Could You Be a One Car Family?

by Reader Contributors

DIY Landscaping for Less photo

If you are looking to cut expenses, getting rid of a vehicle can help your family do that for sure, but could you be a one care family? Our frugal readers offer up tips and considerations.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
Have any other tightwads out there chosen to live with only one car? I’d like to know about your readers’ 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 or your readers give for becoming and getting by as a one car family?
The Cunningham’s

Already Saved $6,000

We made the choice to do become a one-car family a few years ago and have saved at least $6,000 counting payments and maintenance. There are not many times when we wish we had two cars, and we always are able to make do.

Perhaps public transportation can be utilized, or a car-sharing service. And when it comes to 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 four 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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Ditch It!

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 3 AM) 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!

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, flashy safety lights for night riding, a backpack, a decent rain suit, 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.

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, such as who gets the car on the weekends. 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 five 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.

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 five 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

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 have a friend drive you around or rent a car (which we’ve done twice) until your car is fixed.

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). 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.
  • 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 $2,000 between repairs, maintenance and insurance. Good Luck.


Reviewed September 2023

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