Another Opinion on One Car Living

I am on an email list for Mary Hunt, who wrote the Debt Proof Living books and also maintains a website by the same name.  She has often written about her family’s desperate decision to live with only one car for a short period of time, and how that desperate decision has turned into a one-car lifestyle for her family.  In today’s email, she lists five ways to live with just one car.

I, too, have written about being a one-car family. We are currently maintaining two cars, and it seems inevitable that we are going to need two cars after our upcoming PCS move.  As I read through Mary’s list, there is lots to think about and I wonder if we could survive with only one car.

Here are Mary’s thoughts:

  1. Get motivated.  Mary suggests that you add up ALL the costs of having the second car:  the price of the car, insurance, gas, maintenance, keeping it clean, inspections, registrations, etc. I agree, but I think that this is one area where you can absolutely reign in the costs of a second car. 

    For most families, the second car is just transportation for one adult to get back and forth to work.  It doesn’t need to be expensive, or big, or fancy.  In particular, old and inexpensive second cars don’t require as much insurance, which greatly lessens the overall costs of owning that second car.  In addition, if your second car is cheap enough (and depending on how insurance works in your location), the benefits of having a multi-car discount on your car insurance policy might even outweigh the costs of the second car.

  2. Plan ahead.  I actually think that this is one of the benefits of being a one-car family – it requires you to think, and it actually frees up your calendar.  My car has been in the shop for less than one day, and my kids are already adjusting.  “No, I can not drive you to school if you miss the bus.”  “No, we can not run out to buy something for your science project.”  It is a lot easier to control your time if you are constrained by a lack of transportation.  Have you ever spoken with people who work in the DC area, and use the slug line to carpool back and forth?  My friends report that it is a very effective way to ensure that you leave work at a decent hour, as everyone understands that you need to catch the slug line.
  3. Public transportation.  This is so location dependent!  Some places have great public transportation, some don’t.  Some have great public transport if you live near to a bus stop or train station, but there is no decent way to get to the bus stop or train station without a car.
  4. Walk.  I am hugely in favor of walking.  We are quite fortunate that our current home allows us to walk to the library, the post office, and the grocery store.  Living on base or post often means that walking is a viable option for most of your daily activities.
  5. Rent.  This is hard for me to swallow, even when the math works out.  Rental cars for our six-person family are often really expensive, plus the inconvenience of getting back and forth to the rental place.  However, it is absolutely true that occasional renting is less expensive that full-time car ownership.

Like all financial decisions, there is no right answer for every family.  I think the point is that you need to look at all the options before you tie yourself to a second set of car ownership costs.  Sometimes being a one-car family is the best choice, sometimes it isn’t.  As long as it is a thoughtful decision, then do what works for you.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • We are currently stationed in Germany – and since the Army only ships one vehicle OCONUS, we have been adjusting to this VERY issue! Sharing a vehicle with three small children under 5 has been challenging at times!

    My husband gets a ride with a friend, rides his bike in good weather, or even walks 2 miles to post when I need the car. I meal plan each week and go to the commissary on Monday morning.

    Sharing a vehicle isn’t easy – but it does make you realize what a luxury it is to have two!

  • ReadyRedd

    I understand this, but I need my own ride…That would be sheer torture to me…..

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  • Sara G

    We have been a one car family for 7 months now. While some days it is a pain it the rear. I know that it is saving us money. We sold our 2nd car due to a PCS move and knew that we would not buy a 2nd car again for a while. It has take adjustment and communication to make it work but so far it has. I know it will not be possible forever but we are sticking with one car as long as we can.