The One Car Family Experiment

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Dream of cutting costs by becoming a one car family? Experiment with us! See what worked, what didn't and how to fix it.

We have more than one vehicle in our family. During our entire relationship, my husband and I have never been without at least one car loan.

That’s stupid, right? We could save SO much money if we became a one car family. On financing, insurance, maintenance…the list goes on.

One of our vehicles, the one that’s actually paid off, has been giving us a lot of trouble lately. Like my-head-wants-to-explode-because-of-the-mechanic-bill problems. Last week, we had to take it in for a five-day long session while they fixed hundreds of dollars worth of additional problems.

My initial reaction was horror. How the heck were we going to survive? We had appointments and classes and all kinds of things to do, especially since the school year was wrapping up.

I took a deep breath, and decided to treat this like an experiment. This could actually be a blessing in disguise. If we could make it through the week, maybe we could just ditch that car without replacing it or sinking any more money into repairs. With the money we’d be saving on insurance, we could pay our remaining car note off in no time flat, and then use the extra money leftover every month to pay for our next vehicle in cash.

Plus, we’d be improving our carbon footprint in a big way. I’m so into it that I’m signed up for Tesla’s newsletters, but they have yet to send me one with a RSP that I can read without LOLing.

This could actually be a really good thing, if the test run worked out properly.

The Results of the One Car Family Experiment

During the course of the week, we had to get our kiddo to school, hit up baseball practice, go to various therapies, get the husband to his night classes, get him some new shoes as his were more than beat, and get to a doctor’s appointment. On top of it all, I got sick (yes, again,) and had to see my own PCP at the last minute.

On top of all of that, I had to get to work. While I work for myself as a freelancer, I don’t really work from home. I’m lucky enough to have a friend that lets me use their place and internet connection to type and edit words on a screen while they’re at their 9-5. It provides me with quiet solitude while my own home, full of young children, provides chaos. My friend’s place is not in my neighborhood, so I typically commute. In the second car.

The unexpected hiccup that we came up against was my own doctor’s appointment. I could only get in half an hour before the other, conflicting family medical appointment, and to get between the two offices we had to cross downtown. So I was dropped off at mine and had to wait until the husband could come back and get me.

It was inconvenient, but not really that tragic. I walked a mile to go get some lunch and he just picked me up there. I checked bus schedules, but nothing could have gotten me to my appointment on-time, and him picking me up was much quicker than waiting for the next bus home.

The bad part was my work. Over the course of the week, I only got to my friend’s place for a couple of hours over the entire five days. I did meet all deadlines by working at night, but I typically like to be ahead of the game. Being ahead mitigates emergencies. Like when the car breaks down.

Because of the surprising lack of public transport in our neighborhood, getting to my friend’s place would’ve taken hours. Those are hours I don’t have with all of my familial obligations. If I have to choose between getting my kid or husband to school while working nights or working days while they’re stranded, I’m going to choose night hours.

But that’s not really good for my health. Besides the mental burden of going all day knowing there’s a pile of work waiting for you after everyone’s in bed, my sleep got all out of whack. While the arrangement served as barely functional for a week, overall I have to mark it as a failure. That type of schedule is not sustainable for us on a long-term basis.

My heart is a little bit broken. I really want to save the planet. If Stephen Hawking says we’re all going to have to hop in space ships within 100 years and only the rich will get a ticket to ride, I want to do everything I can to help make that nightmare a fallacy.

Plus I’d like to save some cash.

But what to do when it isn’t functional?

Ways We Could Become a One Car Family

Plan better. Public transport may be inconvenient, but if we completely revamped our schedule and I was cool spending hours commuting, we might be able to make it work. Though it would remain terribly inconvenient. I’ll be mapping this out more in the near future to see if we could make the dream a reality. I still don’t know what we’d do about emergencies like last-minute doctor’s appointments, though. Or me going into work on the rare occasion where I still work my old day job.

Move to a different neighborhood. Perhaps one that was more of a central hub for buses so I wouldn’t have to transfer so much.

Move to a new apartment. Theoretically, I could work at home, but our internet doesn’t reach any of the rooms that have doors to close out the ruckus. If we moved to another apartment with thinner walls, this problem could be potentially alleviated. I would likely not be as productive since everyone would know where I was hiding, but maybe the routine would eventually get everyone used to it. The problem with this is that rents have inflated a lot since we first moved into this place, so it likely wouldn’t be a cash-positive move.

Get a new modem. This is the most likely one to happen. Maybe if we got a more powerful modem we wouldn’t even have to move to a new apartment.

Buy a house in the burbs. This is our goal for the next couple of years, anyways. Counterintuitively, moving to the suburbs may cut down our needs for more than one vehicle depending on if the husband is location independent or not after he graduates and how close the new place is to a park’n’ride. We plan on adding one bedroom above our current living situation, and in our area most houses have some type of basement. I don’t care if it’s finished or not; I can set up shop away from everyone else with a layout like that.

Do you think you could downgrade to a one-car family? Or even just eliminate your vehicle altogether? What would you need to do to make it happen?




23 thoughts on “The One Car Family Experiment

  1. Hannah

    We’re a one car family, and it works out well, but Rob is 100% committed to the bike commute. I think the key is to live very close to all regular commutes (school, work, and any major commitments like church or a health club) then anyone can bike commute in a pinch. Then you can plan for the person who benefits the most from a car to use it on a particular day, and the other person can bike.

    So normally, I have the car and take the kids to doctor appointments etc, and Rob bikes to work. On days when he has an appointment, he takes the car, and I have to walk places (so I don’t grocery shop or plan doctor appointments those days). We rarely have conflicts, but when we do, it’s about as inconvenient as you described. Once you get a system in place it’s easy enough.

  2. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    Jon’s a car guy, and I’m lucky that we have a mere 6 cars. (That sounds impressive or wasteful, but most of these were inherited from his grandfather and as cool as a Model T or a ’76 Pacer are, they aren’t “head out on the highway lookin’ for adventure” kinda cars.However, if you want to sit in the back seat of a car that barely runs lipsynching Bohemian Rhapsody, we’ve got the car for you.) Fortunately, Jon can do the maintenance to keep his little fleet running, and I have a newer practical car.

    1. Femme Frugality

      Um, I’ll sit in the backseat of any car and lipsynch Bohemian Rhapsody! I feel like it doesn’t likely contribute as much to carbon emissions if you’re not using them for regular commutes.

  3. Abigail @ipickuppennies

    We’re both home all day, and Tim runs most of the errands. So we’re good. I agree that planning ahead of time will help you be a one-car family. Knowing the restriction ahead of time lets you be more strategic. The same way we have to schedule no more than two appointments/chores/errands on a given day.

    You could always test out your theory for a couple of weeks — planning for a couple of weeks ahead of time while you schedule/reschedule — to see how it goes.

    As for your modem issue…

    1. You can pay the cable company to move the connection. It’s not cheap — we paid around $80-90 — but it allows for significantly better speeds. We did this when the connection in the back office was at a snail’s pace out in the living room. Most of our entertainment comes from the Internet, so it was no good.

    2. Failing that, get a signal booster. It’ll help you get the speeds you need in the rooms with doors.

  4. Done by Forty

    Tough situation. Have you considered the abnormally long ethernet cord? It is unseemly on a long term basis, but for making internet reach a room with a door on it while you work for 2 hours, hey, it’s frigging perfect and is WAY faster than wifi.

    All in all, I think one car is the way to go, especially if you can find a way to make the working from home situation happen. And working from home is the best, man. You can work barefoot all day. It’s the dream.

    1. Femme Frugality

      I love working barefoot and without makeup on, though I do it in someone else’s house! And the Ethernet cord is a good idea. Just not sure how my destructive kiddos would react.

  5. Lisa

    The Husband and I have actually become a one car family without trying too much. It helps that my commute can combine with his. But we also don’t have kids yet, so I’m sure it’s much easier for us than for those with children.

  6. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply

    We are a one-car family but living in an area with great public transportation makes it easier. My wife takes the subway to work which is only a few blocks away. If we moved to the suburbs where public transportation is not as convenient, it would definitely be tougher. It is also tougher when you have kids!

  7. Mom @ Three is Plenty

    Remind me next time I see you to bring an older wifi hub we have. It has phenomenal reach. We had it in the basement of our old house, and it reached all three stories up to the attic bedroom. Even if you live in a concrete block house (which I wouldn’t be surprised around here!), it should reach all of your necessary rooms. While Dad was working at home, we probably could have been a one car family, now that he’s commuting a lot further, we can’t really do it. Kudos to you for trying though!

  8. Julie @ Millennial Boss

    We downsized to one car but we don’t have kids yet! We moved within walking distance from work for me and my fiancé has a 10 minute drive. It feels great to eliminate one car payment and all the associated expenses that go along with it (insurance, gas, maintenance, etc!)

  9. Gary @ Super Saving Tips

    We’re a one-car couple, but since neither of us has to commute, it’s fairly easy. Plus there are no kiddos’ schedules to juggle. It seems like solving your wi-fi situation would do a world of good for you, whether one car or more than one car. Even if you can’t become a one-car family today, maybe you could make a goal of working towards that in the future. Hopefully your house in the burbs will have access to some nice public transportation.

  10. Mel @ brokeGIRLrich

    Ugh, I feel you on waiting to get work done at the last minute. The mental strain is too much for me. I usually try to be a week or so ahead on everything with my blog and my regularly scheduled writing for other folks. It also frees me up to take a one-off gig whenever it comes in without too much extra stress… but every once in a while the plan falls apart and I wind up super stressed out.

  11. Alexandra

    We were a one-car family for a bit while my husband’s car was getting worked on, and it was not fun. He works 30+ minutes away, and can’t always leave on time. We also have a 6 month old (then only 3 months old). I would love to downsize, but we’d have to make some serious work adjustments first.

  12. Hayley @ Disease Called Debt

    Interesting experiment! I’m just glad you survived the week what with all your commitments! It’s not easy when you have a ton of things to do and a ton of places to be. We are a one car family but we relocated to be closer to my husband’s work. He works 15 mins away by bike and I work from home. I take my daughter to school in the car and pick her up. Sometimes when the hubby is late for work, he’ll drop my daughter off and take the car, then pop it back later when he’s not too busy. It’s a juggling act but it’s saved us so much money, I don’t think we could go back to two cars! I hope you find a way! How about working in a local cafe instead rather than your friend’s place? Would have to be a quiet one though.

  13. Lindsay @ The Notorious D.E.B.T.

    We’re a reluctant one-car family and we’ve had problems too, although we don’t even have any kids. I take the bus to work and while it is handy, I spend so much time walking and waiting for the bus that it takes me four times as long to get to work compared to just hopping in a car and driving. I wonder at what point is the savings really worth it, especially if the theoretical second car was already paid off.

    Also, not having my own mode of transport often makes me feel trapped. I grew up in the woods outside of any city, and now that I’m smack dab in the middle of a huge city, I often feel a bit overwhelmed. I can’t just hop in the car and drive out somewhere quiet. I’ve been without my own car for two years and this still bugs me.

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  15. NZ Muse

    One car family over here! Currently T has a work vehicle for commuting but that’s about to change and we will well and truly be back to one vehicle. It’s always been really important to me to live near PT (because of the car ownership situation and also I HAAAATE driving). I think we’ll probably need a second car if we have kids, though.

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