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/

Comments

  1. We have been a one car household, by choice, since 2008 and don’t have any immediate plans to become a 2 car household again. In fact, I will make lifestyle changes first before having to purchase another car!
    LifeorDebt recently posted…I {heart} San Francisco: A Virtual Tour- Day 2My Profile

  2. I grew up in a one-car household and my dad took the bus to work most of the time. When I totaled my car en route to Christmas with my husband’s family, we became a one-car household during my last semester in college. We worked at the same place so that helped, but we also had a good friend/coworker who occasionally picked up/dropped my husband off on his way. It’s definitely a sacrifice but we made it work for 3 years. My husband likely could have made it work for longer but I couldn’t — I missed my independence and ability to make plans, plus I got a new job. So, it can be done but all your points are spot on! Good luck!
    Kendal @HassleFreeSaver recently posted…How to Save on Summer BBQsMy Profile

    • My family was actually a one-car household my whole life growing up–one parent either rode the bus or worked a different shift–and I never even thought twice about it. Now, I think most kids would find it odd if their parents *didn’t* have two cars. Just the lifestyle inflation of the average American household.

      If our situation wasn’t what it is (me working from home, him working not at all), I think I’d probably have some independence issues myself. But as it is, our schedules are so flexible, and we have so much time during the day to “do our own thing” that I really don’t feel limited at all.

      It’s all about what works for you and your situation. I just wish more people would consider whether it would work for them, instead of automatically assuming the necessity of one car per person.
      Cordelia recently posted…How to Get Off Your Hustling-Yet-Sedentary Freelancing Butt and MOVE, for Chrissake!My Profile

  3. We have definitely been thinking about getting rid of a car now that I will be switching to freelancing. Great post!
    Michelle recently posted…How to Set a Wedding Budget – Part 1My Profile

  4. Emily @ evolvingPF says:

    We have been a one-car household for a year and change now. It wasn’t too tough of a transition because we work for the same employer, so we just had to shift up our work schedules a bit (which are flexible).

    Going to one car didn’t make a big difference in our cash flow, as our second car was paid off. We saved a little (definitely not half!) in insurance and a little (25%) in gas. All in all I think it amounts to less than $1k/year to drop the second car. However, sharing one car has definitely improved our marriage and communication! Between the commute together and synching up our schedules we have a LOT more time together, and we are always up-to-the-minute on each other’s plans and spending objectives.

    I have more details on how going to one car affected our life here: http://www.evolvingpf.com/2012/07/one-car-lifestyle-update/.
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted…Money Updates from the EPF HouseholdMy Profile

  5. I hope to go with one car in retirement! Our cars will be paid off by retirement (less than 4 years), but that is part of the costs.
    krantcents recently posted…Your Career Is Going Nowhere, What Can You Do?My Profile

  6. Nick @ ayoungpro.com says:

    Awesome! I’m working towards becoming a one-car family. Currently working with my employer to try to get them to provide mass transit options. I hope we can get there soon!
    Nick @ ayoungpro.com recently posted…When is it Okay to Spend Money?My Profile

  7. I really wish we could just get by with one car. I live in Los Angeles and the public transportation can be unreliable and take forever. If I took public transportation my commute of 1.5 hrs roundtrip would end up being 3 hrs! My husband and I work in opposite directions too so that doesn’t help. If we lived in West LA and had a job close by it could work. I used to be able to choose from three different bus lines and work was only 2 miles away. Certainly when we’re retired we can probably work it!
    Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen recently posted…Paying a Hefty Price to Fall Down (aka Snowboarding)My Profile

  8. Right now, there’s no way we could cut down to one car. Both my husband I work semi-rotating schedules; but mine is always 9-6. He can work 6am-6pm one day, then 12-10 the next, or maybe 4pm-2am. There’s nothing we can do about that, short of finding new careers! We are planning on sharing a car in the winter if it snows, however. I got into two accidents this past winter, and we realize that it just isn’t safe to drive my car in the snow. How we’re going to work it out I have no idea, so I’m just praying for a mostly snow-free winter!
    Alexandra @ Real Simple Finances recently posted…Savings Accounts: Not Just for HumansMy Profile

  9. Victoria says:

    My husband and I have always had 1 car, we both catch a bus to work and mostly drive the car on weekends when we are usually going to do food shopping etc together anyway. When we do need to go different places at the same time one of us will catch public transport or a taxi. I’m actually thinking it would be good to have no car, mostly we just need it for food shopping or to visit my parents place but I can’t quite part with it.

  10. I also work from home. My wife has about a 15 minute commute (can be up to 45 minutes with bad traffic). We have a son in daycare about 5-10 minutes away from home. In theory, we could survive with one car. In reality, though, I think it would be such a drastic change that the experiment would fail. Having just one car would add so much busy-ness to our lives trying to coordinate and prioritize schedules. Then, if either of us is running late and causes the other to miss something…yikes. Too many possible negative repercussions. Kudos to those that can pull it off though…
    Mr. Utopia recently posted…How to Emotionally Deal with an Investment LossMy Profile

  11. rjack (Mr. Asset Allocation) says:

    I recently retired and I’m planning on becoming a one car household, if I can convince my wife. I live in an area where I can sometimes use my bike instead of a car.
    rjack (Mr. Asset Allocation) recently posted…Reader Question – How Much Money Do You Need To Retire?My Profile

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