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How We Manage As A One Car Family Of Six

One Car Family

I’m A Car Guy

I love cars.

I got my first car when I was 15 years old.  It was a 1972 Dodge Demon; Hemi Orange.  I got my driver license on my sixteenth birthday – it’s all I wanted.  I was a car salesmen when my wife and I got married nearly eighteen years ago.

I’ve always loved cars and for most of our marriage we’ve been a two car family.  But a year I traded in my car keys for a bus pass. My crappy old car, which I’d bought for cash a few years earlier as part of our get out of debt plan, finally kicked the bucket and and I didn’t replace it.

Now I’m a Bus Guy

For the past twelve months we’ve been operating as a one car, six person family.

This journey actually begins a few years earlier. Sometime in 2010 I got serious about getting out of debt, sold our two new cars and replaced them with older vehicles that we paid for with cash.  For the first time in our marriage, we didn’t have any car payments.  Those two cars what we paid cash for were some of the very first steps we took in our ‘get out of debt plan’, and they served us well for nearly six years!

Then one evening last fall as I was driving home from work, my van finally gave up.  Something blew up and the engine was smoking like an old time steam locomotive.  I had to pull over on the side of the freeway and jump out as the cab started to fill up with smoke.

Good times.

But enough was enough.  I’d been sinking money into that car for months just to keep it on the road.  The list of things wrong with that car was long and it just wasn’t viable to keep her running any longer.  I’d milked that thing for all it was worth.  In the end, I had it towed away in return for a tax write off.  But rather than replace that car with another one, I ended up replacing it with a bus pass, and I’ve been commuting to work daily for the past year.  Here’s what I’ve learned, and how much I’ve saved during the past year.

BEING A ONE CAR FAMILY

We’re a family of six.  We have two, soon to be three, drivers.  Between the six of us if feels like somebody always needs to be somewhere.  Often we need to be in two places at the same time.  As a one car family, the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy is kind of tricky to pull off.  A second car would be sooo nice, but with some planning and a bit of flexibility, getting by with one car can easily be pulled off.

Is it inconvenient?  Without question.

Is it the end of the world?  Not even close.

Look, owning a car is absolutely more convenient than riding a bus. I admit it and you’ll get no argument from me on that front.  Still, it’s easy to make excuses as to why you could never do without your car!  I’ve made (and still make) the same excuses:

  • The bus is inconvenient
  • It’s not efficient
  • I can afford a second car
  • There are some wackos on the bus
  • There isn’t a direct bus route to/from work and home
  • The weather sucks to bus in.  Rain.  Snow.  Rain.  Heat.  Wind.  Rain. Rain.
  • We’re a family of six – we *need* two cars
  • I have an image to keep up at work
  • I don’t feel safe on the bus
  • What if there’s an emergency and I need to get somewhere ASAP?
  • I like to come and go from work on my schedule, not on a bus schedule
  • The bus stop nearest my office is over a mile away
  • I have to leave work earlier/later than I’d like to catch the bus

I’m sure you could make the same excuses, and even add to this list.  Maybe ditching your car isn’t a good option for you.  Maybe you have a valid excuse why it won’t work in your situation, but don’t say that you “can’t” do it until you’ve given it a real shot.

OVERCOMING EXCUSES

Being a one car family is not always convenient, or even pleasant.  Coordinating can be frustrating, but it helps to remember that none of this needs to be permanent.  If you want to give it a try, just set a short term goal.  Try riding the bus for one week.  Then for a month.  Then three months, or six, or for a year!  Once you reach that milestone, reassess and figure out what you want to do next.

Here’s the deal: if you want to reach FIRE, then you need to think differently and make some significant changes. If you’re unwilling to make those changes then it’s going to take you longer to reach financial independence.

Short term pain, long term gain.

Transportation is usually one of the top three expenses in everyone’s budget, along with housing and food.  So if you can greatly reduce, or even completely eliminate transportation costs from your budget then you can start to make some significant financial gains.  I wasn’t able to see past the excuses until I was forced to start riding the bus.  I didn’t want to start riding the bus, I had to because I didn’t have a car.

Look For Opportunities

I wasn’t exactly planning for my car to blow up, but when it did I had no other way of getting to work.  So I hopped on the bus out of desperation.  Then a funny thing happened once I started riding it.  The world didn’t end.  It wasn’t that bad.  The wackos on the bus?  They weren’t there.  Instead I was riding with a bunch of white-collar workers that lived in the burbs and bussed into the city for work.  It was actually pretty vanilla.

For me, the real inconveniences of riding the bus are these:

  • Fixed bus schedules
  • Walking 2 miles from work to the bus stop
  • Walking in the rain for 2 miles from work to the bus stop

But these inconveniences kinda, sorta turned out to be a benefit.  Just depends on how you look at them.

  • Fixed bus schedules
    • Because I live in suburbia, the bus doesn’t run as regularly as it does in the city.  If I want to catch the last bus of the night to my neighborhood then I HAVE to leave work at a certain time, otherwise I don’t make it home.  This hard-stop helps me prioritize my time better and I actually get more done during traditional business hours.
  • Walking 2 miles from work to the bus stop
    • Guess what happens when you hike two miles a day?  Your legs get stronger.  You lose weight.  I get to walk in the fresh air.  I have time to think and clear my head as I walk to and from work.
  • Walking in the rain for 2 miles from work to the bus stop.
    • I now have an umbrella.  If it’s really raining hard, I wear these hiking boots, which are FAR more comfortable than my regular shoes.  The rain isn’t a big deal, it’s just rain.

What About Emergencies?

In my just-over-a-year-of-bus-commuting adventures, I’ve had exactly ONE time when I needed to leave work immediately.  Having my own car would have been nice that day.  So what do you do when you need to leave work RIGHT NOW, but don’t have a car?   You open up your phone and summon a ride via a ridesharing app. (Here are referral links for Lyft and Uber.)

My Lyft ride home cost me about $50.  Pretty steep under normal circumstances, but in an emergency, you’re not thinking money.  And considering the huge amount of money I’ve saved over the past year by not driving a car, dropping $50 for a chauffeured ride home was more than OK.

Mostly my bus rides are uneventful.  I almost always use the time to catch up on reading blogs, responding to comments, listening to podcasts, or Tweeting up a storm.  I’ve watched documentaries on Netflix and streamed all of The Wonder Years (what a great show!).  In my otherwise busy and hectic life, my commute is now a time to relax.

Funny how things work like that sometimes.

HOW MUCH HAVE I SAVED BEING A ONE CAR FAMILY?

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how much I’ve saved by taking the bus over the past year instead of buying a second car, but I take a swing.  The average cost of owning a car is $8,698 per year.  That comes out to $725 per month: $475 in financing (lease or car payment) and the rest coming from insurance coverage, fuel, and maintenance costs like oil changes and tire replacement.

That’s the average cost of a car in the U.S.  You might be paying more or less than that.  Turns out that I’m pretty average because that’s  pretty dang close to the amount of money I calculate I’ve saved by riding the bus.  If you were to invest just that $8,698 as a lump sum, assuming a 7% return, you’d have over $17,000 in ten years!  That’s a lot of money!

IS IT WORTH IT?

Can I live without a second car?  Yes, it’s really not that difficult.  Lyft and Uber are there if you need a car.  Riding your bike is also a quick, easy, and healthy option for you to consider.  The CycleLogical benefits of biking are seemingly endless….that said, my one car experiment is coming to an end.

I’m currently shopping for a second car.  Rather than investing the nearly $10,000 that we’ve saved, I’m going to trade it for a car.  Because I’m buying this with money saved from not driving, it kind of feels like this will be a free car.  I know it doesn’t’ work that way, but it feels like it.  My goal is to be “out the door” with the second car for less than $8,000.  That’s a bit less than the amount of money I’ve saved over the past year.

I’m not in a hurry to get the car because rushing is a great way to overpay. I know this because I sold cars for a few years; here are my tips for how to buy a car and not get screwed.  If and when a great buy presents itself then I’ll be ready to pounce.  But even once we’re back to being a two car family, I still plan on riding the bus to work on a frequent basis.  There isn’t a good reason not to.

How to be a one car family. How and why we sold our second car even though we're a family of six with 3 drivers.

Chime in!

Would you ever consider eliminating your second car?  Why or why not?  If you are a bus commuter – what has your experience been like?  Leave a comment below.

By Ty Roberts

Ty Roberts is the founder of Camp FIRE Finance, and a husband and father of four living in the Seattle area. He's a fan of the 4% rule, 80s movies and music, dad jokes and cast iron cooking.

18 replies on “How We Manage As A One Car Family Of Six”

Three months ago, we sold both of our cars and only replaced one of them when we moved to England. Sometimes we talk about getting a second car, but it’s really not necessary. Although both of our previous cars were paid off, I’m sure we’ll see a huge cost savings (insurance, gas, maintenance) over time by having only one car. This post was great motivation to stick with our single car!

Beautiful first car, although I cannot imagine the insurance payment for a high schooler. I recently sold my dream car too, 2012 Mustang GT, to a 22-year old. There are times I miss it & my days of youth, but, we have put the money towards paying down our house and doing some upgrades that will save us money long-term.

What a story, Ty! You’ve done awesome with the bus, and I’ve gotta say there are many good reasons/excuses among those you list that would’ve deterred many other people from doing what you have. Outstanding savings you’ve generated!

We were a zero car household for several years – we lived in downtowns that would’ve made owning a car a pain – and pretty much walked everywhere with the occasional rail for longer jaunts. That’s a great lifestyle that I often miss. Although, like you, I appreciate the beauty and engineering (not to mention utility) of cars, they can be such a nuisance sometimes!!

Good luck with the new car search. And congrats on the great results of cutting out the car for so long!

Sweet Demon! Was the hood scoop functional or just decorative? Congrats on making it through a whole year without a car, too. Very impressive. Sounds like you’ve earned that car now. 🙂

Awesome Ty. We were a single car family for a long time when we lived in Utah and there was awesome public transit. We LOVED it. Taking the train/buses and riding bikes to our stops was so nice to get work done or just relax on the commute. We are now a 2 car fam bam because we live in the midwest where people have not quite evolved into the public transit world. We bought a complete piece of junk car and so far it has been working great. But, we aspire to making the switch back to being a single car family some day.

As a PF blogger am I allowed to say that one of my best financial moves was buying a car? 🙂 I once bought a complete POS for $700 and that dang thing ran great for nearly 5 years! Best money I ever spent, so I’m not one for knocking junker cars.

I’m glad you wrote this! We’ve been a one car family before then a two POS car family, now just a one POS car and one new-to-us car. 😉 I think it’s great you’re still thinking of riding the bus to work. Sounds like great health benefits, but it’ll be nice to have the car there for when its raining haha.

lol. A two POS car family. That’s awesome – I’m going to use that phrase because we’ve been there and done that! 🙂

The second car will definitely be more convenient, but it’s hard for me to open up my wallet and buy one! I guess I want my financial freedom more than I want a second car.

Hey Ty,
Thanks for sharing because I can definitely relate. You’ve got a nice chunk of savings right there! I eliminated a car altogether back around December 2014 and haven’t looked back. You can always rent a car if planning a road trip. You don’t have to deal with unexpected maintenance costs, oil changes, or insurance costs. It’s been great that I walk more too. However, it depends where you live. In Toronto where I live I find it easier than having a car. Parking costs and traffic make it horrible. Hope all is well man!

Two years without a car? That’s awesome – your budget has got to be loving that! I love cars, but man they are a hassle. I hate worrying about maintenance & repairs, putting on miles, deprecation… not owning a car would be a great way to go if you can pull it off!

Yeah man, two full years now! It doesn’t even seem like it to be honest. It has certainly helped the budget. It made it easier to save so I could take this last year off.

It’s great you’ve been able to save so much by taking the bus! What I love about your story is you didn’t immediately think you had to rush right out and buy another car, as most people would.

I’ve thought about cutting back to one car, but the logistics don’t work out well. We live far enough out of town that we don’t have access to bus service. One day I hope to get it done, though.

Have you had your teen driver insurance hike yet? Our insurance went up almost $1000 (even with his good student discount, plus I shopped around for the lowest rate).

Haven’t had to add the teen driver yet since he still has a learner’s permit. But once he turns 16 in a couple of months well have to pony up! Not looking forward to that.

My insurance agent is my high school buddy and college roommate, so there won’t be any shopping around — I just hope that he’s treating me right 🙂

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