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Testimony of a One Car Couple

Written by Matt Jabs - 65 Comments

Up until a few months ago, if someone would have asked my wife or me to get rid of one of our cars, we would’ve just snickered and responded, “Impossible!” But then it happened… I wrecked my car.

A bit of background

From the time we met in 2003 up until seven months ago, my wife and I had always viewed two cars as a necessity. Then on Thursday, December 19th, 2008 I rear-ended a pickup truck at a busy intersection and wrecked my 2001 Jeep Cherokee.

At the time, my Jeep was worth about $5,000 and the initial quote to repair the damage was upwards of $9,000! In other words, it was totaled. I called a mechanic friend up and asked if he could come by and give it a once over to see if anyone he knew could do the body work for a reasonable amount of money. He obliged.

As it turns out, he did have a business associate who, despite being a wee bit unreliable, would be able to do the work for around $3,000 parts and labor. I jumped at the chance.

As the weeks rolled by and my Jeep was still “being fixed,” I grew increasingly impatient and my wife was far from happy. After all, she was the one responsible for carting me around until my Jeep was back in working condition.

The weeks turned into months, and now here we are in the middle of the summer and I still don’t have my Jeep back! We’ve certainly learned an important lesson about “getting a good deal,” but that’s a topic for another post.

Today I want to focus on how we successfully adapted to becoming a one car family. without killing each other, or hating the end result.

Changes we’ve made

My wife and I work in different towns, so she started dropping me off at a bus stop on her way to work. From there, I was able to catch a bus straight to my workplace. The stop was right off an expressway exit for her, so it took little more than five extra minutes each morning.

To save money, I purchased bus passes in 10 ride increments and wound up paying $1/ride. After work, I would catch a bus back to the dropoff/pickup spot and wait for my wife to arrive on her way home. We coordinated the pick up times via phone, and it worked out quite well.

Once summer came, and my wife began her three month vacation, things changed a little. Some days (fewer than I would like) I ride my bike about 10 miles to and from work. On days that I don’t ride, my wife gets up with me and drives me in.

I don’t want to spend too much more time talking about how we get around with just one car, so I’ll just say this: We do our best to coordinate our schedules, and we go out of our way to accommodate each other. A side benefit is that we get to spend more time together.

Tips for making it work

  • Increase organization. Creating (and using!) a “Family Calendar” has gone from being a bit of an inside joke in our marriage to being a necessity. Before we commit to anything, we check the family calendar for availability and vehicle options.
  • Embrace the bike. Unless you own a pair of shorts with a pad in the crotch, you probably don’t ride your bike as much as could/should. We didn’t either. If you want to increase your bike usage, get in better shape, ditch your gym membership, or all of the above… Simply get rid of one of your vehicles.
  • Ride the bus/train. Using public transportation in small town USA might make you feel like a bit of a pariah, but… I got past that, embraced my options, and used them to improve my situation. I found that counting myself among all other people, regardless of income or status, was healthy on many different levels.
  • Carpool whenever possible. Share rides with friends or neighbors when you can. Just be careful not to take advantage of them. It’s always a good idea to offer some sort of payment if you can’t fully reciprocate, and always work to fit your life around their schedule.
  • Stay home more. Enjoy time with your family, complete projects around the house, read more, make/eat homemade meals, grow a garden, talk to your spouse more, and/or spend time with your kids. All of these things will have a positive impact on your life.
  • Simplify your life. Getting rid of a vehicle may seem like it complicates things, but we found that it actually made our lives far simpler. The whole process forced us to “trim the fat,” so to speak. We’ve learned better communication and organization and, now that we’re seven months into it, we’ve come to enjoy the increased levels of simplicity and contentment.

Making it permanent?

What really surprised me was that my wife asked me the other night if we should just sell my Jeep when we get it back. That’s actually what inspired me to write this post. If you knew my wife, you’d be surprised, too. She’s taken this all in stride, but was pretty annoyed with the whole situation at first.

Over time, however, the idea of having just one care has grown on her. When you add up all the associated costs, getting rid of the Jeep altogether would save us around $350/month. That’s money that we could be using for getting out of debt instead of tooling around town.

So no… We still don’t have the Jeep back, and we’re now seven months into the repair process. I’ve begun calling the bodyshop guy every day to ask for status updates, and things have started moving faster. We’re still not sure if we’ll sell the Jeep when we get it back, but we sure are leaning that way.

We just don’t seem to need it anymore!

What do you think?

If your hand was forced, as in our situation, could you and your wife/family get get by with one less vehicle? How much trouble would it cause? How much money would it save?

What if you weren’t forced? Would you ever consider getting rid of an extra vehicle voluntarily?

Or perhaps you’ve already done it… If so, please weigh in.

Published on July 16th, 2009 - 65 Comments
Filed under: Automotive,Frugality

About the author: is a thirty-something IT manager and blogger who wants to help himself and others get out of debt. He writes about personal finance and debt-free living at Debt Free Adventure.

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Comments (scroll down to add your own):

  1. @Homme: I actually have a motorcycle, but it has given me trouble ever since I bought it. I originally purchased it with the idea to save money on gas, but it was a used bike (83 Honda V45 Magna) and it has been a bit of a money pit so I just stopped driving it & am going to sell it.

    That said, I do think this can be a good idea if implemented correctly… another idea is to get a scotter!

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 23rd 2009 @ 8:05 am
  2. My husband and I have been a one car couple for 8 months now, and haven’t missed that second car once!! We live and both work in downtown Baltimore, his commute is 0.7 miles and mine is 1.5 – very walkable. We found that the second car was becoming more of a liability than it was useful, since it was just sitting parked on the street a lot of the time begging to get hit (and once was, right before we sold it).

    Hubby and I both grew up in rural areas with no public transportation and no sidewalks for biking, so our families were highly skeptical that we would make it long with only one car. A little extra coordination (and his willingness to drive me to the airport at o’dark-30 for early work flights) has worked well, and we hope to remain a one car family for at least the next 3 years, allowing us to pay for the next car in cash!

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 23rd 2009 @ 3:10 pm
  3. Stacey’s last line is one of the most important points around car ownership, regardless of the number you own: “pay for the … car in cash”. I have always paid cash for cars. If I can’t put together enough to buy the car I want, then I’m wanting something I can’t afford. Pay cash and it can’t be taken away from you when, arguably, you need it most – hunting for a job, or reliably getting to a job farther than you can walk/bike/bus.

    Making payments on a “car mortgage” is really questionable. But leasing is simply insane – a big payment up front, monthly payments for years, and in the end you own nothing. It drives me nuts to see the statement “Leasing allows you to drive a car you couldn’t otherwise afford.” No, leasing burdens you with a car you can’t afford – period.

    The judgment of whether you can afford something is always a bit subjective. Our culture is so car-centric that it seems a given that there must be (at least) one car per licensed driver in the household.

    The car purchase is especially driven by emotion and satisfying the underlying “fact” that you must have a car to go anywhere, never looking at true cost. The purchase and resultant cost of ownership is always seen as a one-time thing, a stroke to your ego, disconnected from the cost of each mile we drive.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 23rd 2009 @ 4:13 pm
  4. There is much wisdom in what Gary-#53 has said. Leasing & financing vehicles will not be found in my financial plan either.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 23rd 2009 @ 5:27 pm
  5. I was without a car for about 4-5 months after my car died and before I got my new one. We made it work because we had to, but by the end of it, we were both pretty cranky about it. It was a pain to constantly schedule who is going where when and on which days to do what so that everything got done. Even so we often ran into things where there was just no way to make it work.

    Most of all, I felt trapped by it. I love to walk and I don’t mind a bike ride, and I’m no stranger to the bus, but I was trapped. There are places I could get to without a car, but I couldn’t get to any of the places that mattered to me. Every visit to my mum’s or my best friend’s had to be carefully choreographed. If I wanted to go to X, he had to give up Y. It would be great to save the money, but having tried it, I just consider it the price of freedom.

    Comment by Anonymous — Aug 7th 2009 @ 7:02 pm
  6. I got my Jeep back… I got my Jeep back! *picture me singing this song and doing the happy dance*

    See details of the drawn out experience in “How to Deal With a Bad Deal“. To see how it turned out in the end, read comment 17 of that post.

    Comment by Anonymous — Aug 29th 2009 @ 11:42 am
  7. I found this post googling ‘one car family’ – looking for other peoples experiences… and it has been a very interesting read! I live in large (by Australian terms!) Australian City – half a million people, but with pretty poor public transport infrastructure. There was little planning for it in the boom days of the 80’s (1980’s!) so we are left with sprawling suburbia that is fairly disconnected to the high density urban coastal strip. We decided to go the high mortgage/small backyard option and live in the city area. Initially we had 2 cars but for the last 5 yes I have been a stay home mum so the 2nd car spent most of it’s time in the garage. I finally convinced hubby to sell his old suby wrx – a hangover from our dink days… His was VERY skeptical to say the least and we had a few heated arguments. The worst part being his mates who would make comments about him losing his manliness!! Anyway it’s been 3 mths now and it’s running smoothly!! I also get that ‘car pity’ feeling seeing drivers stuck in traffic jams while I ride my kids to school on the bikes. Can I also say you should factor in depreciation costs when lookin at monthly spends if you paid cash- I lost AU $30000 in 5 years on my Mazda tribute- but it could be worse!

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 3rd 2009 @ 4:23 pm
  8. I am a mother of 3. A 15, and 3 year old and a 2 month old. My husband is a truck driver and has decided for me, that I don’t need a car. I live in a rural area. I think he doesn’t want me or the kids out of the house. It depresses me, actually. If I need to go to the store, I usually have to wait until the middle of the night when he comes home-or he also gives me the option of dropping him off at work, which is always at an odd time-like midnight or 3 A.M. I’m sorry, but that’s awful to do to your kids! My kids rarely get out anymore and my 15 year old cannot go to school functions that regular kids go to. He is too nice to ask someone to take him home, and I don’t blame him. It’s not polite to ask someone else to cart around my family. Emergencies do happen, yes I know there’s an ambulance, as my husband has told me, but do you really need to call an ambulance when you run out of toilet paper-or you spilled your last can of baby formula?!?

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 22nd 2009 @ 1:38 pm
  9. Jen, it sounds like your husband is “a bit” on the controlling side.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 22nd 2009 @ 1:45 pm
  10. That’s not frugality, that’s abuse…

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 22nd 2009 @ 3:12 pm
  11. My husband and I have been a one car family for our entire 13 year relationship. It has worked for us because my husband works nights and I work days. It isn’t always easy as Jen has said. There are sometimes family emergencies that an ambulance can’t help. There are also the times when he works overtime or goes out for guy nights when I would like to go somewhere with kids. We often talk about getting another car, but it comes down to not wanting another bill to pay, plus gas.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jan 4th 2011 @ 8:36 pm
  12. You must live in the east where the cities are closer together. My wife and I also work in two different cities….they are 65 miles apart and there are no cities between them. With mountain terrain, that’s a bit far to ride my bike. We have 3 cars. A new one for my wife so she doesn’t have to worry about break downs. Two older one’s for me, a full size SUV for the frequent heavy snow days and car pooling the kids to their sporting events. The other for the normal comute. That gives me a backup in case one breaks down. However only one tv (and no video games) and I wouldn’t swear that it works. Upkeep and insurance are cheap. Substantially cheaper than the increase in taxes and bus fair that I would suffer if public transportation was to come to our area.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jan 4th 2011 @ 9:51 pm
  13. My boyfriend and I did exactly the same thing and I now get the bus to and from the office. One unseen advantage of this arrangement has been a weight loss of over a stone and nice toned legs!

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 16th 2012 @ 8:59 pm
  14. My husband wants to convert to being a one car family to save money. For families that are doing this, do you recommend doing it?

    I’m concerned about the lack of independence and being stuck at home all day with no option to go anywhere. Also, if my baby needs to get to the hospital immediately, what would I do?! We have no family or friends living near us and my husband works over an hour away. Did anyone else have these concerns? How did you deal with it?

    Comment by Anonymous — Apr 18th 2013 @ 8:03 pm
  15. It is expensive to park at our apartment complex ($250 per space) and we were very sick of blowing so much money on gas and sitting in traffic jams. A year ago, we came up with the idea of sharing a car and leaving it at my husband’s office. I bike to work (6 miles) and my husband enjoys a relaxing trip on the bus listening to his daily Wall Street Journal and audio books. He responds to emails on his phone and brainstorms for work projects on the hour long trip instead of wasting his commute time. He has the car at work to drive clients around and he can always drive it home if we want to go on a trip. Our insurance costs less because we aren’t driving it very often. If the weather is really bad or I need to run errands like grocery shopping, I can easily grab a Car2Go smart car (a great car sharing program offered in some cities.) We’ve learned that it’s really not that hard to get along without two cars (or even one car) if you live in a town with reliable public transportation and a safe biking infrastructure. Change your habits a little and watch the savings pour in. Obviously this would be more difficult in a rural area or if you have young kids that are involved in lots of activities, but it works great for us. And no more elliptical machine!

    Comment by Anonymous — Feb 5th 2014 @ 5:26 pm

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