How We Live With One Car

Oct 25, 2013 by

One car familyOur first thirteen years together Ms. Money Counselor and I owned two cars—one each. But we’ve done well sharing one car for over four years now. According to AAA, just owning—driving costs ‘extra’—a medium-sized sedan will cost about $16 per day in 2013. Using that number, by downsizing one vehicle we’ve saved nearly $25,000 so far. Never mind that I blew about half of that in Vegas one Hunter S. Thompson-ish weekend—that’s a post for another day. (Not really. 🙂 )

To be complete, I should note that our expenses have gone up in some categories—as you’ll read below—because we own only one car, offsetting part of that $25k.

Would You Like to Downsize by One Vehicle?

If you’re interested in downsizing by a vehicle—whether from three cars to two or two to one or one to none—you have to first accept that there’s no substitute for the ultra-convenience of the personally owned vehicle sitting in your driveway awaiting your lead footed commands. But remember: that ultra-convenience comes at a high cost. Maybe after considering for a while you’ll decide it’s worth the cost. But do consider, consciously, and even better: experiment. You can always change your mind. You might discover if you give up a car that you like having the extra $6,000 (or whatever) per year in your pocket—coincidentally about equal to a 2013 maximum IRA contribution—more than you like the convenience of car ownership.

How To Downsize Your Family Fleet

With a little time and cost-free creativity, you can close the ‘convenience gap’ by coupling an array of mobility options with a car-free approach to managing your newly enriched life. Here’s how we manage sharing one car.

Our Substitutes for a Personally Owned Vehicle

When we were searching for homes before we moved to our community, one criterion was for the house to be near a bus route. Our city—though less than 100,000 population—has a pretty good bus transit system. The house we bought is a 2-3 block walk from stops on two different bus routes. The first three years we lived here, I took the bus to my downtown job almost all the time. I bought a monthly pass for just $60. And the thing is, once you’ve spent a fixed amount on that pass, you’re looking for reasons to take the bus because you can ride all you want for no extra cost!

Also unusual for a city this size, we’re lucky to have a small but effective carsharing cooperative in our community. (Of course I’m biased. I helped found our carshare co-op and have been on the Board since.)

Carsharing is perfect for those occasions when both Ms. Counselor and I need wheels. We supplement the one car we own with the cooperative’s car. But with carsharing we only pay for the hours and miles we use the shared car, not the 90% of the time that the average personally owned car sits dormant.

I like to bike, and though it’s not my cup of tea in our rainy winters, I can get where I need to go much of the time by cycling.

I love walking and hiking. Walking is really my preferred way to get around, when time is not critical. Again, when we were house shopping, proximity to markets and essential services mattered to us. Two shopping centers—including two grocery stores, a hardware store, an office supply store, a drug store, and much more—are within about a 30-minute walk of our home.

Occasionally we use a taxi. They make sense for a one-way trip, such as to/from the ferry terminal or airport, where parking can be costly. (We also exchange with some good friends the favor of ‘taxiing’ each other to these sorts of destinations.)

Conventional Rental Car
Carsharing usually costs more than conventional rental car for trips of a day or more. If one of us needed a car for a day-long or more trip, we might get a rental car so the one staying home isn’t car-deprived for an extended period.

Patience & Cooperation
Ms. Money Counselor is more diligent about this than me, but communicating as far in advance as possible our needs for our car really helps us make one car work. Often the timing needs for the car is flexible; we can juggle things a bit so we can each use our car when we want it.

Would You Try Downsizing By a Vehicle?

What do you think? Would you consider giving up a car and see if you can make it work? One key is commuting—if both you and your spouse must drive a car to get to your respective jobs, then you’re pretty much stuck with a need for two cars. And if you’ve got licensed teenagers, forget about it. But if not, the next time a car is due to be replaced, why not try giving up a car instead and see how it feels?

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  1. Emily @ evolvingPF

    The more the car is a part of your life, the bigger the savings and the bigger the inconvenience, I think. We stopped driving our second car about 1.5 years ago and we’ve only been not-spending around $1,000/year due to that choice. It was a pretty easy transition because we really didn’t need or use the second car much as we work at the same place. If we had been married back when we moved to this area, we probably wouldn’t have bought the second car to begin with.

  2. Joe

    We shared one car for about 7 years now. It’s great because we have the option to public transportation and walk/bike. I think everyone should see if it’s a possibility.

    • Hi Joe, just think how much cash you’ve saved by not owning 2 cars! I know Portland has excellent transit and is bike/foot friendly, so you’re fortunate. Downsizing the family fleet might be a bit more challenging for those with less access to good alternatives, but I agree: everyone should think through the possibility and, ideally, try getting by with one less car for a while the next time a vehicle needs replacement.

  3. Travis Pizel

    I’ve often wondered if we could get rid of one of our cars….with my wife picking up a second part-time job (she works one in the morning, and one in the afternoon), I actually drive her to and from both jobs so she doesn’t have to worry about finding a parking spot downtown. We rarely need a second car. They’re both paid for at this point, but I frequently contemplate getting rid of one.

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