A One Car Family

Being a one car family has helped propel our savings and investing goals. Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Early in the Moneyaire marriage we were a two car family. As part of our conversations about money before we got married, we decided that going down to one car was the right move for us. It would save us money on maintenance, gas, car payments and insurance.

It was hard to make this decision. Mr. Moneyaire viewed having his own car as a form of freedom. Going down to one car felt like giving up our ability to move freely. Mr. Moneyaire and I worked at the same company so, initially, going down to one car meant coordinating our schedules and occasionally having to go in earlier or later to accommodate each other’s schedules. When I found a new job at a new company, we adjusted again to coordinate drop offs and pick ups. Coordinating schedules was extra work and frustrating at times. On the weekends we would have to plan out car use from time to time. In the end, though, it’s worked out really well for us, and still does. Sharing a car means we save over $5,000 a year. Here’s the breakdown of how much we save by sharing a car:

Car Payment$350
  1. Insurance – if we had an extra car, to insure that vehicle would be about an extra $60 a month. We would get comprehensive coverage, and we have good driving records and credit scores (yes, credit scores are a factor in how much insurance costs you!!).
  2. Maintenance – Since we lease, our maintenance costs are pretty low. We spend about $10 to $20 a month for car washes and we do about 2 oil changes per lease. Owning a car also means owning all the problems and maintenance issues that inevitably come up. When we had two cars, Mrs. Moneyaire’s car needed $900 in maintenance and repairs, right before Christmas. Needless to say, that surprise expense meant we had to drastically cut back on Christmas that year and dip into savings. It also got us thinking about ways we could avoid having to go to a mechanic, like by leasing a car.
  3. Car payments – If we had a second vehicle, we probably would be leasing it at a cost of $350. We like leasing midrange reliable cars. Would it be really cool to drive around in a BMW or Lexus? Heck, yeah. But we go back to our goals, and having fancy leased/owned cars isn’t one of them. Cars are a depreciating asset and they cost a lot to maintain. When we bought or financed our cars in the past, we felt that just as we were getting close to paying off our car, that’s when big maintenance costs would start and they were hard to budget for. Fixing the problems was also time consuming. Plus, the headache of figuring out transportation if the repair shop didn’t have a courtesy car available just seemed like too much hassle. Because of this, we lease our car. We also don’t put anything down towards our lease. Everything is rolled into a monthly payment and we’ve earmarked what would have been our car’s down payment towards investments over a decade ago.
  4. Gas – about $50 a month. This is low because we don’t drive often now and we had/have short commutes. I assume we would use a second car about a tanks worth over the course of a month. We currently fill our single car up about twice a month now, so if we had a second car, we’d probably be splitting the driving between the two cars. I realize this figure is really low and we know people who fill up their tanks twice a week!

By having just one car, we save about $480 a month or $5,760 a year. We’ve been doing this for about 10 years (there was a three year period Mrs. Moneyaire had a car to drive to a job and we couldn’t coordinate).

We figure we’ve saved over $68k over the last 12ish years by being a one car family. We’ve of course funneled these savings into our investments and we’ve probably earned just as much by investing.

Sure, having one car can be a pain sometimes. In a pinch, when we’ve needed to be in two places at once, we’ve been lucky enough to live near a train station, be able to get a ride with a friend going to the same event or just use a taxi service or a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft. The thing that has helped us most is talking to each other and communicating when we’ll need the car. We talk through coordinating who would get the car if there was something that comes up – like a work dinner. We talk about things, stay flexible and we both keep the bigger goal in mind. We figure if our extra transportation costs are less than $480 a month, we’re coming out ahead by not having a second vehicle. In all honesty, our extra transportation costs haven’t ever crested over $50 a month. Most months it’s zero.

We’ve also made decisions to work where it would be reasonable to coordinate drop offs and pick ups. To many, this sounds like we might have been limiting our careers, right? Not really… we figured that if a new job meant having to buy an additional car, it would mean the new salary would have to at least cover the expense of getting a new car to even be remotely worthwhile. So, if a new job was offering a $10k bump over what one of us was currently earning, it just wasn’t enough. Most of that extra $10k would go towards owning a car just to get to that job. The cost of having a second car – about $5,700 a year after tax – means you have to make ~$7,500 to afford that cost. Would it really be worth it to jump ship to a new job to earn an extra $1,875 a year after taxes? Aside from that, the extra commute time would take away from our most precious resource, time. By understanding what the costs of a new opportunity might be, it helped us determine which opportunities were right for us, and which ones weren’t.

We’ve actually grown really used to having one car. It’s been something that’s forced us to spend more time together. We would run errands together after work like grocery shopping and sometimes impromptu dinners out or a quick happy hour drink before heading home. By cutting out the huge expense a car is, we’ve been able to do fun stuff that’s really added value to our lives, like going out to eat or drink and not feeling guilty about it.

Instead of having an extra car, we’ve used that money to put towards investments, and experiences like trips to Europe. Cars are tools that help us get from point A to B. Cars are also depreciating assets – a car will most likely never be worth more than what it’s original value was. Cars are sold to us as these beautiful machines that provide us great freedom – and they are, to a point. Being a one car family has propelled us to true freedom and the beauty of doing what we want with our time.

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