Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Truth About the One Car Family

My husband and I have always shared a car, and while the idea of a second car is aired often, it is always shot down, most often by me - the walker - because of the expenses and true car cost. Nevertheless, although our family is proud of our frugal living, it is still tempting to get that second car. This is why I decided to look at the pros and cons of owning a second car as well as the true cost of owning a car. No matter the actual car cost, I also wanted to share the truth about the one car family, as it is not just rosy and great carbon prints.

According to the AAA Your Driving Cost report, the average cost to operate a mid-size car such as a Ford Fusion or a Honda Accord is 47.6 cents a mile, or $9,519 a year based on driving 15,000 miles a year. A small car costs 43.3 cents a mile, or $6,496 a year, while a four-wheel drive SUV is the most expensive, at nearly 74 cents per mile, or $11,000 a year.

According to our own calculations the car cost for our family is $5600 in car maintenance, fuel, insurance etc. This annual car cost each year to own our 1999 Honda Odyssey is based on a 25,000 annual mileage.

The amount vary from household to household, but the one fact that cannot be disputed is that owning a car is expensive, and not even frugal living can eliminate transportation expenses. Car maintenance, car insurance, registration, and of course gasoline...it all ads up, and it ads up fast. You can find the cost to own a newer car at Edmunds.com, you can also read more about what a car really cost at ConsumerReports.com.

My husband uses our 1999 Honda Odyssey for work, and since he became self-employed a few years ago, I have driven it on very few occasions. It is also our family car, and with the backseat being able to lay down flat, it seems to be a very easy transition from the work car to the family car.

However, frugal living as a one car family requires a lot of patience, compromise and flexibility, and unless everyone in the family is able to adapt, living in a one car family can be difficult.

What a one car family means for my husband:
My husband works full time, and he also attends school full time, but fortunately he both works and goes to school less in our very close to home. Since he is self-employed it makes it a bit easier for him to give us rides if needed, but it also leaves him with a lot of driving around. Fortunately my husband works mostly in the area where we live, but on the days where he has to go far north or south, the kids and I are on our own.

What a one car family means for me:
For me, the mom, wife, and the second grown up in our family, living in a one car family takes a lot of walking, a lot of waiting and a lot of planning. My sons's schools are 1 mile apart, and unless I take the bus or get a ride, I walk 5 miles back and forth dropping off and picking off. On most days I actually enjoy the walk, as South Florida is beautiful, but on the days where I have to run away from the rain or when the sun is burning, it can be rough.

Grocery shopping is planned out carefully with a grocery list by grocery aisle to make the shopping trip fast and effective, and I try to bundle a few stores together. I think that our frugal living is actually helped by the fact that we only have one car, because it seems that every time I go to a store, I always end up spending more than I expected to. Having one car means that I usually only go shopping once a week, and quite often I bring all three children, but it is more because of my husband's work schedule than because of only having one car.

Some weeks I drop off my middle son at school, pick up my oldest son and then I take him and the little one on the bus to the grocery store. My husband will then pick up our middle son before picking me, our two other kids and the groceries up. Frugal living and living as a one car family, is all about flexibility, and in my case it is also about finding ways to not be dependent on a car.

If the kids and I need to take the bus in the afternoon to go to the store or to an event downtown, I have to make sure to bring the light-weight stroller, but fortunately I recently got a new stroller that works a lot better on the bus than our old umbrella stroller. 

Having to be on the road walking every day is a good thing for me, although it does not always seem as such. I have dropped two clothing sizes, since I began walking like this in August, and I rarely have to take my asthma medication.

What a one car family means for the kids:
Living in a one car family means a lot for our three sons, and they too have had to make compromises. My kids walk a lot, because we only have a car, and they also spend a lot of time riding their bikes. Because of the amount of exercise they get, my two oldest sons have been medication free for over a year. They both get regular check ups, but their asthma is under control. This year we have had to drop extracurricular activities, because our schedule was so hectic already, and sometimes we do not attend certain evening school functions, because I do not feel like walking with them in the dark.

Because we walk everywhere the kids know our area very well, and they have a great sense of direction. We get to do a lot of talking on our walks, and it is amazing the sights we see when we are out walking. This morning we saw avocados, bananas and much much more.

The kids have also learned that we cannot always depend on their dad giving us a ride, and they are getting to know the local bus lines very well. While they appreciate getting a ride, they do not complain if we have to walk somewhere, because they are so used to it.

We spend a lot of our time waiting, but it is done at the playground, the park, the beach or the library, so as long as the waiting time is well spent, I actually think this is a benefit to the kids. 

My fourteen-month-old son spends a lot of time in his stroller, but he is lucky to have a very comfortable European stroller. It was a great investment at the time, but it has been well worth it, and this four-year-old stroller has quite a mileage. We spend a lot of time waiting in the park, and he goes to the playground with one of his brothers or both almost every day, and we also make daily visits to the library because of the waiting time.

To show you how we make our one car family work, this is how our daily family schedule looks.

The family schedule:
  • 7 a.m. my husband takes our eight-year-old son to school, our son gets to school early and eats breakfast there on most days. He then continues on to his own school, which starts at 8 a.m.
  • At 11:30 -11:45 a.m it is time for me to leave the house with our two youngest sons to make it to the pre school on time. I walk 3.5 miles with my 14-month-old in the stroller, and my 4-year-old on the stroller board - I love that stroller board. If we get to school early, we spend some time at the park or at the playground.
  • 1 p.m. Pre-school opens up for my four-year-old son. After dropping him off, I either spend 20 minutes at the library or in the park before walking 1 mile again.
  • 2 p.m. I pick up my 8-year-old from school (little on in the stroller). We all walk back to the college campus where the pre school is located. 
  • 2:30 - 4 p.m. We spend time at the library, the park and the playground. My oldest son does his homework, and then it is play time.
  • 4 p.m. I pick up my four-year-old at pre school, and if possible my husband picks all of us up. Sometimes we have to wait 30 minutes to an hour before he can get there, but we spend that time at the library or at the playground. 

On the weekends where the kids and I either walk to one of our local parks, or my husband drops us off a local park, the mall or our favorite the beach for the day. He will pick us up, whenever it fits into his work schedule.

Today was a bit out of the ordinary, as our youngest son was sick, and I had to make a doctor appointment. As soon as I made the appointment we started walking the three miles to the doctor, but it was a beautiful day, and we enjoyed every moment of our walk. My four-year-old stood on his stroller board, and we saw a lot of new sights.

While we were at the doctor waiting for our appointment, my oldest son's school called. My oldest son was at the school clinic sick and he needed to be picked up. Normally, I would have walked to pick him up, but since I was now four miles away, my husband had to leave class to pick him up. He dropped him off at the doctor's office, and when we were all done, he came to pick us up on his lunch break.


The pros of the one car family:
  • Less car maintenance, fuel and insurance costs.
  • More exercise for everyone in the family.
  • We get lots of fresh air.
  • Since we do a lot of waiting, we spend a lot of time at the library or at the playground.
  • Less unnecessary trips.
  • Everyone learns to compromise and work together to make everything work.
  • The kids learn to appreciate the car.
  • The kids get to actually see the neighborhood close up as we walk everywhere.

The cons of the one car family:
  • Everything has to be planned out
  • Everyone has to compromise
  • Less after-school activities
  • A lot of driving for the driver of the car
  • A lot of waiting for everyone in the family
  • Unforeseen events such as a sick child at school can be harder to manage. 
I realize that being a one car family does not work for everyone, and if finances were not an issue, we would probably get that second car. However, for the past 9+ years we have been a one car family, through college, living in NJ, living in Europe, and now living in Florida, through different jobs and with a growing family that has now turned into a family of five - we are still a one car family.

I would love to be able to ride a bike instead of walking everywhere, but I am simply too scared to ride bike in South Florida. Even on foot, I have to be very aware of my surroundings, and getting eye contact at every stop and traffic stop is essential, as most drivers in South Florida pay very little attention to bicyclists and walkers, and quite often they are on their cellphones (my husband included).

Being in a one car family takes patience, flexibility and teamwork from everyone in the family. It is not always easy, and it sure can be a hassle. Still, in my opinion being a one car family works for us, and I sure would not want to have the extra expenses of owning a second car. However, if we won a free car and free gas, I would accept it in a heartbeat.

How many cars do your family have?
Have you ever considered becoming a one car family?
Do you know what your annual car cost is?

* The photos are from our walk to the doctor's office today.
** I originally posted this post on www.frugalityisfree.com, but I thought it was a perfect fit for the Fit & Frugal Challenge as well.

1 comment:

  1. We are a no car family and I hope to stay that way for as long as possible.
    We're also a one-adult family, so more than one car wouldnt be an option.
    I live within walking distance to almost anything and everything we need. What isn't close, is quite easy to get to on Transit.
    Yeah, sometimes I wish we had a car, but there are car coops that I can sign up for if I find I need to use one more than once every few months.
    If I moved to the burbs, I'd have to think about getting a car. Its one of the reasons I'm not moving. The costs for a car, insurance and upkeep is more than I'd save in housing. Plus, the time I would spend commuting is time I couldnt spend with my boys.