Adjusting to a one car family lifestyle

Could You Be a One Car Family?

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Advice for One Car Wannabe's

Have any other tightwads out there chosen to live with only one car? I'd like to know about your experiences, good and bad. We currently have two cars, but maintenance and repairs are just killing us now. I am a stay-at-home mom of one, and my husband works about 20 min. from our house. What advice can you give for becoming and getting by as a one car family?
The Cunningham's

Ditch It!!

Cunningham's - Ditch the car! It's just an myth that you need two cars! People without kids don't really need a car at all and those with kids certainly don't need TWO cars. I'll grant you the need for one car for the parent at home for emergency trips to the hospital, but not for much else. The hallmark of a good thrifty person is to question whether you need something and why - so here's some info to help you reassess your circumstances.

My husband and I ride our bikes everywhere: shopping, to work, to friends. We live in a small city (Ann Arbor, MI) so things aren't dreadfully far apart, but it's not all downtown either.My husband works on the far side of town (17 min by car at 3am) and still rides his bike almost everyday all year. If you dress intelligently, you can ride almost everyday except the iciest. (It's definitely not Florida up here!) When it's too icy to ride, I walk and he drives. Getting to work is much easier by bike than driving - less stressful, about the same time, more scenic, healthier, and cheaper. Because we get some exercise during the time we would be commuting, we can do something else after dinner - so you're saving time too and the day's more productive!

Could You Be a One Car Family?

We only purchased a car AFTER buying a house. (The real estate agent got quite a kick out of us househunting on our bikes - and arriving at closing by bike!) We only bought our $240 car because you just can't ride home with plywood, drywall, bathtubs, concrete board, ladders, etc! Admittedly, we have grown weak and drive more places now than we should, but pay for it by buying gas AND not being in such good shape.

To avoid cars you do need a few things. We both have good bikes (used) (a'hybrid' would be great - that's a cross between a mountain and road bike), some saddle packs designed to hold a paper grocery bag (call 1-800-nashbar for a discount catalog), flashy safety lights for night riding, a backpack, a decent rainsuit, and helmet. (We don't have one, but you could consider a small bike 'trailer' to hold your child or larger items. Buy used.) With these we lived here for 3 1/2 years with NO cars.

I like having a car available. I can't pick someone up at the airport without one. But I like not being dependent on my car even more. I've got two legs and a bike and all that money I would have spent on gas and routine maintenance. So I'm off to ride home from work now - keeping my wallet fatter and my waistline skinnier! Happy riding and good luck!
Nancy J.

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Already Saved $6,000

For the mom who was debating whether or not to get rid of a car and become a one car family, we made the choice to do so several years ago, and have saved at least $6000 counting payments and maintenance. There are not many times when we wish we had 2 cars, and we always are able to make do. Perhaps public transportation can be utilized, or carpooling. Most people don't mind picking someone up, if it's a regular deal give them a regular amount for gas in return. Since you are able to be a full time mom, and your husband's work isn't far, I think you can surely make it work. Have fun saving money!
Lisa H. in Aloha, OR

Dad Finds Alternatives

You are in an ideal situation for having just one car. We now have 4 kids, but have always had just one car. We've used several different methods of getting Daddy to work so Mom can have the car. At various times he's taken a bus, gotten a regular ride with a colleague who passed not too far from our house on the way to work, walked, or been chauffeured by Mom (great for getting Mom up and ready for the day). We've also considered the possibility of a pedal or motor bike (mo-ped type). It may seem inconvenient at first, but you'll soon get used to it.

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Four Successful Years...And Counting!

My husband and I have only had one vehicle for four years now. Sometimes we find it hard, but it has saved us so much money!! I am a stay at home mom, and we live in a pretty rural area as well. Not only do we save on gas and car insurance, but when my husband is at work, I am unable to make quick runs to the store, or take the children out for dinner if I don't feel like cooking!! You have to be able to compromise a bit as well...(who gets the car on the weekends, haha) If you live near a transit system, you will probably find it a lot easier, and won't feel as confined to one area. I would suggest taking the money that you get from selling the one vehicle, put it in a special account,and then each month add the money that you would have been spending on insurance and gas. Then, after however many months, if you really can't handle having only one car, you will have the money set aside to re-invest in one.
Donna W. in Manitoba, Canada

Really...It Was Easy

We are now a one car family and the adjustment, while somewhat painful at times, actually has been fairly easy. I asked around my co-workers and found two who travel very near my house on their way to and from work. One is a primary driver, the other is a backup. I pay $10.00 per week for my share of gas, which turns out to be more than half of what he has always spent. It is also about $10.00 less than I used to spend. Savings $500.00 per year, not to mention a significant drop in insurance. A side benefit is that I am not tempted to go out to lunch so much with "the gang", another savings.

Appointments and other chores need to be scheduled on days off. Since I am able to work a 4/40 week, I can always take one day during the week for these items.

As a stay-at-home mom, you can take hubby to work and pick him up when you need the car. It just means being willing to do a little planning so that the kids are not left alone. Another possibility, which I have done, is to walk to work or ride a bike. I live about 5 miles from work and have walked it several times. It actually gets easier and faster the longer you do it. But here in mid-Florida I only do this in the winter.

Give being a one car family a try for a while. Just let the car sit in the driveway for a couple of weeks. If all goes well, you can sell the little beastie. If not, nothing is lost.

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It's a Matter of Sharing

My husband and I share our car and have since we met. We have one child and another on the way, and we both work full-time. We drive in to work/daycare together, which means we can use the "high-occupancy express lane" straight into the city, which reduces our trip from an hour to about 15 minutes. Then, I drop hubby off near work - he likes to walk through the park on the way in - and bring my son straight to daycare - it's two blocks from my office building.

We are dependent on each other and getting out of work on time and have to make special arrangements to stay in the city after work. Hubby has softball games on Thursday nights, so it's a family affair. We do everything together - food shop, errand runs, and other day-to-day activities. On occasion, hubby will take a day off and then drive me in and take the car and go play. But he has to be around after 5 to come get me and our son. So it can be inconvenient, but since we do everything together anyway, it's not much of a problem.

The express lane access is the greatest time-saver and gas saver. We pay for one car's maintenance, insurance, gasoline, and payments. It's great.
Sharon near DC

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Creative Solutions

We are a one-car family of four. We do a lot of our in-town getting around by bike or on foot (and we live in New England!), car-pool when possible, arrange our need-an-extra-car errands for days when we can borrow a friend's car (and they borrow ours when one of theirs is in the shop), and sometimes avail ourselves of the local bus system. We do have to do a bit of extra driving. For instance, on days when I can't bike to my aerobics class I have to rush home in order to get my son to school. But we've always been able to work it out.

Incidentally, I discuss a number of other transportation options in my book, The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook (a guide to having more fun and paying less money). There are several excerpts from the book posted at, though not that particular piece.
Shel Horowitz, Northampton, MA

Don't Forget Teen Drivers

At my house, my father works at home and my mother is a homemaker. We never had too bad of an incident with it. Getting rid of one car is okay depending upon the age of your children. If they are reaching the driving or work age, it might not be a good idea. Another problem is that when your one car breaks down, you'll have to either stay with the car until it's fixed, have a friend drive you around, or rent a car (which we've done twice). A cell phone is really useful if one person has the car and someone at home needs it for some reason, too.

Bike It

For two years, my wife and I had one car. She worked out of our home, and I worked about 15 minutes from my house. In the spring, as soon as enough snow melted, I would start biking to work, wearing a backpack containing my clothes for the day. I would arrive early so I had time to change, shave and freshen up in the restrooms before everyone else arrived. In the winter, I rode the bus, which was not as convenient as biking. Since my wife worked at home and would do most of our errand running, I left the car for her to use. I found the health benefits of the regular exercise to be wonderful. By the time fall came, I had usually shaved 10 minutes off the time it took to bike to work. It may seem like a hassle at first, but after just a few weeks, it becomes as automatic as jumping in the car.

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Planning to Compromise

My wife (Peggy) and I have lived with only one car for five years now. She stays at home and babysits for another couple. We do the following to compromise.

  • Plan when you're going to do the shopping and keep lists of what to buy so you don't forget something essential and need to go back later (when you won't have access to the car). I cannot emphasize this aspect enough. Remember gas isn't free. If you have a full day of errands.... drop your spouse off at work and then pick them up at the end of the day.
  • Own a car that does everything.... It's hard to get along with a small compact car when you may need to haul stuff every now and then... SUV's, Pickups, Minivans, and Vans work best as an only vehicle. We owned a small compact car before our first child and had to upgrade to a larger vehicle later.
  • I own a Motorcycle also (no insurance needed, no payments, cheap on gas) for fair weather days so I can leave the car. If you live close enough you can also bicycle or walk to work sometimes.
  • If you have a pickup and another car and can't bear to part with the car... then sell the pickup and buy a trailer to haul stuff. Don't keep a pickup just for occasional use. Rent or borrow a trailer when you need one.
  • Don't worry about an emergency. For a real emergency dial 911. If you're keeping two cars just in case of an "emergency" you're just rationalizing.
  • Carpool. Whether to work or to run errands, you'd be surprised how often you can join up with friends, neighbors, or relatives. As a benefit you will strengthen your ties to these people by spending more time with them.
  • If you don't both work outside the home you certainly don't need two cars, and the cost of maintaining a second car typically runs at least $2000 between repairs, maintenance, and insurance. Good Luck.


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Second, Cheap Car Alternative

We were a 1-car family for a while as my dh had access to the farm truck where he worked. When we moved to IL, even though he only has to walk out the door to work, there were times at night when he had a meeting in one direction and I had to go the other way. Also, we were really racking up the miles on our truck and knew we couldn't afford to replace it anytime soon.

What we did was get the very cheapest car possible for a second car. It didn't run real well, though it did start well, and certainly didn't look like much--more rust than paint. It was more than safe enough for me to drive into town with the kids to shop, but whenever we went farther than a 15 minute drive, we took the truck. The car only cost us $200 and we only changed the oil in it. Anything else would have added to it's expense. I put over 7000 miles on that $200 car. When something major went wrong with it, we just junked it. The thing is, I can drive a lot of $200 cars in one year to make up for the $2000 or $20,000 that a new one or payments will cost. We now have a $2000 van and just put $1000 in a new transmission, but we've had it checked out and nothing else should need to be replaced. It's got a lot of miles, but has been well taken care of and will certainly last us long enough to get our $$'s worth out of it as well as get the $$ for another one. Payments on a new vehicle would be at least $2000 a year (if not $4000 or better) and I'm not throwing $$ away on interest. My insurance rates are also lower as I don't have anything other than liability. Our truck sits most of the time, but is there when we need it. It was a very expensive truck and I personally still can't justify the $5000 a year it's cost us to this point. Every year brings the yearly cost down more. A side note, I didn't mind teaching my daughter how to drive when the only expense at stake was a $200 car!

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Flexibility Is Key

We have been living with only one car for over three years now, and I think anybody can make it work with a little planning and flexibility. I work 20 min. away from our house. My husband works six blocks away and attends the university that is just under a mile away. Every night, we discuss who needs the car most the next day. There are times when he has a lot of errands to run, etc., so he drops me and my bag lunch off at work. Other times, I need the car to attend a meeting or something else off-site, so he walks or bikes to school and work. He gets a free bus pass as a university student, so if the weather is really bad, he'll just hop on the bus that stops right at our corner. Very rarely do we both need the car on the same day -- if we do, I take it in the morning and bring it back to him over my lunch hour or vice versa.

When I was growing up in Chicago, we didn't have a car at all until I was seven years old. We all rode public transportation everywhere. Eventually, my dad bought a car and we moved out to the suburbs. He had a 45 minute commute, so he had the car every day at first and Mom generally took us on the bus if we needed to go anywhere (mall, dentist, etc.). She went to the grocery store early on Saturday mornings before the crowds. Dad finally formed a car pool, so he only had to drive two days a week at the most, leaving Mom the car most of the time. Hope this helps.

Distance? No Problem!

We have one car and have had only one care for almost two years. It has been a lot of work to manage since we live at least 15 minutes from anywhere and 30 minutes from hubby's work. One of the things that has helped is carpooling. If hubby can carpool then there is much relief. That is how we managed to survive. Until carpooling started, we stayed home alot.
Val B

Reviewed January 2018

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