How we save $7,200+ a year: our one vehicle story

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By Ed

Coming to a road near you.

November is here and last night, anticipating worsening weather, I put my snow-tires on.  Hurricane Sandy fallout notwithstanding, there is most definitely colder, snowier weather on the way.  Here are the steps I used on my snow-tires:
  • cleaned the welts
  • Applied polish and waterproofing
  • Left to dry overnight

Let me explain my gibberish; my snow-tires are my Blundstone boots.  We have one car and I walk virtually everywhere I go during the work week.  I have had many people tell me they envy the simplicity of this and it likely is one of our single biggest money savers.  It isn't as simple and carefree as some may assume - like everything worth doing, it takes effort, time and a bit of foresight to plan.  But when properly executed, the one car household saves you money, time and more than a little bit of car-stress.

We estimate that getting rid of our second vehicle saves us at least $600 every month.  That's  $7,200 every year.  

Here's how we have done it:

First off, we didn't always have one car.  Both of us worked in a different town than we actually lived in and drove 30 minutes +/- of commute twice every day.  We experimented with carpooling together for a while and after jigging our work schedules a bit, found that to be OK.

Then I started to work somewhere not-so-close to Robin's work and we were back to two cars again.

Our first serious thinking around a one-car household happened when our daughter was born.  Robin was off work on mat-leave and I alternated carpool driving with another like-minded co-worker who lived nearby.  Robin still had a vehicle all the time, if needed, but we saved a lot of gas/wear and tear by only driving one car about half the time. This looked like it had potential.  Robin returned to work and with childcare juggling, two cars seemed necessary again.

Scraping off one vehicle sucks 50% less.

When our son was born, it was real decision time.  You see one of our vehicles was a pickup truck with tiny jump seats in the back of the extended cab.  Since it had no airbags, our daughter's car seat had been OK in the front and one of us would fold ourselves into the back.  With two kids, this truck was obsolete.  We sold it, and with Robin on maternity leave again, we did our alternating day carpool thing so she had a vehicle every other day (when I wasn't the driver).

Our last step to commitment was when she had to go back to work.  We chose not to buy another vehicle and instead organized our lives so that we could continue with only one car.  It also corresponded with what we called "the most expensive year of our lives":
  • a major home renovation
  • our (paid-for) car totalled by a snowplow (and having to be replaced) 
  • as well as Robin being off work (and on a greatly reduced mat-leave income).  
 Another car payment seemed like it might be the proverbial straw on our overladen back.

Here is what we did to make all this work:

  • I transferred to a job close to home (so close I can walk - you may recall that is how I started this post... I think.  I'm not sure myself, as I have been blah-blah-blahing for so long).
  • We found childcare that was walking distance from our house, so that I could drop off/pick up kids on the days that Robin had to work (her day starts earlier and in a different town).
  • We rigorously planned  any car-related activities where our needs for a car might overlap, for example: me going to a conference, Robin going to a conference, coaching, Fantasy football drafts, etc).
  • We invested in good, all-season walking shoes, a (second hand) combo "Burley" Bike Trailer/2 kid jog-stroller and committed part of our "CAR" budget line to possibly having to rent a vehicle once and a while or take a taxi.

Having just one vehicle requires some small investments 

While some of that sounds like a lot of money, my awesome boots cost only what a couple oil changes would run and the Burley - while expensive - was waaaay less than a one month car payment and we used it for 5 years.  Having to support only one car also frees up lots of money for paying car-poolies, being the "Coffee guy/gal" or whatever other goodwill gestures you need to make carpooling fun and guilt-free.  Remember, we are frugal, not freeloaders.

Our two cars.  The boots rarely win at Monster Truck car-crushing.  The van doesn't either, really.

Changing Jobs?  Isn't that a bit extreme? 

Changing jobs is likely the biggest freak out for most people, but if you could find a job that would pay you $5000+ more a year, you would likely go hunting, wouldn't you?   Consumer Reports has a great article on the total cost of car ownership and the cheapest cars still cost you at least that much.  Drive a more expensive or larger vehicle and the annual cost to own enters the $15-20,000 range!  The CAA says the average ranges between $6 000 and 9,000 a year  What kind of job hunt would you put on for nearly a $10 000 a year raise? 

So, our solution works for us, for now.  Going forward we are going to have to plan kid-clubs/sports etc rigorously to prevent overlap for driving and the teenage years loom like a car-borrowing shadow on the future.  No one said our $10,000/year raise was going to come without any work.

Coming up in Part 2:

If you are curious and want to give this alternative lifestyle a shot, next time I'll discuss some strategies to making the one car household work for you (you can read Part 2 about how to make one vehicle living work for you here).

Any other one car families out there?  Anyone making it work with teenagers? (You are our idols!)


  1. Scraping off one vehicle sucks 50% less.- this comment is awesome!

    I laughed. I'm in Ontario and can relate to this suck factor. As soon as I saw the photo of snow-covered cars, I thought " Arrrgh! I think if dressed well, I'd rather walk than warm up the car."
    I haaaaaate the scraping and starting it to warm up, only to sit upon a stiff, cold car seat and frosty breath crystalizing on the windsheild while the blower spews barely warm air at you.
    We homeschool and the morning drive is a thing of the past- there is nothing I miss about the drive to work.
    Impressive lifestyle change- I would love to live in a walking-friendly town/city.

    1. Your description of getting in the car in winter made my fingers cold and sore (Robin makes fun of me for never remembering my gloves).

      Our town is also not so predestrian-friendly. If there is a slushy day followed by a flash-freeze, the sidewalks become ankle twisting nightmares and the roads typically are clearer. I still wouldn't trade my foot-commute... the white-knuckle-white-out drives home I used to do were no fun.

      Thanks for reading,

  2. My husband and I invested in a Burley Bee and it was THE BEST PURCHASE EVER! It makes it so easy to tote the kids around town and the storage is phenomenal!

    1. We loved ours too! It got a lot of use and was like the end of an era when we passed it on to our nephew.

  3. We're also a one-car family. Three years ago we moved cross-country, had a baby, and I started staying home with him. So why not ditch a car, too? My husband can usually walk to work, but we discuss car needs at the beginning of the week to make sure we can get everything done. Not easy, but worth it for us! We keep saying "this" is the year we'll get another car, but no car payment, licensing, insurance...hard to give up!

    P.S. Our 2 car garage is perfect for 1 car and a stroller.

    1. Yeah, it takes a bit of juggling, but the cost savings make up for it - congratulations on keeping with it.

      And it is amazing how that other garage space can find alternate uses...

    2. Any ideas for a commuting family. I don't work but my husband often isn't able to get home in time for the errands (banks closed ext.) He works an hour and 15minutes away. So bringing him to work isn't an option. I would love a job change but it took him 2 years to find this job. I just gave up my car because it broke and with payments full coverage insurance we can't afford to fix it. In my car search thinking we could buy with our tax return...I stumbled across this and thought hmmmm...any thoughts?

    3. Your situation is, unfortunately, closer to reality for most people.

      I would suggest that your husband try finding a carpool he can alternate driving with (this would leave your car home a day or two a week for errands). If he works in a smaller office and can't find anyone there, websites like erideshare.com or carpool.ca are like social networks for people trying to find/share rides. Craigslist or Kijiji might fly too. I actually have enjoyed all of my carpooling experiences, despite being nervous of/adverse to them beforehand.

      Barring that, renting a car or taking a taxi when you are desperate is still way cheaper than buying a vehicle outright. Hope this helps a bit and good luck.

  4. We've been a one car family for a long time. It was a really difficult decision to make, especially when we were living out of town. But, I rarely used my vehicle, as in NEVER, and it seemed like such a waste of money to have it insured and keep it maintained. We've since moved into town, and I'm loving that I can walk anywhere I need to go. I've really gotten to know the people who run the local market/corner store, and I've met so many wonderful neighbours. I wouldn't go back at all!

    1. Meeting neighbours, local shop owners, regular exercise, there is a whole conversation around the non-monetary benefits of being a one car household to be had - thanks for jump-starting it.


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