Can You Survive with One Car in Suburbia?
Do you live in suburbia? It seems everyone who does has two (or more) cars in their driveway. Is it a necessity for everyone, though? Is it possible to lead a one-car lifestyle while raising a family in the suburbs?
When I read about Matt Jabs' experience with leading a one car lifestyle, I was inspired to try giving up one car. After all, the family car I drive was sitting in the driveway 3-4 days a week. My husband was resistant, though.
Then disaster struck in the form of a $2500 repair bill just to make our 10-year-old car run safely. More repairs were on the horizon, as well. Put in the position of choosing between paying thousands to repair our car or purchasing another car, he was easily swayed — once we talked about our goals. We're paying off our other debt, so adding more to it just didn't make sense.
We sold the car to our mechanic for $1350, and the money went to new tires for the car we kept and our savings account. Our mechanic could easily fix the car up and make a decent profit. For us, it was not worth the money knowing the repairs equaled more than the value of our "clunker." (On another note, we missed the Cash for Clunkers program by 1 mpg.) We made this leap a month ago, and so far it has been fairly easy.
There are some advantages to making a one-car living work for us:
- I work on weekends and from home part-time. My husband commutes to a 9-5 job that is only 7 miles one way.
- We live within walking distance to many places, including Goodwill, a locally owned pharmacy, three ethnic grocery stores, a discount grocer, a grocery chain, numerous restaurants, Starbucks, the local public schools, a preschool, several day care centers, the YMCA, and Target. (The amazing thing to me is, that despite these areas being within walking distance, most people choose to drive. I admit I used to be one of them. It just seemed easier and faster to drive. In reality, however, it would take very little extra time and would add to my health and well-being.)
- Our schedules mesh really well. We can put our daughters on the bus, and I can drive my husband to work on time. (This is key, since I need the car for occasional dentist appointments, doctor's visits for the kids, and other planned activities.)
Can you live with one car?
Not everyone in suburbia lives within walking distance of businesses, work or school, so careful planning is the way to get where you need to go with one car. I suggest the following tips for making it happen:
- Make a list of places you go weekly, or less frequently, and map out a schedule. I used googlemaps along with a list of places we need to go.
- Use the power of Google to find out what public transportation options are available in your area. (I was pleasantly surprised to find bus routes that run on both major roads that our neighborhood connects to going along various routes.)
- Consider bicycle commuting as a viable option.
- Carpooling is another way to make one car work. Whether you and your spouse carpool together, you carpool with a neighbor, or you find a carpool online, this can really save you a ton of time and hassle.
What you need to make one car work
Some of the savings from the sale of a 2nd car, repairs, gas and maintenance costs should be put toward comfortable walking shoes for the whole family. If you plan to walk year round, having layers during the Spring and Fall, and really warm coats for the Winter, is key.
For bikes, try yard sales or Craigslist for a used bike before you break the bank with a new titanium road bike. (And of course, invest in a helmet.)
If you have young kids, don't forget the stroller! You don't need anything fancy, but I would recommend a jogging stroller versus an umbrella stroller for ease of use on roads and bumpy sidewalks. (I spent about $350 on a top of the line stroller that was greatly discounted — well worth it after 2 years.)
If you can't work out how to have only one car, I suggest trying one of these alternate ideas.
- Give one car living a week-long trial.
- Consolidate your errands.
- Don't plan activities that overlap, when possible.
- Try alternate methods of transportation one or more days a week.
- Have a car-free day every weekend.
- Walk or bike whenever possible.
What has worked for us may not work for everyone, but trying to use your car less has many benefits. The main one for my family has been that we are happier and healthier, and we're staying away from stores when we don't really need something. Through this experiment, I have realized that the biggest benefit is to my wallet. Walking to the store presents a barrier to buying too much stuff, and makes me consider whether I need to go at all.
What do you think? Could you make one car living work for you?
This is a guest post by Kelly Whalen who blogs about paying off debt, organizing family life, and personal finance on The ¢entsible Life:
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