Sunday, October 21, 2012

A One Car Family

A few months back I posted about how reading a post on the cost of commuting had gotten me thinking about our transportation costs. We quickly became fixated on selling one of our cars.

And it has now been about 2 months since we've been without a second car. It was in for repairs and then we sold it about a month ago.

I promised before that I'd post about going down to one car after I had some real feedback on the idea. On my initial post many of you stated why it wouldn't work for you, and I agree that depending on where you live and work and how many kids you have, this would be very difficult. In some cases you could move closer and make it happen, in many cases that's not possible, at least for now.

For our family it was possible. And helped us free up cash for other financial goals.

But I want this to be an honest post so here's to the honest pros and cons so here goes:


  • Saving big $$. The car we sold wasn't paid off yet so with gas, insurance, registration every year, maintenance, and the payment we are saving over $300 a month getting rid of that car. And that's a conservative estimate.
    • I should also note that mass transit is included in my student ID card right now so I travel for free. Evie is free because she is little. And if Joe is with us we usually take the car. So we are not adding in major transit expenses each month.
  • Less hassle: maintaining a car is not always convenient: oil changes, rock chips, new tires, gassing it up, registering it every single year...bleh, happy to have cut that in half.
  • More active: Being cut down to one car forces me to be more active (and fight my laziness tendencies). Now we walk more, take transit, use the stroller, and occasionally bike (we have a broken chain, gotta fix the bike!). I love the feeling of being out in the community and taking life a little slower (by necessity). I love the feeling of moving more and sitting less.
  • Easier than you'd think: This is all about location & circumstance. 
    • The university here has a large campus and free shuttles so it is easy easy easy to get around the campus area. It is also close to downtown so there is both light rail and lots of bus routes with frequent rotations. 
    • My brothers and my husband all work at the same company and one brother lives 2 minutes down the street making carpooling a real possibility on many days. This means I can occasionally have the car during the day (2ish days a week).
  • Mildly inconvenient: I used to run errands whenever it suited me. Everly having a frustrating morning? Take off and get in the car and run to the grocery store/to meet dad for lunch/whatever. It means I have to plan more carefully, things like errands as well as doctor appointments and playdates. This isn't necessarily a bad thing since it makes me more efficient and saves gas.
  • Planning Ahead/Waiting: A smart phone helps with this. The google maps app has a transit option that will help me find the closest bus (and departure times) to get where I want to go, so I love that for impromptu trips. But if I need to arrive somewhere in a timely fashion (meeting up for an appt) I have to plan quite carefully and give it extra time. That can be frustrating, I need to have a book with me at all times for the waits (and entertaining a 2 year old at a bus stop is not always fun).
  • Feeling trapped: We have school, museums, malls, and the zoo all within walking/biking/mass transit distance. I can be somewhere fun AND outside my house in roughly 15 minutes. But sometimes I'm just tired and don't want to do it. Don't want to look up bus schedules, don't want to fold and unfold the stroller getting on and off the bus, don't want to be stuck 30 minutes from home with nap time quickly approaching and an ornery Evie. So there are times when we feel trapped here at home. Luckily, we have a playground in our front yard at this complex so there is always that option when I'm feeling lazy. Or some Sesame Street. I'd say I feel trapped less often than you'd expect, but I have my days.
  • Can't Go to the Gym Every Day: Daily gym visits were a big part of my life before our move. But now even if I have time during the afternoon to go to the gym, it often falls on the days Joe has the car. Also, it isn't a clear shot on the bus biking is out since it is too far and Evie doesn't cooperate for like a 6 mile ride (each way...). Bummer. 
    • Next semester my class schedule will make it easier to go at night. And hopefully Evie's sleep will keep improving so I can go occasionally to the 6am class. This con is being addressed over time.
  • Multiple kids? With multiple kids, particularly close in age, this could be tricky. But that depends on your kids--their temperament, their schedules, your schedule, your habits, etc... Some kids would do better with it than others. Right now I'm not certain we'll have another and if we do Evie will be 5 or even 6 and our circumstances will be very different so I think we'll be okay. I have to note that people in big cities have multiple kids and get by without a car all the time. It can be done, but you have to choose your location carefully, and even then, beyond a certain number of children (maybe 3?) it just makes more sense to take the minivan no matter the location.
Overall, has it been worth it? 

Yes, absolutely. 

$300 a month is significant money. And even when the second car is paid off it would have been well over $100 a month of gas/insurance, more as the car gets old and needs repairs. One $600 repair bumps up the monthly "cost" of that car by $50. We simply would rather build up savings, save for a vacation or buy a larger/nicer home with that money. One car, paid of asap, reliable, is just what we need.

For now, where we live, this works for us. But I guess that's kind of the point of this idea, just being aware of how much your cars are REALLY costing you and deciding whether you can cut back that cost at all (or expend one of your cars completely). I totally get that for some people it is worth it, at least now to have that second car. I mean, 3-4 kids, life without a car would be CRAZY. Moving closer so one or both spouses can use transit/bike to get to work, not always possible with real estate costs or the safety of neighborhoods. I get that.

But a year ago this wasn't even on my radar. And once it was it was mind-blowing to me how much money we could save. It may not be for everyone, but I still think it's good to spread the word and plant the seed. A road less traveled that some find worth it, despite the cons.

For our family this is a long term plan. After school we will move further from downtown (less available transit), but will be only 6 miles from Joe's work. Joe loves biking so this means I will have the car most days. In bad weather I can go without or I can drop him at work. It may be quite some time before we get a second car (for teenage Everly? or if we have a second baby?), but for now we're relishing in the savings.

Sorry this is so long and wordy, but I wanted to give a real update. 

One car family and loving it. Most of the time. :)

3 little remarks:

Erica said...

That's great! We have been a 1 car family for our entire marriage (over 6 years). I know that at some point this will probably change, but up until now it has been a priority to us to live in a place that allows us to have only 1 car. We do pay more in rent than we would otherwise, and we live in LA so we have access to a lot of things in a dense area, but I love that my husband can walk to work. We can actually walk to anything we need (even the temple!) except for our doctors.

sarahflib said...

This is awesome, Anna! I'm glad it's working out well for you. I agree that it's SO important to choose your location carefully. We made that a priority when we moved out to PA and it has made it very easy to have one car. Dave usually bikes, and when he doesn't, the bus is less than a block away. That means I haven't had to stress about when I have the car, because I almost always do. Even then, though, I'm trying to be good about taking the girls out in the bike trailer for things that are close by. I'd like to get more bold about taking them for longer distances, but let's be honest. It's often not worth the extra time spent AND the hills here are still kicking my trash. I'll work up to it!

Kaela said...

I must say that your practicality and willingness to sacrifice your extra car is truly admirable and inspiring!! Way to go Anna!!! I look up to you and all you do in many many ways:)

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