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Five tips for becoming a one-car family

Written by contributor Tiffany Larson.

If you had told me years ago that we would be a one-car family, I would have considered it impossible. But here we are, one year into it, and not looking back. While inconvenient at times, I challenge you to consider the possibility for your own family using the tips shared below for how to make it work.

1. Set Goals

Like Dave Ramsey says, “A Goal Without a Plan Is Just A Dream.” Our future goals include buying a house so when we became a one-income family, we needed to make a plan. We needed to cut expenses and transportation was an area where we could save (keep reading to find out how much). Not only did we have a monthly payment for our second car, they were both gas guzzlers. We discussed our needs, reviewed our schedules, and decided that selling it made sense.

Since then, we’ve continued to review that decision to make sure it fits our family’s goals. As our lifestyle changes, we may need to purchase a second car but it will be a more cost efficient vehicle.

2. Plan Ahead

My husband and I often sit down on Sunday evenings to review the week ahead. It prevents stressful car conflicts as we ensure each of us have transportation when we need it. If there are any potential conflicts, we have enough time to change our schedules or find alternative transportation.

3. Alternatives to A Second Car

While having a second car is often the easiest form of transportation, it’s not your only option. One of these may work for you:


Do coworkers live near you? Are there other families that might want to share trips to your children’s school? I share carpool duty with another mom at my daughter’s preschool. It allows me to free up the car for my husband’s needs and saves me gas and time.

Carpooling is also a great way to save on parking and toll fees. If you don’t have someone in mind to share trips with, try looking at Carpool World or Craigslist for others going in the same direction.


Traveling by bike not only gets you where you need to go, but it’s great exercise too. With over forty percent of people working within five miles of their workplace, commuting by bike seems like a great way to save money and burn calories.

As we do, you can use biking as a secondary transportation choice for your entire family. My husband rides his bike to the gym or grocery store and we all ride bikes to the park.

While my children, five and two, have their own bikes, we use both a Trail-a-Bike and a bike trailer to take them with us long distances or in areas of traffic. Child bike seats are a great way to have your child right on the bike with you or invest in a family or cargo bike if you have multiple children and/or stuff to pack with you.

May is National Bike Month and cities all over the country are hosting special events to encourage bike use. Bike to School Day on May 9 and Bike to Work Day on May 18 may be great opportunities to try out the one-car family concept.

family on busPhoto by Mike of Surrey

Bus, Train, Subway or other Public Transportation

Public transportation is the transportation of choice for many nations and if your city offers the infrastructure, you might take advantage of it. When my husband worked downtown, we saved parking fees and gas by having him take the bus. He also enjoyed the free time to read or listen to music.

Now that he travels frequently out of state, he takes a taxi to and from the airport. While this is reimbursed to us by his company, it is another creative way to live without a second car.

Using national transportation systems such as Greyhound or Amtrak is a great way to travel outside of your city without the added expense of a vehicle. We will soon be moving to a smaller city and have found a great shuttle system that will transfer my husband to the local airport or drive him 150 miles to the next larger airport, if needed. Again, a little research (and flexibility, see below) helped us avoid the need for a second car.

Moped, Scooter or Motorcycle

Two wheels might be a great way to eliminate a second vehicle but still provide needed transportation. At one point, we had a motorcycle that my husband would ride to work. At 40mpg, it shaved a lot off the gas budget. It also allowed him to use the HOV lanes, saving time and was easier to park, saving on expensive parking fees.

Car Rentals and Car Sharing

Renting a car or using a car sharing service may be the perfect bridge between having one car and having two cars for your family. If you occasionally need an extra car for the weekend or just a few hours, these options make it possible.

Car sharing services, like Zipcar, allow you to reserve a car just minutes, or months, in advance. Similar to traditional car rental services, you pick up the car, use it and then return it to a reserved parking location. Gas and insurance are included in the hourly or daily rate, although you would need to bring your own child seats, if you need one. Hourly rates in my city of Portland start at $7.20 and daily rates at $64.80.


Working from home is a great alternative to needing a second car. This is key to making one car work for our family as my husband works from home most days. If one or both drivers can telecommute from home, even one day per week, it reduces the need for an additional vehicle.

4. Consider the Savings

Every gallon of gas that your car doesn’t use saves 1.3 pounds in greenhouse gas pollution. It also saves you about four dollars. But gas isn’t the only cost associated with a car. Beyond the initial cost of purchasing a car, we estimate we save $2500 – $3000 per year by not having a second car. Annual savings include:

  • auto insurance
  • routine maintenance: 3-4 oil changes, tire rotations, alignment
  • replacement of tires, brakes, batteries
  • registration, tag and DEQ fees
  • taxes, depending on your state
  • parking fees

5. Be Flexible

Flexibility is, without a doubt, the most important attitude a family needs to make leaving a second car behind, work. Inevitably, there will be a time when more than one driver needs to use the car at the same time.

With the tips above, this is often not a issue. However, when a last minute need comes up, someone has to make a concession. Bikes are ridden in the rain, friends are called for a ride or plans get cancelled.

If you research your options and keep a flexible attitude, you can successfully navigate with one-car saving stress, money and the environment.

Are you a one-car family? Can you share tips that help make it work for your family? If you aren’t a one-car family, what prevents you from considering it?

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  1. Steph

    We only have one car and I think people think we’re crazy for it. We live in a small town without public transportation and little walkability (which makes me miss Chicago so much!) But, we make it work. I stay at home and my husband lives 7 minutes from work. This means there are days I can drop him off and have the car quite easily. He does need his car for work on semi-regular basis though so we do have to get creative. It’s definitely worth it to us though.

  2. Anna@The DIY Mom

    When we lived in America we only had one car. Now that we live abroad we have none. I know this isn’t very possible except in a big city in America, but for the most part we are happy not to have to worry about the hassle and expense of dealing with a vehicle. Sure there are times when it would be nice to have a car. But for the most part the bus and walking get our family where we want to go, and we can hire a taxi or a driver for the occasions when that doesn’t work, much cheaper than the costs of owning a vehicle. We are very thankful for our double stroller to take our boys places when we walk.

  3. Heather

    We are a one car family, and have been for a couple years now. My husband works from home, and I am home with the kids, so it isn’t so difficult. When my husband has to travel for work it gets a little more complicated. We, unfortunately, don’t have public transportation or zipcar, so walking is our choice when the car isn’t available. I would like to give up both cars, since we live in town, but with long snowy winters I am not sure how willing I would be to walk to the grocery store with a 4 and 2 year old 🙂

  4. KatieF

    We’re a one-car family too. We live in the suburbs and so this can be pretty interesting sometimes ( I miss the walkability of my hometown Vancouver, Canada!). My husband works full-time and I’m in school full-time, so often one of us drops the other off and then keeps going on to where we need to be. We’ve been called crazy, but I appreciate the money we save and also the added time with my husband.

  5. Laura

    We live in a small town with very limited public transport and almost no walkability (no sidewalks!), and my husband and I both work full time, with school-aged kids. Yet we’ve been a one car family our entire married life — 16 years!

    A small town also has benefits in that it doesn’t take us very long to get places if we need to drop someone off, and we also live near many people from work, church, school if we get in a bind.

    For us the fact that we’ve never been used to having two cars is a key factor, since we really don’t know any difference, it’s much easier.

  6. Rebekah

    While we’re not a one-car family we try to live like it. My husband being a landscaper needs his pickup truck for work. But it is only a two-seater, not very feasible for our family of 6. So we have a vehicle (we just paid off) for the times the whole family goes places. It’s a horrible gas guzzler so we hope one day to get something more “green”. Until then, we try to walk or bike as much as possible. It does make you stick to your grocery list when you know you have limited bike trailer or bottom-of-the-stroller space.

  7. sarah

    We are a 1 car family…we have three children ages 8, 5, and 2. We love the savings of having one vehicle. My husband rides his bike to work, about 1 mile away. I use our vehicle and it’s actually pretty simple for us since we live in a small, university town and his job is so close to where we live. There are definitely days where we are inconvenienced because of 1 car, like when it might need a repair, but planning ahead to just be home that day helps with that a lot. I am also a doula/student midwife, so at times it does become a challenge to have 1 vehicle, but the details always work themselves out each time. I love it!

  8. Rachel

    Like another person mentioned we are a two car family but try and live mostly like a one car family. For a year and a half before we had children we were a one car family and my husband took the car to work. He works a job that is a 15 minute drive away and very unsafe to bike. Plus in the spring and summer he works very long hours (about 80-90 a week) from locations that are sometimes further. So before children I biked or took a bus to work which was very close.

    When we got pregnant with our first child and decided I would stay home I knew I couldn’t be at home (especially so many hours a week) without a car. We do have a bus in our small town but it only has one route that doesn’t hit many destinations. Our first car was paid off so we made the decision to buy a car that we could pay cash for. Luckily we were able to buy an old (1992 oldsmobile) but very well taken care of car from a couple we are friends with for $800.

    That car is now only used for my husband to take to and from work. We purposely have never gotten car seats for it (we now have 2 children) so that it really remains a vehicle for work. We also live in a town that is very bikeable and walkable and we live downtown close to many things so we often walk and bike places to try and offset our need for having two cars.

  9. Laura Black

    Great article, good tips. My husband and I are a one-car family, but we are also blessed to live in a small town where riding bikes and walking is very “cool” and natural. It’s exciting to read the other comments and seeing so many families taking the initiative to be more economical and environmental. It’s inspiring.

  10. Emily @Random Recycling

    I love the idea of this. At our life stage carseats are the biggest challenge to carpooling with young kids. Most often we try to walk into town via stroller so at least we are not using the second car too often for errands. Plus my husband takes the train every day so we don’t spend too much on gas for the car that is paid off.

  11. Jes

    We are a 2 car family, we tried one car and it didn’t work out.

    My husband works a hour (with traffic) away and must be at work before the burbs to city trains are running. All his coworkers live near the office but we can’t afford to do so. I stay at home with the kids most days, but work before my husband is home several times a week. To make the 10 minute drive to my work I would need to take 2 different buses and save 2 hours of my time to catch them.
    Instead we have settled for 2 used cars (that were very well taken care of by their previous owners) which we bought outright and which get good gas mileage.

  12. Erika

    We have been a one car family for five years now. We both work, and not from home and have a 2 year daughter. It can be difficult at times, but very worth it. We have our one car paid off and I am sure we save at least the $3000 a year with only one car. It has actually been a blessing in the long run, as we have lived abroad and my husband has been gone for long periods of time. The key is to walk or bike to anything in your neighborhood. Even ordering groceries online and having them delivered saves on gas in the long run!

  13. Rachel L

    I am single, and I don’t have to worry about carting children around – that makes it much easier to live without a car at all. I recently moved closer to my work (it’s about 4 miles now), and commute by bicycle. Biking to work really isn’t much of a problem (except in Michigan winters – it’s kind of awful then), but biking to the grocery store and everywhere else on the weekends is a little worse, and I’m constantly re-evaluating how badly I want to go somewhere, or how badly I really need groceries, since I can only get a basket-full at a time. 🙂

    I LOVE not having a car, though, really. I love being able to ride in the road or dart through parking lots if need be. I love not having to pay for car insurance and gasoline and oil changes (although my bike does still require some maintenance). I dislike biking in the rain/snow and 30mph winds, but it is a good workout and I love the fresh air. I find now that if I don’t go outside on any given day, I feel so disgusting physically.

  14. Mireya @myhealthyeatinghabits

    We’re currently a two car family for three drivers. The idea of being a one car family sounds good, but we need dependability. I hadn’t thought of a moped as an alternative in case one car breaks down. It’s something to consider.

  15. DL Photography

    I’m definitely a big fan of using bikes whenever possible – I went for a long time without owning a bike but in the past few years I’ve really gotten back into it and choose the bike over the car whenever possible.

    I’d never actually considered the idea of a little scooter before though – that could definitely be something to look into

  16. Meghan

    I would love to have just one care but its not feasible for where we live. We live in rural Montana 10 miles from town. It makes it impossible to take the kids to town without a car and my husbands job is 15 miles away so he can’t bike. I work nights so I am able to share our car that is great on gas mileage with my husband. If we lived in town I would certainly go down to one car, but I wont trade the country living for town. Its peaceful out here.

  17. Maridyth

    We, too, are a one-car family. We live in the suburbs of Houston, a spawling-mega-city. I’m a stay-at-home-mom with two kids. There is nothing I would walk or bike to besides the neighborhood park, and there is no public transportation in our area. My husband works only 5 minutes away, so I do drop him at work two days a week so the kids and I can get out. It’s difficult at times, but we’ve found that planning our week on Sunday nights has been a HUGE help.

    I have had to sacrifice the do-what-I-want-when-I-want lifestyle, but I think the quality of our life has improved. I am more intentional with where we go and how we spend our time. Simple is better.

  18. Billy

    Shuttling your family around in one car isn’t easy, but it’s doable with proper planning.


    I discovered many new things from your article. Thank you for this!

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