How To Be A One-Car Family
Downsizing To A Single Vehicle Brings Savings, Requires Flexibility
When Sabrina Ahmad and her husband decided to do some household budget-cutting last year, they didn’t pick around the edges looking to save a few dollars here or there.
Instead, they went right to the top of the family ledger and axed one of their biggest, most sacred financial commitments: her husband’s Toyota Prius.
Estimating their monthly savings at around $800 between the car’s payment, insurance, a $125 monthly parking spot—plus other expenses—Ahmad said the decision wasn’t easy, but has been well worth it.
“It’s the best thing we’ve done,” said Ahmad, a banking account manager in Los Angeles.
So, how did they do it? For one, they moved next to an L.A. Metro station so her husband, Azeem, could take public transportation from their apartment in Koreatown to his job in Pasadena. Meanwhile, Sabrina kept her Lexus hatchback, which she uses to get to her job in Beverly Hills during the week.
“And we always go out with each other on the weekends, so we don’t really need a car then,” Ahmad said.
The Ahmads aren’t alone. In fact, KPMG's Gary Silberg predicts that by 2040 only about 43 percent of U.S. households will have more than one vehicle—down from 57 percent at the time of KPMG's report in 2014.
While relying on a single car may sound like the kind of thing that’s only manageable in the short term, it’s become nothing short of a lifestyle for Fair employee Veronica Mahler and her husband, Kyle. In fact, they’ve managed to get by with just one vehicle between them for the past five years—even as they moved from Austin to Los Angeles to Atlanta, their current home.
And while sharing a car requires some additional coordination, Mahler said it has surprisingly brought as many logistical benefits as challenges.
“It forces us to use public transit, allowing us to explore these cities, go to new neighborhoods and see new sights without having to worry about parking or gas,” Mahler said.
But of course, sharing a car isn’t without its challenges.
“There’s always the one person who sacrifices more,” said Ahmad, citing the occasional issues around safety and convenience for her train-taking spouse. Cars, after all, are an extremely convenient personal bubble that allow their drivers considerable control over their journey from Point A to Point B. Not so much with public transit, which can be prone to delays, missed connections, and a sometimes uncomfortable level of proximity to fellow commuters.
“On Saturdays when Azeem would have to work, the metro would take an hour and-a-half because there are not as many stops,” Ahmad said.
Additionally, if the carless party needs to go to a place out of their routine, such as a networking event after work, adjustments need to be made. For example, Ahmad will take an Uber to work if her husband needs to go to the doctor on a weekday.
But if coordinating between the schedules of two adults sounds tough, try pulling it off with three people. Blake Zimmerman did. A project manager in Los Angeles, he wrecked his car a few years ago and ended up sharing a car with his then-roommates—a couple—for nearly seven months.
“The downside was having to meticulously plan out who needs the car,” Zimmerman said. “And if we had differing plan, it became a game of ‘scheduling Tetris’.”
Making It Work
If you’re considering the plunge into car-sharing, everyone cited communication as the most important ingredient to pulling off a single-car situation.
“As long as you’re openly communicating and coordinating, it is not impossible,” Mahler said. “Just take into consideration how it will impact your day-to-day.”
As with real estate, location is incredibly important, too. Zimmerman suggested living close to where you work and utilizing ridesharing services like Uber when needed.
Meanwhile, Ahmad suggested that those thinking about downgrading to one car should take a page from her and her spouse’s playbook by moving close to public transportation.
“Plan it out to see if it works financially and logistically,” Ahmad said.
She even made a list of pros and cons around a scenario in which one person takes public transportation versus driving together to work.
“I think it’s pretty important to be flexible when sharing a car,” Ahmad said. “Or it can get frustrating, because it’s hard to plan your day accordingly.”