This Family Made One Lifestyle Change — and It Saves Them $5,000+ a Year

A couple holds hands in a car.
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Of all the crazy things I’ve read about people doing to save money, there was one thing I always admired but never thought my husband and I could pull off. (Apart from making our own laundry detergent, which — let’s be honest — is never gonna happen.)

That thing? Becoming a one-car household.

It just seemed like such a hassle. How would we get stuff done? Wouldn’t we feel restricted? What if we both needed the car at once?

Then my husband lost his job and learned he wouldn’t be able to work again; he has a lifelong condition and is applying for disability.

Suddenly, we had to drastically slash our budget, and whether it would be a hassle or not, we realized that meant getting rid of one of our cars.

How have we fared? Better than you might think…

What We’ve Saved By Becoming a One-Car Household

Moneywise, going down to one car has reaped us all sorts of savings.

When we sold my car, we used the money to pay off the remainder of my husband’s car, which still had a couple years of payments left. (Car payments: $310/month)

Having one less car to cover also cut down our insurance payments. (Insurance: $45/month)

Since my husband is no longer commuting to work, and I work from home as a freelance writer, the only major driving we do anymore is running errands — which we often combine into one quick trip insteading of doing them piecemeal on our drives home from work. (Gas: $100/month)

We no longer have to fill out the annual paperwork for a second car (Registration/Inspections: $75/year), and we haven’t been faced with any major (or minor) repairs since we cut back our driving habits — partly because the low mileage means parts last much longer, and partly because the car is on the road less and therefore has a lower likelihood of getting into an accident, especially during our snowy Buffalo winters. (Repairs/Maintenance: $300 to $500/year)

Add in miscellaneous savings like one less E-ZPass to refill ($25/refill), and that brings our estimated combined yearly savings to between $5,560 and $6,060.

Not too shabby, huh?

How to Become a One-Car Household

A couple pose outside for a protrait.
Writer Kelly Gurnett with her husband. Photo courtesy Kelly Gurnett

Toying with the idea of becoming a one-car household yourself? Here are some tips to make it doable:

1. Change Your Working Arrangements.

If one of you can work from home, it radically reduces your need for a second car. If you’re not one for self-employment, you could look for a traditional job that gives you the option to telecommute.

If you can’t work from home, consider alternating work schedules with your partner or finding a job that’s closer to home so you can get to it by foot, bike or bus.

2. Coordinate and Plan Ahead

When you’re sharing one vehicle, you need to make sure your whole family is on the same page with their personal schedules, especially if you have kids involved in lots of extracurricular activities.

Set up a family calendar in a central location and make sure everyone keeps it updated. Or, to really keep everyone in sync, create a shared Google Calendar everyone can access from their smartphones.

Emphasize the importance of giving as much advance scheduling notice as possible. If someone has a conflict (your daughter needs to get to soccer practice while your son has a dentist appointment), one of you will have to reschedule or find alternate arrangements to get there and back.

It’s a good idea to schedule a time each week (like Sunday evening) when everyone can sit down together and go over the coming week’s schedule.

3. Carpool

Join other parents in a neighborhood carpool where people take turns driving everyone’s kids to school and back. Offer to give a nearby coworker gas money if she’ll swing by and pick you up on her commute. Ask your friend if you can tag along when he goes grocery shopping, and offer to buy him a thank-you lunch.

4. Use Public Transportation (and Your Own Two Legs)

Most cities and towns have some sort of public transportation. If you live in a bigger, more walkable city like New York or Boston, you may find you can even become a zero-car household.

On the rare occasion you really do need your own set of wheels, you can always rent a shared car for the day through a service like Zipcar or Relay Rides.

And don’t forget your own private mode of transportation: your legs (and a bike, if you have one).

If you’re a suburbanite, you may be all too used to hopping in your car to grab something from the corner store just a few blocks away. Getting there under your own power helps out both your budget and your health.

Sharing a car isn’t always super-convenient, but it’s not impossible. You just may find you can make it work for you — and that the savings are more than worth it.

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.