We Became a One-Car Household: Could You?

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Kelly Gurnett. Kelly runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Back in April, I said goodbye to my beloved first car, and my husband and I became something I never though we would be: a one-car household.

As I’ve written about before, we lost half our income in April when my husband had to stop working due to his Fibromyalgia. (We’re currently applying for disability benefits.) This happened just as I was planning to make the leap from having a day job and working a side hustle to freelancing full-time—thus decreasing our income even further. I’d already made plans to sell my car when I was considering the leap, but once my husband lost his job, it went from a smart money-saving idea to a necessity.

We’ve now been a one-car household for a little over a month, and it’s had its pros and cons. Since I’m fortunate enough to work from home, and my husband doesn’t work at all anymore, our situation is certainly easier than couples who both have jobs outside the home (not to mention children, of which we have none except furry ones). That said, we have friends with more “standard” lives who are also one-car households, including a married couple who both hold down jobs with shifting schedules—and just had a baby.

So, it can be done. As with any other big financial/lifestyle change, it all comes down to what you’re willing to give up, and put up with, in order to gain certain tradeoffs.

For anyone considering becoming a one-car household, here are some of the big things to ask yourself:

What are your work schedules like?

Our friends who have jobs without set schedules never know what their hours will look like each week, so every week is a different balancing act of “Who’s going to need the car when?” If you have some flexibility over the days you work, or you both work different shifts, it’s much easier than if you both work standard 9-5s that can’t be negotiated.

At the same time, plenty of one-car households get around this by having one half of the couple carpool or take public transit. The cost of a bus pas could be considerably less than the cost of paying for and maintaining a second vehicle.

Are you o.k. with not having instant mobility?

Gone will be the days of running out for a latte spur-of-the-moment (although that could be good for your budget, too). If your partner has the car, you’re homebound (or stuck wherever else you are) until it’s your turn or they can come pick you up. Some people will have serious problems with the lack of freedom and independence this poses.

Also, if you have an illness, children, or any other situation that makes you feel uncomfortable not being able to drive somewhere in an emergency, that’s something else to consider. Should something happen, do you have people you can call on to give you a ride? If your partner gets stuck late at work, how will you get the kids to soccer practice? These are all day-to-day logistics you should work out before you find yourself in theses situations.

Are you good at compromising with each other?

There will be times when you both need the car, and it can come down to either a game of rock-paper-scissors (followed by resentment by the loser) or a level-headed, adult conversation about whose needs take priority and how accommodations can be made.

If you think sharing a home with someone teaches you how to compromise and be patient, try sharing a car when you’ve each accidentally made plans for the same night. Just like everything else in your relationship, negotiating car turns can take sacrifice at times. If your relationship doesn’t already have a healthy level of give-and-take, you’d better be prepared to develop some pretty quickly.

So…Why exactly would we do this?

After considering questions like the above, you could understandably wonder this. Much like selling your house to downgrade to a smaller one or taking on a second job to pay off debt, going down to one car is a sacrifice, and the decision ultimately comes down to whether you will get more out of doing it than you will lose.

So, what will you get? In addition to saving on car payments, you’ve got all the incidental costs that come along with owning a car, like insurance, repairs, gas, registration fees, tolls, and parking. And if you own your car outright, selling it can get you a little extra cash. (We used the proceeds from my car to pay off my husband’s car and finish my debt repayment plan.)

For me personally, I also enjoy not having to deal with the stress of driving. Working from home, I can avoid the crazy rush hour commute altogether—but even if I still had my office job and my husband was working, I think I’d choose to let him have the car so I could ride the bus to work. No frustration over inconsiderate drivers, no worries about navigating through Buffalo snow storms, just a chance to sit back, do a crossword, and let someone else do the driving.

If you’re particularly green-oriented, losing a car is also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

So, do you think you could become a one-car household? Why/why not?

***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/lescientist/8747173579/