The One-car Family

By Mary Hunt

August 20, 2010 4 min read

Had I thought about it, I would have turned our decision to live with just one car into an experiment, and I would have written about it in a most humorous way.

But it wasn't an experiment to see whether we could do it, nor was it very funny. I agreed to get rid of my car in order to unload a big mistake called an auto lease.

The plan was that we would share one vehicle for three months to save the money needed to pay cash for a second car. To me, it was embarrassing. I didn't want anyone to know we couldn't afford two cars. I didn't like giving up the independence I felt by knowing my car was always available to me.

Nearly 10 years later, we remain a one-car family by my choice. Though it was difficult in the beginning, I have to say it has become so easy I hardly ever think about it anymore. It's just the way we live.

--Get motivated. If you really want to kick the second-car habit, add up the costs: the monthly payment, insurance, annual registration, gasoline, oil changes, tires, biennial smog check (mostly a California thing), car washes and other repairs and maintenance. You are going to be shocked by what you discover. If you maintain three cars or more, multiply accordingly.

--Plan ahead. You'll be giving up a lot of spontaneity. Really, that's a good thing. If it means you will be at home during the day without a car, plan ahead for when you will grocery shop in the evening or on the weekend. Forget running errands whenever a need crosses your mind. Instead, do all of your errands in one trip.

--Public transportation. Pull out the maps and check the websites of public transportation in your area. You may be pleasantly surprised by what has become available while you've been so busy paying for your own private transportation. Check with your employer. Many offer incentives to employees who take public transportation or ride share. Go to eRideShare.com to find applicable benefits in your area.

--Walk. It is funny when you think about it, that so many families pay a small fortune to keep multiple cars fueled and operational while paying hefty gym fees. You may be able to get rid of the car and the gym by taking to your feet. Think about walking your kids to school, walking to the drugstore and the post office, to the library, church and grocery.

--Rent. There will come a time when you really do need a second vehicle. No problem. Agree now that when and if that happens, you will rent a car for a day or two.

Miriam K., a reader of my column, sent her fellow readers the following tip: "If you don't have a car, check out http://www.zipcar.com or http://www.AutoShare.com. My daughter uses AutoShare in Toronto. She put up $500 for membership, which is refundable when she discontinues the service. She has access to a fleet of cars parked around the city (several within a few blocks of her home). She can book the cars online. This scheme is useful when you need a car -- or a second car -- for a few hours to run errands. The hourly charges are reasonable and set up to discourage weekend rentals. Living in a major city where even parking is expensive, my daughter saves a ton of money by simply not having a car, without giving up the convenience of having one."

My husband and I estimate that by having only one car, we are not spending about $10,000 a year. That's an amazing payoff for what has become an easy way of life.

Mary Hunt's column, "Everyday Cheapskate," can be found at creators.com.

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