. 

My sophomore year I had to have a lot of dental work done, and while the costs to get to the dentist were sizable, it still just did not justify car ownership in my case. The truth is, everybody is going to have different needs, and for some people a car is going to be a part of it. Lacey, for example, needs her car to get to work and KOMU, and the money she makes at her job far outweighs the cost of her car. However, it should not be viewed as a requirement for every college student, and if it suits your needs, walking is not only great for your body, but can help you save money during a period where the cost of college and other needs can add up quickly. 

Lucas Owens is a photojournalism major at the University of Missouri School of Journalism