Up until a few months ago, if someone would have asked my wife or me to get rid of one of our cars, we would’ve just snickered and responded, “Impossible!” But then it happened… I wrecked my car.
A bit of background
From the time we met in 2003 up until seven months ago, my wife and I had always viewed two cars as a necessity. Then on Thursday, December 19th, 2008 I rear-ended a pickup truck at a busy intersection and wrecked my 2001 Jeep Cherokee.
At the time, my Jeep was worth about $5, 000 and the initial quote to repair the damage was upwards of $9, 000! In other words, it was totaled. I called a mechanic friend up and asked if he could come by and give it a once over to see if anyone he knew could do the body work for a reasonable amount of money. He obliged.
As it turns out, he did have a business associate who, despite being a wee bit unreliable, would be able to do the work for around $3, 000 parts and labor. I jumped at the chance.
As the weeks rolled by and my Jeep was still “being fixed, ” I grew increasingly impatient and my wife was far from happy. After all, she was the one responsible for carting me around until my Jeep was back in working condition.
The weeks turned into months, and now here we are in the middle of the summer and I still don’t have my Jeep back! We’ve certainly learned an important lesson about “getting a good deal, ” but that’s a topic for another post.
Today I want to focus on how we successfully adapted to becoming a one car family. without killing each other, or hating the end result.
Changes we’ve made
My wife and I work in different towns, so she started dropping me off at a bus stop on her way to work. From there, I was able to catch a bus straight to my workplace. The stop was right off an expressway exit for her, so it took little more than five extra minutes each morning.
To save money, I purchased bus passes in 10 ride increments and wound up paying $1/ride. After work, I would catch a bus back to the dropoff/pickup spot and wait for my wife to arrive on her way home. We coordinated the pick up times via phone, and it worked out quite well.
Once summer came, and my wife began her three month vacation, things changed a little. Some days (fewer than I would like) I ride my bike about 10 miles to and from work. On days that I don’t ride, my wife gets up with me and drives me in.
I don’t want to spend too much more time talking about how we get around with just one car, so I’ll just say this: We do our best to coordinate our schedules, and we go out of our way to accommodate each other. A side benefit is that we get to spend more time together.
Tips for making it work
- Increase organization. Creating (and using!) a “Family Calendar” has gone from being a bit of an inside joke in our marriage to being a necessity. Before we commit to anything, we check the family calendar for availability and vehicle options.
- Embrace the bike. Unless you own a pair of shorts with a pad in the crotch, you probably don’t ride your bike as much as could/should. We didn’t either. If you want to increase your bike usage, get in better shape, ditch your gym membership, or all of the above… Simply get rid of one of your vehicles.
- Ride the bus/train. Using public transportation in small town USA might make you feel like a bit of a pariah, but… I got past that, embraced my options, and used them to improve my situation. I found that counting myself among all other people, regardless of income or status, was healthy on many different levels.
- Carpool whenever possible. Share rides with friends or neighbors when you can. Just be careful not to take advantage of them. It’s always a good idea to offer some sort of payment if you can’t fully reciprocate, and always work to fit your life around their schedule.
- Stay home more. Enjoy time with your family, complete projects around the house, read more, make/eat homemade meals, grow a garden, talk to your spouse more, and/or spend time with your kids. All of these things will have a positive impact on your life.
- Simplify your life. Getting rid of a vehicle may seem like it complicates things, but we found that it actually made our lives far simpler. The whole process forced us to “trim the fat, ” so to speak. We’ve learned better communication and organization and, now that we’re seven months into it, we’ve come to enjoy the increased levels of simplicity and contentment.
Making it permanent?
What really surprised me was that my wife asked me the other night if we should just sell my Jeep when we get it back. That’s actually what inspired me to write this post. If you knew my wife, you’d be surprised, too. She’s taken this all in stride, but was pretty annoyed with the whole situation at first.
Over time, however, the idea of having just one care has grown on her. When you add up all the associated costs, getting rid of the Jeep altogether would save us around $350/month. That’s money that we could be using for getting out of debt instead of tooling around town.
So no… We still don’t have the Jeep back, and we’re now seven months into the repair process. I’ve begun calling the bodyshop guy every day to ask for status updates, and things have started moving faster. We’re still not sure if we’ll sell the Jeep when we get it back, but we sure are leaning that way.
We just don’t seem to need it anymore!
What do you think?
If your hand was forced, as in our situation, could you and your wife/family get get by with one less vehicle? How much trouble would it cause? How much money would it save?
What if you weren’t forced? Would you ever consider getting rid of an extra vehicle voluntarily?
Or perhaps you’ve already done it… If so, please weigh in.
65 Responses to “Testimony of a One Car Couple”
It is expensive to park at our apartment complex ($250 per space) and we were very sick of blowing so much money on gas and sitting in traffic jams. A year ago, we came up with the idea of sharing a car and leaving it at my husband’s office. I bike to work (6 miles) and my husband enjoys a relaxing trip on the bus listening to his daily Wall Street Journal and audio books. He responds to emails on his phone and brainstorms for work projects on the hour long trip instead of wasting his commute time. He has the car at work to drive clients around and he can always drive it home if we want to go on a trip. Our insurance costs less because we aren’t driving it very often. If the weather is really bad or I need to run errands like grocery shopping, I can easily grab a Car2Go smart car (a great car sharing program offered in some cities.) We’ve learned that it’s really not that hard to get along without two cars (or even one car) if you live in a town with reliable public transportation and a safe biking infrastructure. Change your habits a little and watch the savings pour in. Obviously this would be more difficult in a rural area or if you have young kids that are involved in lots of activities, but it works great for us. And no more elliptical machine!
My husband wants to convert to being a one car family to save money. For families that are doing this, do you recommend doing it?
I’m concerned about the lack of independence and being stuck at home all day with no option to go anywhere. Also, if my baby needs to get to the hospital immediately, what would I do?! We have no family or friends living near us and my husband works over an hour away. Did anyone else have these concerns? How did you deal with it?
My boyfriend and I did exactly the same thing and I now get the bus to and from the office. One unseen advantage of this arrangement has been a weight loss of over a stone and nice toned legs!
You must live in the east where the cities are closer together. My wife and I also work in two different cities….they are 65 miles apart and there are no cities between them. With mountain terrain, that’s a bit far to ride my bike. We have 3 cars. A new one for my wife so she doesn’t have to worry about break downs. Two older one’s for me, a full size SUV for the frequent heavy snow days and car pooling the kids to their sporting events. The other for the normal comute. That gives me a backup in case one breaks down. However only one tv (and no video games) and I wouldn’t swear that it works. Upkeep and insurance are cheap. Substantially cheaper than the increase in taxes and bus fair that I would suffer if public transportation was to come to our area.
My husband and I have been a one car family for our entire 13 year relationship. It has worked for us because my husband works nights and I work days. It isn’t always easy as Jen has said. There are sometimes family emergencies that an ambulance can’t help. There are also the times when he works overtime or goes out for guy nights when I would like to go somewhere with kids. We often talk about getting another car, but it comes down to not wanting another bill to pay, plus gas.
That’s not frugality, that’s abuse…
Jen, it sounds like your husband is “a bit” on the controlling side.
I am a mother of 3. A 15, and 3 year old and a 2 month old. My husband is a truck driver and has decided for me, that I don’t need a car. I live in a rural area. I think he doesn’t want me or the kids out of the house. It depresses me, actually. If I need to go to the store, I usually have to wait until the middle of the night when he comes home-or he also gives me the option of dropping him off at work, which is always at an odd time-like midnight or 3 A.M. I’m sorry, but that’s awful to do to your kids! My kids rarely get out anymore and my 15 year old cannot go to school functions that regular kids go to. He is too nice to ask someone to take him home, and I don’t blame him. It’s not polite to ask someone else to cart around my family. Emergencies do happen, yes I know there’s an ambulance, as my husband has told me, but do you really need to call an ambulance when you run out of toilet paper-or you spilled your last can of baby formula?!?
I found this post googling ‘one car family’ – looking for other peoples experiences… and it has been a very interesting read! I live in large (by Australian terms!) Australian City – half a million people, but with pretty poor public transport infrastructure. There was little planning for it in the boom days of the 80’s (1980’s!) so we are left with sprawling suburbia that is fairly disconnected to the high density urban coastal strip. We decided to go the high mortgage/small backyard option and live in the city area. Initially we had 2 cars but for the last 5 yes I have been a stay home mum so the 2nd car spent most of it’s time in the garage. I finally convinced hubby to sell his old suby wrx – a hangover from our dink days… His was VERY skeptical to say the least and we had a few heated arguments. The worst part being his mates who would make comments about him losing his manliness!! Anyway it’s been 3 mths now and it’s running smoothly!! I also get that ‘car pity’ feeling seeing drivers stuck in traffic jams while I ride my kids to school on the bikes. Can I also say you should factor in depreciation costs when lookin at monthly spends if you paid cash- I lost AU $30000 in 5 years on my Mazda tribute- but it could be worse!
I got my Jeep back… I got my Jeep back! *picture me singing this song and doing the happy dance*
See details of the drawn out experience in “How to Deal With a Bad Deal“. To see how it turned out in the end, read comment 17 of that post.
I was without a car for about 4-5 months after my car died and before I got my new one. We made it work because we had to, but by the end of it, we were both pretty cranky about it. It was a pain to constantly schedule who is going where when and on which days to do what so that everything got done. Even so we often ran into things where there was just no way to make it work.
Most of all, I felt trapped by it. I love to walk and I don’t mind a bike ride, and I’m no stranger to the bus, but I was trapped. There are places I could get to without a car, but I couldn’t get to any of the places that mattered to me. Every visit to my mum’s or my best friend’s had to be carefully choreographed. If I wanted to go to X, he had to give up Y. It would be great to save the money, but having tried it, I just consider it the price of freedom.
There is much wisdom in what Gary-#53 has said. Leasing & financing vehicles will not be found in my financial plan either.
Stacey’s last line is one of the most important points around car ownership, regardless of the number you own: “pay for the … car in cash”. I have always paid cash for cars. If I can’t put together enough to buy the car I want, then I’m wanting something I can’t afford. Pay cash and it can’t be taken away from you when, arguably, you need it most – hunting for a job, or reliably getting to a job farther than you can walk/bike/bus.
Making payments on a “car mortgage” is really questionable. But leasing is simply insane – a big payment up front, monthly payments for years, and in the end you own nothing. It drives me nuts to see the statement “Leasing allows you to drive a car you couldn’t otherwise afford.” No, leasing burdens you with a car you can’t afford – period.
The judgment of whether you can afford something is always a bit subjective. Our culture is so car-centric that it seems a given that there must be (at least) one car per licensed driver in the household.
The car purchase is especially driven by emotion and satisfying the underlying “fact” that you must have a car to go anywhere, never looking at true cost. The purchase and resultant cost of ownership is always seen as a one-time thing, a stroke to your ego, disconnected from the cost of each mile we drive.
My husband and I have been a one car couple for 8 months now, and haven’t missed that second car once!! We live and both work in downtown Baltimore, his commute is 0.7 miles and mine is 1.5 – very walkable. We found that the second car was becoming more of a liability than it was useful, since it was just sitting parked on the street a lot of the time begging to get hit (and once was, right before we sold it).
Hubby and I both grew up in rural areas with no public transportation and no sidewalks for biking, so our families were highly skeptical that we would make it long with only one car. A little extra coordination (and his willingness to drive me to the airport at o’dark-30 for early work flights) has worked well, and we hope to remain a one car family for at least the next 3 years, allowing us to pay for the next car in cash!
@Homme: I actually have a motorcycle, but it has given me trouble ever since I bought it. I originally purchased it with the idea to save money on gas, but it was a used bike (83 Honda V45 Magna) and it has been a bit of a money pit so I just stopped driving it & am going to sell it.
That said, I do think this can be a good idea if implemented correctly… another idea is to get a scotter!
Although I live in Thailand but I am sure its pretty much applicable all around the world. We are a one car family. My wife drives and I being a guy ride motorcycle to wherever I want to go. Saves time and money, although there is an initial investment to get a motorcycle, doesn’t have to be fancy but a second hand in good condition just to get you around should do fine. Downside is if it rains then you can take the car ride to the bus stop or get a raincoat. I don’t know how old you are or if you know how to ride a motorcycle, but thats my input. Just another perspective. Cheers.
My family has been a one car family for over 15 years now. People are incredulous that we do this. We have 4 kids (ages 10, 7, 4, and 2) and hubby is the stay at home mom. She keeps the car for all the day to day needs and I commute on the bus. It provides me with greatly needed downtime in between work and home- to sort out my own thoughts and not be responsible for anyone or anything else for that 25 min bus ride. I think it saves my energy for getting back into the swing at home. It just seems crazy for me to take on the added expense to have a car that is used for less than 4 hours a week- and sits in the driveway or parking lot the rest of the time. Bus fare is only $2.50 a day. That doesn’t cover parking, let alone the car payment, insurance, gas and upkeep!
There may be one or two times a year that I might need to use a cab- certainly way cheaper than the upkeep of a car would have been. (Last time about a year ago, it cost $6.50 and tip to get home).
One thing though- when I was laid off from my job in February- obviously, priority of who gets the car needs to be fluid. I certainly needed it for getting to interviews, appointments, etc in a punctual manner when the city bus schedule might not necessarily comply with my needs.
@Erika: Great testimony! Thanks a ton for sharing your experience & wise insight…
It is all about the willingness to sacrifice in one aspect of life in order to realize more personally desirable results in another.
DH and I shared one vehicle for 4-5 years and it worked out great. (We were young, poor and in love in those days ha ha.) In the early years we would carpool together because our retail jobs were only a few blocks apart and our hours were almost the same. Later, when we switched to new careers I took the bus and he used the car.
A friend ALWAYS used to grumble at me that I only worked part time (4 days/32 hours a week) during those years while she worked full time. I finally pointed out to her that I could afford to do so because I didn’t have to shell out $400 a month or so for a new car payment/ gas/etc. like she did. Never heard another peep!
Nice post! Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it looks like she also has a child called learning. You learned that you can do without . . .
As for the mechanic– he should be drawn and quartered– I mean come on!
My fiance and I go back and forth on this question often. We have two old cars that are all paid off but we could probably get away with only having one. Thing is, our job situations will most likely change in the next two years, so it’s possible that our car needs could change too. So for now, we’re holding on to our two beaters.
We basically use one car for the past 4 years. We have 2. Granted it’s a beater car so if it were ever wrecked we wouldn’t fix it. It is a 2000 Ford Focus for our spare car.
So our insurance and maintenance on the car cost less than $1k/year for it. We kept it for when I want to drive or need to drive. It came in especially useful when my DH had night classes.
Now due to circumstances we need two cars again. So I’m glad we kept them. We had thought 4 years ago about selling, now it’s impossible.
We might actually be getting a new car.
I’d contend that we could do it pretty easily but we don’t, and I’ll further contend that DH is the reason.
We live and he works in a town that has good, free-to-the-ridership (!) public transport, so he could easily get to & from work without a car (but he won’t do it). My commute goes from 1 hr. r/t to 4 r/t if I use public transport, so it’s just not practical for me (though I do it, very rarely). Oh … his workplace also has zipcars.
We did manage car sharing (not public transport) one summer, but he was a complete pill about it, i.e., it only worked if I dropped him off when he wanted to be and picked him up ditto with no flexibility for my needs (and note that I have the longer commute but was somehow having to get my work done in the same amount of time as he did).
If I sound irritated, I am, a bit, but the flip side of that is that the extra cost of our second car (it’s paid for) is certainly no more than $100/month, and in the end the convenience is worth it. I’m sure marital counseling would cost more! With a toddler in our home and limited use of paid daycare, we do a lot of juggling already, so there’s no need to add more for what we’d save.
My son was the typical young male, car-enrapt, saved his money and bought a Honda Element. After moving to San Francisco he left it with us to see how living carless would work for him. I figured he’d be back for the Element within a couple of weeks. He was back two months later to get it – and sell it.
Zipcar was part of the equation – walk a block or two to a spot in a corner of a fastfood parking lot, lay his member card over a sensor in the corner of the windshield and the doors open for him. The per-trip cost might seem high, overall on a yearly basis he’s way ahead of the game, can select a car appropriate to the nature of the trip (Mini to pickup truck), and enjoys some neat high-tech benefits. Leave your lights on? The car “phones home” and you get a call on your cell.
@Alexandra: I love your comment about road rage. That was one of the first things I noticed when I started riding my bike & walking more… I saw the huge amounts of road rage in others and I now had none!! It is a VERY freeing feeling.
@BrianG: I was doing that too, before my motorcycle broke down just a few weeks into the warm season (we live in Michigan). This idea works because, in most circumstances, a bike is less expensive than a car; and you’re right… if you have the right gear you can ride in most conditions w/o a problem.
how about one car and one motorcycle. This is what my wife and I do.
I use the motorcycle to go to and from work. Everything else that involves needing carrying space we coordinate with the car.
With the right gear, commuting in the rain on the motorcycle isn’t a problem, but if you live where it snows, it would be difficult and you can’t ride on ice. But then you do have the bus option when it’s cold.
We’re a one-car family, and have been for the past five years or so. I am determined to always live close enough to my workplace so that I can walk to work everyday, while my husband uses the car. We have moved several times in the last seven years, never far enough away that being able to walk to work was impossible. Although having one car has financial benefits, for me the benefits are emotional. I use the walk to and from work as a way to excercise my body while I clear my mind and enjoy the sights of the city. I used to suffer from road rage really badly, and I promised myself years ago that I would always live close to my workplace in order to save my sanity.
We have rarely had any conflicts thus far – we just compromise during the rare occassions we both need to use the car for different purposes.
Me and my husband get by with only one car. We moved to a small town where we can walk to the train station or bus stop, grocery stores, Starbucks, a movie theater, parks, the library etc. I take the bus to work, a half an hour ride and catch up on mail, RSS etc on my iphone. I’ve also gotten to know a lot of people when we take the same bus, so it works for me. I’m European and I don’t know anyone in Sweden that has more than one car, although public transportation is so much better developed there. Hopefully USA will get there too one day.
I would love to be a 1-car household, but with our jobs where and how they are, it’s not feasible.
We are both teachers. My husband’s job is about 10 miles closer to home than mine, but he is a traveling teacher, so he needs transportation in the middle of the day (not enough time to use the bus system if he’s going to be on time).
My job is almost 20 miles from home and is in a very very poor neighborhood with a lot of crime. I’m not comfortable walking from the train station (18 blocks) or biking through the ‘hood. I am able to carpool on average 3 times a week. Other teachers who live near me are the 7-7 people (they’re constantly at work), and carpooling isn’t worth spending an extra 3-5 hours at work every day.
So for now, we’re a two-car family. Maybe someday we’ll be able to chop that down…
@SonyaAnn: I have been waiting for someone to ask that question! The answer is… partially. I paid him the money to buy the parts (which he has bought) and half of the labor costs. I do have receipts for all of his work, so I have my bases covered there.
I learned long ago… when it comes down to business – always get a receipt and never pay in full up front.
We have three cars so we are sort of car pigs. But our daughter was given our old car in exchange for good grades. So in a way it is helping us out with college, we hope. But I think that we could make it with one car but our 17 yr old wouldn’t be happy.
Please tell me that you didn’t pay the guy upfront!
Earlier this year, I had the experience of my parents needing to borrow one of our cars for about 2 months. We never thought we could get by with only one car, but we were able to make it work.
We’re back to a 2-car family, but we are comforted by the fact that if anything happens, we can always get rid of one.
You’ve clearly struck a nerve here.
My wife and I live in a major city with a decent subway/Metro system. We haven’t own a car since 2001. We use public transit only. Occasionally, we’ll ride with friends somewhere (often we pick up gas), but we haven’t really missed the car. And we love saving a couple hundred bucks a month from not paying car payments, gas, insurance, maintenance, etc.
But that’s not all. We’ve made not having a car pay. We rent our our parking space for $200 a month AND use pre-tax dollars to purchase credits on the Metro system.
We’ve given up some freedom, but we believe it is absolutely worth it.
@Kevin … the cars are on the street in your neighborhood… you reserve them online or by phone in half hour blocks …. go to the car at the reserved time, use a membership card to unlock the door, and go. Here in DC, I have about 10 cars within a mile.
How is that better than Hertz, et al?
@Kevin: Zipcar is a service where you are basically car share. You get apply, get a zip card, reserve a car for when you need it, and go pick it up & pay a fee for the time use.
It is a great system for people who only need to use a car once in awhile.
My wife and I have been a 0 car couple for the last three years. We live in D.C. and use metro to get everywhere, and what we can’t metro, we use ZipCar. Of course, you can only do this in a city — but even here, we are an extreme minority.
Despite the wide availability of public transportation, most people just assume you need a car to get by.
Matt–You have a unique way of bringing us face to face with our (“Food for thought…”) fundamental assumptions.
What is zipcar? I could look it up on the web, but can anyone offer the Cliffs Notes version???
@Rosa: Thanks for your words of encouragement.
@Brian: Yeah, the zipcar thing is a neat idea. Like the contents of this post… it isn’t a good (or available) solution for everyone, but it great for some. Although the $20-30/game sounds like a lot I’m sure your friend added it all up & found he will be saving a boat load of money.
Food for thought… the average person spends less than an hour a day in their vehicles but spend an average of around $25,000 for a new one. In contrast, the average person spends 7 hours a day in their bed but only spend an average of $800 for a new one!
An interesting experience my friend is going through. He is about to sell his new car, stop making payments, and cancel his insurance so he can use a zipcar.
His only need is to use it to get to and from his hockey games and he is willing to pay an extra $20-$30 a game to take the zipcar as opposed to owning an extra vehicle for him and his wife.
I’m in Minnesnowdah too, but in Minneapolis. Lots of people here ride year-round – my partner is one of them. And of course if there were an emergency we could call a cab.
It’s easy because we planned around it – we both prefer to bike or bus – but doing what you did is really admirable, Matt. The transitions are what’s hard.
We’ve never had more than one car, and sometimes have had no car. The hardest thing to do with no car is shop for a car – all the dealerships are out in the boonies!
We do have four bikes, a stuff trailer and a 2-kid burley even though we only have one kid, but it cost about $2K total, way less than a second car and with no ongoing insurance or registration costs. Not to mention never paying for parking!
Oh yeah–one thing we’re both doing (summertime up here) is acting as though gas is still $4+/gallon—–this helps us to be more efficient by grouping errands, and considering shared rides with family to visit other family and walking/biking or just forgoing the outing alltogether.
This much I can do! 🙂
Idunno; I live in Minnesnowdah, have a baby on the way, and my hubby needs a truck to transport tools for work every day. Plus his hours are fairly unpredictable….I like the concept, but I don’t think it’d work fer us. Though someday (when I retire) and if I lived in a warm climate, I’d def consider the bus!
I definitely understand the point of this post, “that cars may not be as necessary as society has made them seem.”
I’m a cyclist and read plenty of cycling and ‘car-free’ blogs and such. Its just a bummer that I don’t follow it much myself. I do ride to work (10 miles), but not very often. I’ve got two cars for myself, though one is non-operational and waiting for work (1971 Dodge), so not costing me anything.
But it gets better. I’m currently housesitting for my parents while they’re working out of state, so I have two more cars. Their daily driver, and my dad’s old collector car. One person, four cars, two of which are really ‘driveable’.
But no, it really gets even better. I mentioned I’m a cyclist. Yup. With a total of six different bikes in the garage, three of which work just fine for commuting. But no… I keep on driving. Because I’m lazy.
I’ve had folks say I should get rid of my second car, but its not costing me anything other than storage space in the driveway right now. My daily driver (’99 Audi) was paid for with cash and insured with a high premium, so not much to save there.
But yeah… really should be riding my bike more. I too get to ‘feeling sorry for the drivers’ when I’m riding. 😉
Thats a great story and a great experience Matt. I have dealt without my car after my accident last month that i wrote about. Its been rough goings, but i really think i will value having a car again differently. It has also made me change my priorities and consider other lifestyle options that require less dependency on transportation.
My husband and I have had one car for about 4 years now and it has worked out just fine for us. We work in different cities, but I drop him off and pick him up and we do all our errands together, we have different days off, so we decide who needs the car and work it from there. We enjoy not having the extra gas and maintenance of another vehicle and we also enjoy spending time together in the car.
My wife and I have been a one car family since about 2 months after we got married and we sold her well used and loved car to her sister. We’ve lived both in the city (Columbia, SC) and in the exerbs (Longmont, CO). In both cases my love of biking has been a savior, and now in Longmont we have bus service to Denver and Boulder. In fact we bought a new car 3 years ago and we just now crossed 30k miles.
I think it is possible for anyone to be a single car family as long as you plan your day and are willing to walk, bike, and ride. Now we are considering selling our car because we moved to an even more connected part of town and have put a grand total of 100 miles in the past 6 weeks on the car.
I suppose it could work, but with kids, I would prefer both parents to be mobile to get to them if needed.
Kids apart, the biggest issue I would foresee is scheduling. If you can make the scheduling work (like you have), then its a great way to save.
Matt–Your last point–“This post is more an expression of the fact that cars may not be as necessary as society has made them seem” is well taken, and the primary message of the post. It seems like you’re challenging us to confront an assumption (the second car) as a given. Well done, we need this sort of challenge in many, many areas of modern life!
My wife and I have two kids and live in a suburban area that is not served by public transportation. Translation: we have to drive everywhere, especially with the kids being involved in extra curricular activities, so the one car option isn’t an option in our world. In fact next year when our son turns 16, we’ll likely become a three car household!
(The kids have bikes but most places they need to go are several miles in one direction, and most streets in the area have no sidewalks or paved shoulders.)
But here’s what we’ve found to be a major help on the expense side–if you have to have a second car, make it a “beater”. That’s an older car that’s paid for, requires minimal insurance coverage and ad valorem tax, costs only gas and repairs, and doesn’t cause emotional disturbance when ever it gets new scratches, dings and dents.
It should go without saying that the beater is the car you use for close in travel, such as chauffeuring the kids, or as the car to be used by the spouse with the shorter work commute. If you have to have two cars, a beater can save thousands. Your only major cost is repairs, which for the most part will still be a lot less than the cost of monthly payments and premium insurance. And if the beater craps out, you replace it with… another beater!
We had one car for MANY years. We always found a way to make it work.
We were a one car family for about 2 years when we had one child, and then again when my hubby’s paid for car died and we couldn’t afford to replace it.
Unfortunately since then we made bad decisions in regards to car buying, so we’re still paying off a loan on my newer model minivan.
I am considering getting rid of one car, though I have yet to get my hubby on board!
With 3 of the kids being at schools within walking distance it hardly makes sense for me to use a car most of the time. I think it would require more planning and time on my part, but it could be worth it.
The one day a week I need the car I figure hubby can either work from home (since we’ll be gone all day), or we can drop him off.
I’ll have to draw up the numbers to show him how much we could save.
@Gary: Yes, the $180 will eventually be gone, and again… I am not contending that having a car is bad thing. That said, if you are going to have a car… saving up & paying cash is the way to go – hands down!
This post is more an expression of the fact that cars may not be as necessary as society has made them seem.
We have been a one car family a few times in our lives (once for a few years, several times for a few months, usually when moving and waiting for cars to ship.) While it required a lot of cooperation and communication, it wasn’t a big problem when we had no kids, access to transportation, or lived in a smaller town.
Here in the great mid-Atlantic megopolis around Washington, DC, we’ve found it more difficult. My husband had a half-hour drive to the train station, without a viable alternative, and just keeping the family functioning required that I have a car, too.
Hopefully our next move will let us shed a car and go one-car again.
“How in the world do you figure $350/mo…”
But at some point that $180/mo payment goes away, right? I think that’s Leslnk’s point – if you keep cars 10 years (I drove my ’86 until 2004, my current ’93 is 16 years old) you enjoy a long stretch of no payments, and at some point, dropping collision insurance is a no-brainer. Registration fees also fade to near zero in some states.
I live in Chicago; my family has one car. We either carpool or walk/public transit it everywhere.
With parking being so expensive, we practically have to only have one car. Unfortunately, going car-free is not yet an option due to work locations (through a not-so-nice neighborhood).
We did the one car thing for quite a while, but that was easy because my fiance is a disabled veteran – still mobile, tho. Anyways, it sure made those monthly (USAA) insurance premiums cheap.
We now have a second vehicle – 1998 Jeep Wrangler – which he bought with cash. It’s a 6-cyl./4-wheel drive vehicle with a hitch; since we both love to garden, that’ll come in handy when towing a trailer used for the occasional run to Lowe’s.
But, in the meantime, neither of us believe in going somewhere just for the sake of going. When I have a day off, I want to stay home. No errands, no appointments, nada! My job is centrally located in a shopping complex that allows me to run my errands in one trip. Planning and organization is key.
@LesInk: The $350/month covered my car payment, insurance, fuel, & registration. I did not only drive it to work when I had it. Also… this is not meant to be a discourse stating that everyone HAS to get rid of their vehicles and that vehicles are an atrocity… so please do not take it as such. I know that many places do not have public transit, and it is true that vehicles can be a true blessing.
Break down of my $350/month vehicle costs (also keep in mind that none of this includes the $3,000 I had to pay to get it repaired!)
Lastly, keep in mind that the view presented in this article is an extreme minority view… not the other way around! 🙂
I’m single now, so more than one car would be silly. However, even when I was in a relationship, I never had more than one car. It was fine.
How in the world do you figure $350/mo when you are only 10 miles from your work. I have a 1996 Saturn that I bought new, paid it off in 1 year, and have used ever since. It has good gas mileage and have it maintained every 3,000 miles. All said and done, if you factor in the cost of the car, oil changes, repairs, insurance, and gas over the many years, I can’t even get close to $350/mo. $200/mo over 10 years, maybe, but not $350/mo!
I guess I want to be the voice on the opposite side that says that owning a car doesn’t have to be a high expense item. Buy a good small car, keep it maintained, and keep it forever (i.e., until the cost of maintaining/repairing it starts going up too much).
Our town also has practically no bus system, so that option is out for us.
I would just like to say how encouraging it is to hear your similar stories of “revelation” so to speak.
I particularly enjoyed reading Philip’s comment about how “he felt sorry for drivers” because that is EXACTLY how I have felt each time I have ridden my bike in.
Like I said in the post… I will most likely sell the Jeep when we get it back. 🙂
I would like to think that it would work for my family. Of course I work from home a lot of the time so I don’t really even use my car that often. The problem would come when my wife has to work late and I don’t have a car to go and pick up the kids from daycare. My wifes company does a lot of overseas business so she often has to stay late.
My husband and I have had only one car for the past year, and it’s worked out really well. We live in a fairly small college town, and it’s only 2 miles from our house to both of our workplaces. He works on campus and doesn’t have a parking permit, so he always either rides his bike or takes the bus. I usually bike, but drive when the weather’s particularly bad. It is not onerous for us at all, and we absolutely won’t be buying a second car anytime soon.
A similar experience–a car in the shop for more than two weeks–helped us learn that we could get by with just one car. When my car wore out a few years later we sold it for $300 and didn’t consider replacing it. But the real shift happened when I started riding my bike to work one summer. I not only really enjoyed it, I started feeling sorry for car drivers.
That was the year of Katrina, when gasoline prices spiked up over the summer, and I remember riding past gas stations, watching those poor schlubs pumping $4 gasoline into their SUVs and feeling pity.
Then, when fall came, I realized that I really didn’t want to go back to being one of those poor schlubs myself. That winter I rode the bus to work, which turned out to be much more pleasant than driving.
We still have one car–it’s very handy–but we don’t drive it much any more. We walk, we bicycle, and we take the bus.
This post is encouraging for me. We actually have three vehicles for the two of us. One is an old SUV just for hauling trailers, etc. My first objective is to get down to two, then scheme from there. Thanks for the insight from your experience.
We’ve made it work! We are in San Francisco. My wife works in the city and I work about 25 miles away. She rides her bike to work, rain, sun or fog…and drips our son off at preschool every day. He has both a trailer and a trail-a-bike. I drive most days, but do the bike-train-bike commute a couple of times a month. If I didn’t work 10+ hours a day and have to pick our son up by 5:30 I’d do it more.
Mostly, we have no conflicts; however, to make things easier, my wife signed up for zipcar, which she uses a couple of times a month.
I would recommend a situation like ours to anyone. It has it’s occasional hiccups ( the car is in the shop right now), but in general it works just fine. As an added bonus, by utilizing car sharing, we don’t feel the need to upgrade the car to something larger or nicer. My 10yr old car is great for the commute (it’s a VW tdi), and when family or friends are in town and we need more room, we just zipcar to upgrade.
I think the biggest challenge would be work schedules if we went to one car, but otherwise it could work. We try to car pool as much as we can.
My husband had his car’s electrical system damaged and we had to go with one car. It was a little inconvenient in the morning, but otherwise it was fine.