Becoming a One Car Family Comments28 Comments

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In March of 2012 I started a new experiment, getting around without a car in the suburbs.

My wife and I have each had a car for our entire relationship, so it wasn’t without a bit of nervousness that I gave up my car. However, in the grand tradition of lifestyle changes, I was being bribed.

There were limited parking spaces at my workplace, so to get me out of my spot, my work would pay for my public transit pass for as long as I worked there. This was just what got me to stop driving to work, but it was the catalyst for the decision to give up my car and for us to become a one-car family.

There are lots of reasons to give up a second car. I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice to say that my car was 13 years old, and my wife and I are planning on purchasing a condo in the next few years. In condo buildings, the cost of an additional parking space is roughly comparable to the cost of an additional bedroom. As I think more living space beats more parking space every time, we needed to figure out a way to get down to one car eventually, and this was a good excuse.

I don’t think the circumstances will be the same for everyone, but the decision to take public transit breaks down to two simple numbers: Time and Money. Here’s how the math worked out for me in each category.

The Time

Time is the easy one. It takes me approximately one hour to get to work by car. While I’m generally a bit quicker, let’s say my bus commute is an hour and a half. My commute is through hard traffic, so I find the bus ride a lot more relaxing. For one extra hour, I get to not have to drive. Instead I read, write, ask email, and do anything but drive. Let’s say that adds up to about 200 additional hours in travel per year. Suffice to say, I find my commute a lot more relaxing and productive now. But, what kind of dollar value do I get for taking the longer commute? Is it worth my time?

The Money

Whenever you look at getting a car or getting rid of a car, there are some fixed expenses and some variable expenses that you should consider.

Insurance is one of the fixed car costs that you can’t avoid. Prior to giving up my car, the insurance bill for my wife and I and our rental insurance was $341, now it is $210. This saves me $131 per month or $1,572 per year.

Gas is another cost that cannot be avoided. My car had a 50 liter tank. Let’s assume I got a good price of $1.25 per liter for gas, which means I would pay $62.50 if I filled my tank up from empty. I filled up every week and a half, but some of that was personal driving, so let’s used 2 full tanks of gas every month. This means I save $125 per month in gas. Add that to my $131 in insurance savings and I am saving $256 per month, or $3,072 per year. Divide that by my 200 extra hours a year on the road, and I’m essentially getting paid $15.36 per hour to relax and read my book. Not a bad wage for doing almost nothing.

Now, if you look a bit deeper, you realize that gas and insurance are just the easiest fixed costs to calculate of car ownership. From the moment you buy your car, you are in a constant battle against parts that wear down. I would typically need to get 3 oil changes in a year. You need to replace tires, brake pads, and all the other parts that get used up over time, and none of those are cheap. That’s not even counting if something breaks down! Then there is the cost of registering a car, the license plates, and all of the other fees you must pay.

When you count in routine maintenance, I am easily saving hundreds of dollars more a year. Add in the larger repairs that typically come with an older car, and I could be saving up to a couple of thousand dollars a year.

Conclusions

So, while I was a bit nervous to give up my car, I’m saving myself a guaranteed $3,072 per year, with a potential savings of much more. While this saved money does come at a cost of some of my time, I’m allowed to relax and read during that time (two things that bring me great satisfaction) and I’m essentially paid $15.36 for my time.

Why did it take me so long to give up my car?

Author Bio: Alex blogs at Searching for Happy and is experimenting with ways to have a happier, healthier, and more productive life.

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This entry was posted in Financial Advice, and tagged , Comments28 Comments
By : Adam | 15 Apr 2013
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28 thoughts on “Becoming a One Car Family

  1. William @ Bite the Bullet

    We went one car for many years. It helped that we worked together, so that’s probably unusual. We thought that for the times when we needed two cars, it would be cheaper to go to Enterprise and rent one for those occasions. Over the years, that turned out to be true.

    Now we’re retired and the missus decided she wanted to take a job, because she likes the structure. So we broke down and got a second car.

    Certain situations allow you to go one car. The trick is to capitalize on those, and not just keep two cars out of habit…

    Reply
    1. Alex

      I agree completely. I think two cars is a habit for many people, rather than an actual need.

      As habits go, it rivals smoking and others for being costly!

      Reply
  2. The Norwegian Girl

    we don´t even have ONE car! but I can see how dependent you become when you`re used to having two cars.

    Reply
    1. Alex

      Kudos! Unfortunately, the public transit system in our area isn’t universal, so there are large areas we can’t reach by bus. However, if you’re in an area that you don’t need a car, there are so many other things you can do with the money.

      As you said, It’s just becoming dependent on something. I used to work in an area where I needed a car of my own, but I haven’t done so for years to be honest. This change is long overdue.

      Reply
  3. Grayson @ Debt Roundup

    I would love to get rid of one of your cars, even though we have 3 (one is a project vehicle that is my hobby). The thing that prevents us is that my wife travels a lot for work and she goes into work before my building is even open. Our mass transit leaves a lot to be desired and I would have to drive in order to get to the closest bus stop. It just wouldn’t work in our area.

    Reply
    1. Alex

      I completely understand. In some areas, it really isn’t an option. And keeping a project car for love is a rather fun hobby anyways!

      Reply
  4. Michelle

    We have three cars (oh we are big PF sinners) and it would be really hard to get down to one car. The third car is purely a recreational car so we don’t really count that. I would hope that one day our schedule would allow us to cut down on a car, but for right now that is not possible.

    Reply
    1. Alex

      I don’t think of it as a sin, but rather as an opportunity. There are far too many PF books that talk about “cutting bad habits” as a source of spare cash to help pay off debt and save for the future.

      However, judging from your extra-income reports, I suspect that you put every minute having those cars saves you to a very profitable use! If you’re making more money in that extra time than you spend by owning a car, then I think you probably are making the right choice.

      Reply
  5. Edward Antrobus

    We are down to one car right now, but it’s been really difficult. There is no bus service that runs from the general area where we live to the general area where my wife works, so if I am working, she has to get rides from people. And of course, when you are begging rides off of people, you typically feel obligated to pay them a lot more than the amount of gas they’ve burned. At the end of the day, we aren’t saving very much money at all and dealing with a lot more hassle.

    Reply
    1. Alex

      I agree with you. The strategy of one-car being convenient does require a reasonably proximate public transit line. Without public transit near by, it can be a challenge unless one partner is able to telecommute and work from home.

      Reply
  6. TMB @ Keystone Auto Loans

    Fantastic post, Alex! My wife and I were a one-car family for years, and you’re so right: you will actually save significantly more than the easy-to-calculate fixed savings of $3072 a year. There are so many unexpected costs that pop up when you own a car. Heck, in January, we spent $700+ trying to track a problem with my wife’s 4Runner, which turned out to be a faulty fuel injector. Too bad your commute is so long, or you could consider cycling to work. I did this for years when we lived in San Francisco, and it was such a great stress release.

    Reply
    1. Alex

      Thanks! I agree completely on the additional costs, but I wanted to be fair and count only the measurable savings. You’re right though, car repairs could easily double that savings over a year!

      I was tempted to cycle to work. It’s possible, but I wouldn’t arrive in any condition to look (or smell) professional. *laughs*

      Reply
  7. Tanya

    Our family has 2 cars. I could manage with only one sense only one of us works but then the other would be stranded all day at the house with the kids. which would mean no trips to the park or the library or doctors appointments which would not work too well for me unfortunately.

    Reply
    1. Alex

      Kids are definitely an extra challenge. I know someone who managed that for 6 years, but it took some incredible planning on her part for her and the 3 kids. I completely understand your logic.

      Reply
  8. Canadian Budget Binder

    I think if a family can go from 2 cars to one that’s some potential huge savings for the family. The only problem would be time lost to waiting, driving and picking people up with the one vehicle. Many people also try to move close to work so they can bike, walk or take public transit which saves them money even if they have to pay a bit more for the house in a higher priced area.

    Reply
    1. Alex

      I agree, it’s more than just a cash savings question, there are quality of life questions as well. However, with a pocket full of mobile technology, I don’t find waiting to be all that challenging!

      Moving closer to work can be an excellent choice. Too often, people are scared by the higher housing costs, but you save a lot in the long-term!

      Reply
  9. Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

    We are a two car family, which works well for us. I have absolutely seen other families become one-car families and after a few adjustments, it works well for them. Unfortunately public transportation can be a bit hit or miss in LA, which is sad given its size. I know many people who take public transportation to their jobs and love it because they don’t go to work already stressed from their commute and have a chance to unwind before they get home.

    Reply
    1. Alex

      For me, there are good days and bad. Understanding how much I’m saving off this transition really helps me get through the bad days!

      Reply
  10. Lacey

    Just before our divorce, my ex bought a 3rd vehicle without telling me. In the past, we’ve had issues with him buying vehicles without my knowledge (Like a $50K BMW). We didn’t have parking for the 3rd vehicle so my car ended up in storage 20 miles away at $134/month. All 3 cars were paid for, no loans. However, I take the bus to school and he works from home. There’s no need for us to have 2, let alone, 3 cars. Needless to say, that last vehicle purchase was my breaking point.

    Reply
  11. Darnell Jackson

    Good practical tips Alex,

    I had to go through this for a few months due to my car accident a few years back. It was my fault I was driving FAST long story I’m blessed anyway I ended up without my car for the whole summer so I know how it its, trust me.

    Reply
  12. Alex

    It’s funny how being without the car can be the happy ending to that story, but I’ve seen it happen to others as well. Sometimes there is a silver lining to an otherwise unhappy cloud.

    Reply
  13. Jenny @ Frugal Guru Guide

    My husband lived a mile from his work, and we were thinking about giving up his car…until he got laid off! Then we were very grateful to still have that car.

    Of course, your work seems a lot more stable than his was!

    Reply
    1. Alex

      Indeed. Sometimes choices taken for all the right reasons end up being wrong ones. I think that even if I switch jobs I won’t mind my choice much. My car was older, and would need to be replaced in a year or two anyways, so if I do end up switching jobs and needing a car, it won’t be that far from my original plan. I’ll just save the costs of 2 years ownership on an older car!

      Reply
  14. Alan@escapingmydebt

    We only had one car until 4 1/2 years ago when I took a new job in completely the opposite way. My wife could possibly get to work by a bus, metro and shuttle, but it can take any where from an extra 30 to 60 minutes for her. Her normal commute is about 35-45 minutes. We have started to try and carpool with some co-workers to help cut back on some of the costs which hopefully will help.

    Reply
    1. Alex

      Carpooling, where available, is always a great choice. If everyone chips in, all people in the carpool get a cheaper ride than any of them would individually!

      Reply
  15. Kim@Eyesonthedollar

    A certain downside to living in a rural area is no public transportation. I would love to not have to drive, but as long as we live here, it’s a reality. It is cheap to live where we do, so even with two cars, it’s less than living in the city with one.

    Reply
    1. Alex

      I completely understand that logic. Sometimes it’s cheaper and more logical to have both cars. However, it should always be a choice and never be a habit. I could have likely switched to transit years ago, but I didn’t because I was in the driving habit. That habit probably cost me more than smoking would have!

      Reply

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