Can you be a one-car family in the suburbs? Here’s how we make it work.

one car family suburbs

Inside: Think being a one car family in the suburbs is impossible? Think again! We’ve been making it work for close to two years now. Here’s how and why we make being a one car family work.

We are a family of six living in the suburbs of Raleigh. We have four kids, ages 7, 5, 3 & 1. We are defying the assumptions of suburbia, proving you can be a one-car family in the suburbs. Learn about our reasons for being a one-car family, and how we make it work.

My husband takes the car to work most days of the week.  I stay home with our four kids all day long.  He’s at work from 7:30 am until around 6 pm.  I also homeschool.

Let me explain.

City Girl Meets Suburbia

When we lived in Boston, we had two cars (sort of) because my husband’s job provided him with a work vehicle for commuting and job-related driving.  Even though I could use the car any time I wanted, I used it less and less after our fourth child was born.  The library and parks were easy to walk to, and getting four kids out the door by myself became less appealing.  It was easier to just stay home!

When we decided to move, we intentionally chose a home close enough to my husband’s office just to make one car work.  But in Raleigh, this one car thing makes us a bit of an oddity.

In Boston, it wasn’t such a phenomenon. We had been a one car family up until recently. In fact, having two cars is uncommon in a city where car insurance rates are high, keeping track of the street cleaning schedule is a nightmare, and parking is scarce, especially in the winter. Between public transportation, zip car, and a city used to pedestrian traffic, getting by as a family with one car is doable.

Here, when I tell people we are a one car family, they say things like, “Really? How do you make that work?” or “Do you have plans to get a second car soon?”  When the answer is no, you can absolutely tell that in their heads, they’re thinking, “Good luck with that!”


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Is it really doable to be a one car family in the suburbs?

I’ll be honest.  I myself have thought a few times over the past two weeks that this commitment to being a one car family is crazy.  There is no possible way we can make this work long-term.

I especially feel this way on the insane days.  You know the ones – when the older two kids fight from the minute they woke up, the third is a hot mess because he dropped his naps long before he should have and is completely and utterly exhausted, and the baby won’t nap and insists on doing the stairs over and over again ad nauseum.

On those kind of days, I feel trapped.  Even though I probably wouldn’t choose to go somewhere on those days (the rest of the world doesn’t need to experience this family during that kind of crazy), I do miss the freedom to just pile everyone in the car and head to the closest Chick-fil-a play place.

Walking in a City that is NOT Pedestrian-friendly

Then there was the day I walked 1.7 miles with the kids to the local library.  I looked at the map – 1.7? Totally doable! Because my normal is Boston, where drivers actually pay attention to pedestrians, I assumed that all drivers do this.

So not true.

We were almost hit a few times, and 1.7 miles is quite a trek for the kids who were walking.  They only persevered because I promised them Wendy’s on the way home (its true – bribery is sometimes necessary).

I quickly realized I need to adjust my expectations of how we are going to make this work.

I’ll be honest: ugly self-pity frequently tempts me to despair.  I’m stuck at home with four kids and no car.  Poor me. How will I possibly survive this? Every other mom in this city has a car but me.

But then, I remind myself of all the reasons we are choosing to be a one car family.

I say choosing because it is an intentional choice.  We could be like many other Americans — go buy a new car, get a loan and a car payment.  It would be tight, but I’m sure someone would give us the loan because according to the world we NEED two cars.

But we choose to swim upstream, against the current of our culture that tells us what we need, when really, it’s what we want.  

one car family in suburbs, downsizing to one car, one car family

4 Reasons We Choose to be a One-Car Family (For Now)

1) Having a car at all is a luxury.

In many parts of the world, having a car is a luxury.  Families who have cars are considered very wealthy.  They save for years in order to purchase one.

In America, having a car is an assumption, a given, expected. Every teen movie overtly plants the dream of a shiny brand new car in the driveway the morning of the 16th birthday.  And while this is not every American teens’ reality, it would sure be nice.

I like to remember that having a car at all is a luxury we are fortunate to be able to afford.

Cultivating thankfulness and a global perspective never fails to break the back of self-pity.

2) We are wary of anything our consumer culture says we need.

The goal of advertising is to convince us that we need something.  If advertisers can create a need, they usually can make a sale. When our culture presents us with an assumption (in this case: you can’t survive without two cars), we automatically question it.

3) Two cars require more resources –  money, time, and energy.

We have quite a lot to keep up with already: four kids, one car, bills, the house, etc.  Adding another car can be expensive: it requires more car insurance, more oil changes, more gas.  But the drain on time and energy is possibly greater.  Two cars is one more car to maintain – to fix, to clean, etc (I can’t even keep one clean!).

Saying yes to one thing always means saying no to another.

When we say no to a second car, we say yes to something else we could spend that money, time, and energy on.

4) We are committed to paying off debt.

Like most Millenials, we left college with a boatload of student debt.  Between my husband and I, we had over $90,000 to pay off (thank you, Boston!).  We’re down to $25,000, but our progress has been stagnant the past couple years other than that pesky monthly payment.

Long ago, when our debt was bigger, I was the sole breadwinner. My husband was still in college, so I chose the 20-year payment plan for my loan, thinking I would change it later (NOT).

Now I’m kicking myself because for $100 more a month, we could be debt free this year.  At the time, I simply couldn’t see how we could manage that extra $100 (our payments were already around $650 a month).

My advice to new grads now? Find that extra $100 somewhere. Make it work.

We also acquired debt during our recent move.  Moving is expensive we learned, especially a long-distance move.  There are so many expenses besides the simple cost of getting your stuff from point A to point B.  We chose a no interest for 21 months credit card for our moving expenses, but all the same, the faster that is gone, the better.

Our goal is to be debt-free.  Now that we are settled in Raleigh, we are pursuing that goal with determination.  When self-pity is strong and I am annoyed by our present circumstances, I remind myself that future financial freedom is worth any temporary inconvenience.

“…future financial freedom is worth any temporary inconvenience.”

Being a One Car Family in the Suburbs: 4 Tips to Make it Work

1) We chose our home intentionally in order to be close to work.

If one spouse works somewhere farther than a 20 minute drive from home, sharing a car is less doable.  We chose our house over slightly less expensive options because we could share the car.  The drive is 6 miles: 10-15 minutes depending on traffic.

2) We are both willing to sacrifice convenience.

We schedule one consistent day of the week to car share.  Currently, that day is Friday, although we are considering switching to Thursdays for various reasons.

How does your car sharing day work?

My husband goes to work and drives home to pick us up at lunch time (along with a hot lunch).  We drop him off at work and head out to run errands, meet up with friends, or go to doctor appointments.  We pick him back up around 5 pm and head home.

Why don’t you drive him to work in the morning?

We operate on a slightly different schedule than most families I know with young kids.  Our kids go to bed between 9 pm and 10 pm.  They sleep in until 8:30 am – 9:30 am.  Homeschooling allows for this, and I love our slow mornings and guard them fiercely.

Right now, my husband leaves for work at 7:30 am, and I just don’t want to wake our late sleepers up that early.  So I don’t, and I make half a day with the car work.

3) We share the inconvenience burden.

Obviously, being home with four kids without a car is limiting and inconvenient at times.  I sacrifice flexibility in scheduling playdates, doctor appointments, and outings.  I only have one afternoon a week to use the car, and I make it work.

Does my husband like leaving the office to come home? Not particularly. In fact, it makes him want to come home and take nap. But he does it because of our commitment to making one car work.

4) We are considering other commuting options.

Another reason we chose this house is because there is a bike trail that runs from here to my husband’s work. We may find a used bike in a couple months to see if he enjoys biking to work (or could be ok with it), which would give me a whole day (or two) with the car instead of just half a day.

Over time, we may explore carpooling if he happens to meet colleagues who live close by (and can stomach small talk for 10 minutes that early in the morning #introvertproblems).

Conclusion

Will we ever have two cars?  Probably.

For now, we are committed to making one car work.

Is it inconvenient? Sometimes.

But so are a lot of things worth doing.

Read Next: 14 Things We’re Not Buying to Make Ends Meet

I spend less than $500 a year on quality clothes for a family of 6.

 

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Wondering if being a one car family can actually work - even in the suburbs? You can go without a second car (yes - even in America! even with a family!). Learn why you should consider it and how to make it work. #frugallivingtips

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