Downsizing to one car to become a one-car family is not always a popular idea. Let me show you how we've done it for two years, and why you might want to try it.

Have you ever thought about downsizing your car to become a one-car family?

two parent and one child family in car, text overlay "our experiencing downsizing to a one car family for 2 years"

We've actually been a one-car family for a little over a year now, though not by choice (at least not in the beginning).

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, our one vehicle was parked in the bottom of the parking garage at Hobby Airport – we were on a scheduled trip in Michigan. And while our house did not flood, the airport did (anyone who watched the news can attest to that!).

Crazy enough, just three weeks later, we were caught in a flash flood and lost our second car.

Pssst: You can read all about our flooded car insurance claims here. 

And then there were the two times that we dabbled in being a one-car family as one beater car died and we wanted some extra time to buy our new one.

But before that hurricane hit, we had never really, truly thought about becoming a one-car family.

I’m going to share with you our own experience of being a one-car family for two years, the pros and cons of one car family households, and how to live as a one car family with kids.

How We Became a One-Car Family

As mentioned above, we didn’t become a single car family by choice. Hurricane Harvey + getting caught in a flash flood claimed both of our cars.

Both of our cars had been paid off, and we carried comprehensive auto insurance on each – thank goodness! Because liability only insurance does not cover flooded cars (nor does flood insurance).

Here’s the breakdown of what we received for our vehicles:

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer

  • Vehicle Value – $3,605.00
  • Taxes – $225.31
  • Title Fees – $115.25
  • Deductible – $500.00
  • Settlement Payout – $3,445.56

For our 2007 Mustang, we received $5,800.

We decided that even though beater cars have been great for me to drive, we would put that money together from both claims and focus on buying an upgraded used car (upgraded from the beaters I normally drive).

Psst: you'll definitely want to check out my breakdown of should I buy a new or used car?

So, we purchased a 2009 Ford Focus with just 66,000 miles on it, using the money from both of our insurance payouts.

It’s been a blessing!

But, that didn’t leave us with anything left to purchase a second vehicle. True, with my beater car money strategy, we have money set aside to purchase another vehicle – outside of our emergency savings.

However, it’s kind of hard to part with a large chunk of cash at once, especially when it wasn’t a planned expense. Not only that, but since hundreds of thousands of people in Houston lost their cars in the hurricane, it was really difficult to source even one car at a decent price, let alone two.

So, we just decided to keep carpooling.

Let me show you how we juggle the one car.

One Car Family with Kids – Do We Need 2 Cars?

Going from two cars to one was a bit of an adjustment. But you know what? It wasn't as bad as we thought it would be.

In fact, it seems to be a slight trend here in the U.S.

First off – you should know a few things about our family’s makeup.

  • We have one toddler.
  • I work from home.

Paul, my husband, was able to switch his schedule to go into work a little later than he was, which coincides with our toddler’s sleeping schedule perfectly.

On a typical weekday morning, our little guy wakes us up between 5:30-7:00 a.m. Paul gets him up, feeds him, he uses the potty, they play, etc.

We all get dressed, pack Paul’s lunch, and then at 7:20 we are out of the house. It takes about 35 minutes for me to drop Paul off to his work (because of traffic – luckily, we don’t have to use the highways though!). After I do so, I then take Conner one of several places depending on the day of the week.

  • it could to his grandparents’ house, where he goes for 3.5 hours twice a week while I work
  • it could be to story time at our local Barnes & Noble
  • it could be to the JCC, where we have a membership (they offer 90 minutes of kid-care while I work in their café)

Then I pick the little one up, and we go home. Generally, unless I take him to a kid event somewhere, we stay home until 5:00, when we leave to go pick Paul up.

We’re all home, and making dinner/feeding the little guy, playing, and doing family story time by 6:00 p.m.

Does it Make Sense to Own Two Cars?

Since this has been working relatively smoothly for us for the last year, I’ve found myself asking does it make sense to own two cars.

I mean, why have 2 cars at all?

Granted, we’re blessed in that we can afford to have me work from home on my own business. And we’re also blessed that Paul’s employer allowed him to alter his schedule by an hour to accommodate us.

So, I know this isn’t an option for everyone.

But for us, it’s been a Godsend.

Here are the things we particularly like about it:

  • We Get More Daddy/Husband Time: Paul works in the medical district, so when he was driving himself, he had to park in a parking lot off-campus and wait to catch a bus in. Which meant it took him a lot longer to go to work and go home – a whole lost hour per day. Not only that, but since it takes us 1.5 hours of commuting time for both the morning and evening to get him, we’re getting about 2 hours of extra Daddy/Husband time per day. Yay!
  • It Gets Our Day Started: Since I’m already out the door by 7:20 a.m., it makes it easy/no-brainer to go to some fun baby/toddler activities, and to get my own workday started with the hybrid childcare we’ve got set up. If I didn’t have to get out of the house by a certain time, then I probably would take longer to get things moving.
  • We’re Working Together as a Team: It takes a full-on team effort to get out of the house by 7:20 a.m. each morning with a toddler – if Paul got to get up and go, then more of the work would land on my own shoulders. We need to pack Paul’s lunch, pack me a breakfast, and pack our little guy up for wherever he’s going (usually entails an extra set of clothes in case of accidents, a few toys, and something to snack on). We’ve really got #teamfamily down in the mornings! On top of all that, I usually get the dishwasher unloaded and reloaded with any dishes from the previous night and clean off the countertops. It’s so nice to come home to a clean kitchen.
  • It Gives One Person a Break from Driving: Paul's commute had been atrocious since he took a new job in March 2014. Not only that, but four days a week he also commutes after work to his college, then home…and all three are in different areas of Houston. One of the things he requests — and I gladly oblige — is for me to drive to all places that we go together. As I drive, he remarks about how nice it is that he can relax, look out the window, and see things he doesn't get to see while driving. Of course occasionally he likes to nap as well!

How to Live as a One-Car Family (How to Be a One Car Family)

Next, I want to touch on how to live as a one-car family. Because, well, it’s not always easy.

Yes, I painted a really rosy picture above. But to be honest? Sometimes people are grumpy in the mornings. Sometimes we bicker over what to listen to on the radio (even the little guy likes to pipe in about this!). We’re both introverts, so sometimes Paul misses his commute time to just himself as a quiet time rarely afforded with a toddler in the house. And sometimes, I get tired of the commute.

Here are some tips we’ve learned for the logistics and emotions of actually how to be a one car family:

  • Switch Driving on the Weekends: Paul likes to drive, too, but with the way the drop-off works in the medical center, it just makes sense for me to drive. So, on the weekends, he basically drives us everywhere – he drops me off to a coffee shop on Saturdays so I can work, he drives us to church on Sundays, and if we happen to go anywhere else, he’ll drive us there, too. This means a lot to him!
  • Embrace Silence: Sometimes it is SO nice to just sit in silence, together, while commuting. It gives us all the time to quiet our minds. Does it always work with a toddler? No. But you’d be surprised how often he imitates our silence, especially if we have the radio off. Speaking of the radio…
  • Share Radio Time: Don’t let someone hog the radio! It sounds so petty, but it’s just courteous when you have one car to really share each part of it. Personal autonomy (or at least feeling like you have autonomy) is really important!
  • Give Daddy Some Decompression Time: Since we’re now dropping Paul off and picking him up, he virtually gets no time to himself. Whereas before he commuted by himself to work and back, now he doesn’t get that. Granted, I don’t get that much time to myself, either. But he gets like 0%! Because of this, we’ve learned that sometimes he just needs to take a shower when getting home to get a few minutes to himself to decompress.

On top of that, if you live in a place with good public transportation? Then the decision should be easier.

My husband Paul and I have both lived in different countries with awesome public transportation systems, and we have one thing in common (well, there is more than one thing): if we had something similar here in Houston, we would opt to go car-free.

Pros and Cons of One Car Family

Above was based very much on our own experience. So, I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about more general pros and cons that, combined with our personal ones, you’re likely to go through if you decide to go from a two-car family to a one-car family.

Pros of a one-car family:

  • Cost Savings: We are saving approximately $1,920 per year from not having to pay insurance and gas on a second vehicle. YES! This doesn’t include the time, hassle, and money saved on not having to register, inspect, and get oil changes for a second vehicle (though, of course we’re getting oil changes more often with just one vehicle – still, we’ve cut out several oil changes/year).
  • More Exercise: I choose to drop Paul off to work each day so that I can have a vehicle. But if you don’t want to do that, and you stay at home, then you will need some entertainment options to still get you out of the house. And since you won’t have a vehicle to get there – walking it is (unless you’ve got good transportation options)! We have a library, YMCA, JCC, grocery store, community pool, bayou, CVS, and church all within walking and biking distances from our house. What’s in your neighborhood?
  • Carpooling Means More Time Spent Together: If you drive to work with your spouse/partner each day, that means you’ll actually get more time with them than if you each had separate vehicles. Time together is precious! For us, we’ve listened to audiobooks together, you can catch us belting out some songs with our toddler, and we’ve played a few fun games together as well.
  • Carpooling Means Less Time with a Toddler: Are you a stay at home or work at home mother? To be honest, it just makes my day easier to be able to buckle my toddler into the car, turn on some music, and let us both be entertained by the sights. If I had to account for another two hours in my day at home? Well, I might go a little batty.
  • You Don’t Have to Shop Around: Picking out a new used car takes a lot of time and energy – it took us several weeks to pick out this one. I have been known to spend hours just trying to figure out which cat food to buy. Think about how long the process could be for a car!
  • Fewer Emissions: I used to work as an Air Quality Environmental Investigator, so this one is near to my heart. If every household went down to one vehicle (or to no vehicles), think about the emissions saved and its impact on Houston’s (or your city's) brown haze in the summertime (and yes, even though I drop Paul off to work and pick him up, we’re still using less gas than we did a year ago so we’re still emitting fewer emissions).

Cons of being a One-Car Family

  • Scheduling Conflicts: You and your husband/partner likely have two different schedules. And unless you can get an employer to say yes to schedule changes, you might come up with some issues. I’m amazed that so far, even on the weekends, Paul and I have worked seamlessly through any borrow-the-car challenges. But, it could happen!
  • Losing Some Me-Time: Some people enjoy their commutes, because it’s time to decompress from the workday before you head home and step into your Mommy/Daddy role. So, yes, you would lose this by carpooling with your spouse.
  • Carpooling Could Equal a Longer Commute: If you decide to carpool with one another and one spouse doesn’t work away from the home, then they would still be stuck in a commute. Or carpooling together could equal a longer route for both of you to make it work.
  • Travel by Car Could be Limited: Since I work for myself, whenever we travel in or out of state, Paul stays for as long as he can, and then I usually stay longer with our little guy. Our Aunt and Uncle moved in our state this past year (yay!), but unfortunately, I cannot stay longer with them because they live four hours away from us and we only have one car. Also, if I wanted to go on a road trip to a conference in another nearby state, I would have to rent a vehicle in order to do so.

I hope I’ve laid out some of the key pros and cons, as well as lots of nuggets from our own experience, that will help you with your decision on whether or not to become a one-car family.

As you can see from above, this decision mainly rests upon work schedules. The independence/freedom factor is there as well, but the feeling of not being free or independent to do what we wish when we wish to because of not having a car is not very strong for either of us.

Do you have a one car, two car, or no car household? Do you have a car loan you are dying to get rid of by paring down to a one-car family? What is holding you back from downsizing to one car?

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.
31 replies
  1. Gary Grewal says:

    This is such a great article. I have a passion for cars, and used to flip them every year to make more than I paid for them (how I found willing buyers I have no idea!) yet a few times I had no car for 2-3 months at a time. It worked because I worked a half mile away, used a bike, had good public transit, and now work from home! Having one car per person just doesn’t make much sense, and not having a car is quite liberating!

    Reply
    • Amanda L Grossman says:

      Thanks so much for telling me how much you enjoyed the article! Being a one car family is definitely easier when you work very close to home (my first job out of college was just a few blocks from where I rented an apartment). How cool that you flip cars – I’d love to hear more!

      Reply
  2. Sarah Packer says:

    My husband and I want to buy another car, but we don’t know if we need it! I didn’t think about switching drivers every weekend, so both parents feel included. I’ll have to keep that in mind and look for insurance that might make getting another car worth it!

    Reply
  3. Mike says:

    We are a married couple with one child. We moved to a house that is on a bus route to my wife’s very stable job, and sold our second old car to become a one car family. I purchased an electric bike, and fitted it out with panniers, rack on frame bag. My job is flexible, so I bike with my son to school, bike to work, and fill my grocery bag panniers with food every other day. Last year our one car had 6.000 miles on it, which included a car trip to death valley from Los Angeles.The electric bike flattens out hills, and makes carrying anything easy. We are using the extra money to pay down the mortgage 🙂

    Reply
    • Amanda L Grossman says:

      That is AWESOME, Mike! I love how you guys figured things out by actively planning around the fact that you wanted to be a one car household.

      Reply
  4. GreenDollarBills says:

    This has been a debate in our family for the last couple of months. We’ve got two cars that are 16 and 11 years old respectively. They’re both starting to cause us no end of repair problems. I’m really considering trading both in for a newer used car. Probably makes more financial sense.

    Reply
  5. Bill in Houston says:

    Amanda,

    Is your web site’s calendar off? All of your responses are from 2011, yet you mention Hurricane Harvey (in 2017).

    We considered a single car after we were flooded out after Harvey (we were flooded by the dam releases and lost both cars). My wife was working from home, and we were staying with my folks. It would have worked for us, but my son just started kindergarten at a private school. I worked in the opposite direction. My wife would have spent over two hours a day dropping us off and picking us up.

    The point is moot today because my wife was recalled to her office, which is in the opposite direction of mine. Still, it would have been nice to get by with one car. My parents did it back in the 60s.

    Reply
    • Amanda L Grossman says:

      Hi Bill!

      I somehow missed your comment — sorry about that.

      No – the calendar is good; I’m going back and editing/revamping some of my old content to update it and use it again!

      Ack! I’m SO sorry to hear you guys also lost both of your cars! I hope your wife’s job is going well.

      Reply
  6. Crystal says:

    If I lived in a city with reliable, safe public transportation, then yes, I’d give up my car pretty frickin’ fast. While we lived in the Netherlands and then Argentina as a teenager and young adult, I loved using the bus systems in both places since I didn’t need a car to get around. Clean enough, friendly enough, and reliable enough is all I need. But Houston is just not a public transpo haven. I live in a northern suburb and the closest bus route starts miles away…

    Reply
  7. Laura says:

    I agree. While living in Europe I always used public transportation (or in the summer months, to save even more, biked everywhere). My recent move to New England has returned me to the public transportation route and I love to read books and magazines on the train (when it’s not super packed). The difficulty is that I could drive for 20 minutes and cover the same distance I do in 70 minutes (or more due to delays or connections) of public transportation. In the winter, especially, waiting in the cold is NOT fun (especially this past winter!).

    In southern California, though, there is no good public transportation system, so a car is necessary. Still, I found comfort in audiobooks borrowed from the library. So, even though I could not enjoy the scenery, I was still “reading” and the images the book put in my mind helped me stay calm in the five-lane parking lot that is the LA commute. The commute was also a time I would call my East Coast friends (with a hands-free device of course) and catch up with them while I could do nothing else.

    Reply
    • Amanda says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience! Like you and Crystal, I’m now in a place (Houston) where the public transportation is not great at all (and in some areas non-existent).

      I love your suggestion of audiobooks–I need to get my husband some from the library since he commutes hours each day!

      Reply
  8. Emily @ evolvingPF says:

    I’m a big fan of public transportation from a sustainability perspective. I used to live car-free and enjoyed it immensely. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily a cost saver. It really depends on the city and where you live, work, and play within it. I recently lived in the DC suburbs for 3 months and commuted by car and Metro and it was VERY costly. The Metro component was probably more expensive (maybe by twice?) than running and maintaining my older, inexpensive car. If I had lived closer to work, of course, the costs wouldn’t have been as high.

    Reply
    • Amanda says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Emily!

      Reply
  9. Thankfully Thrifty says:

    We did consider this and were about to do it. Then my hubby’s work schedule picked up, and the bus (which he’s use occasionally) wouldn’t be available as early or late as he needed it.
    It’s not doable for us at the moment, but if it is for you, I’m all for it!!
    We don’t have a truck, though we have done a lot of home improvements. Maybe you could borrow? That’s what we’ve done.

    Reply
  10. Lisa says:

    I’m from the Philippines and I don’t have a car. I only ride a jeepney anywhere i go like going to work, church or malls.

    Reply
  11. Spruce Up Your Finances says:

    My wife and I share only one car and we are managing just fine. We were able to do this when we move closer to where I work. We’ve been saving a lot of money in gas and maintenance and we’ve been able to prolong the life of the car.

    Reply
  12. Super Frugalette says:

    We just upgraded to two cars. There were occasions that I found it annoying to have just one car, but not impossible. The consequence of having one car is that you are more frugal. You aren’t out shopping, so you are not tempted to buy additional things. You have less opportunity to go do “things” so you tend to save money that way.

    Reply
  13. Ginger says:

    My DH and I only have one car and honestly I would never go back. I check how much it would cost to rent a car for the day and we would need to rent a car for 35 days before owning one would be useful. In the last two years we have only rented one twice. Yes, it takes some communication and coordination and occasionally I’ll take the bus but really it works out well for us. Unless I get into grad school and my DH has to move for post-doc before I am done we will never have two cars. Well, unless when we are older our kids get them.

    Reply
  14. Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer says:

    We have two cars (one is on your beater car page), but plan to downsize to one when I retire.

    Reply
  15. Olivia says:

    We can only afford one car. That simplifies things. We’ve always had just one car in spite of very different schedules. We learned to live with what we had and make do. It comes down to planning, flexibility and communication. We cannot do without a car totally however, though it would be nice, as my DH travels quite a bit for his job.

    Your own cons are not insurmoutable. But only you can decide what you really want. Since you have the means to ask the question, “one car or two?”, it really does come down to preferences.

    Reply
  16. Harri @ TotallyMoney says:

    Wow it’s times like this when I’m actually pretty thankful that I live in London! My boyfriend sold his car earlier this year and we now have no cars whatsoever. This would be impossible were it not for the fact that although public transport here is blood-boilingly infuriating, it is much, much faster and cheaper than driving around London.

    You could experiment- see what it’s like living with one car for a while. If it’s too much to bear or you find yourself shelling out huge amounts to support your renovation work then you know that a second car is right for you.

    Reply
  17. Squirrelers says:

    I think a one-car household is a great idea, but it really has to be worth everyone’s time. I’d take the expected cost savings, and divide it by the number of extra hours of time incurred by having one car vs two. That’s the hourly rate – if it’s worth it to you, then why not? However, if you’re effectively getting paid minimum wage based on this calculation, it might not be the best move. All depends on our situation individually!

    Reply
  18. Little House says:

    My husband and I share one car. Since he works from home, this works out most of the time. I can normally bike to work or school, but there are times our schedules conflict and we both need the car. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I don’t know if we’ll always be a one-car household (Mr. LH loves cars and foresees another one in the near future.) But I sure like not having to pay the additional costs!

    Reply
  19. Krantcents says:

    Becoming a one car family is one of my goals in retirement! In Los Angeles, it is very difficult to do this unless you live downtown.

    Reply
  20. Sara says:

    My husband and I each have a car as well as his motorcycle. Not sure if we’re counting recreational vehicles, too. 🙂
    His jeep has been paid off for a couple years and my car will be paid off soon. We’re moving into a house soon, too. (I swear, one of these days we’ll actually get to close on it.) We’ll finally have a 2 car garage!!
    Would it be too weird ta ask peoples parking situations in addition to how many cars in the household? We are currently parking on the street at my in-laws. Not fun as my driver side door can attest. It has been hit twice by the across-the-street neighbor backing out of the driveway.

    Reply
  21. Sandra says:

    Please let us know what you do with the truck.

    Reply
  22. Michelle (a different Michelle than in the article) says:

    We are currently a 2 car household but in October when my husbands lease is up on his car we will be a 1 car household.
    Normally, I and would want us to each have our own car, but we work at the same place so our schedules rarely differ. Even if he needs the car to go to work I can easily take him in to work and pick him up since its only a 15 min commute (we work in downtown Houston and live in Montrose/River Oaks area).
    Another reason we are sticking with 1 car (besides the money saving factors) is because we are looking to buy a house early next year and dont want to “ding” our credit by taking out a loan for a new car.

    Reply
  23. jana says:

    we are a two car household, mainly due to the fact that my husband and i work in completely different parts of the state and public transportation or van pools are not accessible or an option. if we did not have this, we could easily be a one car household, which i would totally prefer. on the occasions where we would need two cars, it would be cheaper just to rent an additional car for the day or two.

    Reply
  24. Money Beagle says:

    We have two cars. A couple of years ago when he had our first kid, we bought my parent’s SUV, I took my wife’s 2006 Pontiac G6, and we sold my 2003 Olds Alero. I drive only a few miles a day to a thankfully short commute, and in retrospect, I probably should have kept the Alero as we would have pocketed more money otherwise. Still, even with a short commute, it’s just tricky enough where I wouldn’t want to walk/bike it, and I wouldn’t want to ever have to have my wife drive me back and forth (impossible with two little ones) nor would I leave her at home w/o a car, so long story short, it’s two cars for us!

    Reply
  25. cashflowmantra says:

    Have not considered paring back. We have 4 drivers and many of us go different places. I work 15 miles away although some days it is 33 miles. Gymnastics for the boys is 28 miles away. They go there 6 days per week. It just wouldn’t work when 6 people in the family have to be in 4 different places.

    Reply

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