A year ago, we decided that it was time. It was time that we put our money where our mouths were. We had been listening to various people in the financial independence community discuss their decision to move to a one car family and we wondered if we could do the same. We imagined how much wealthier might feel with one less car insurance payment, one less registration, and one less car to get maintenance done on. Our cars were paid off, but sometimes they still felt like an unnecessary expense.
I worked from home. Mrs. Frugal Feline worked a mile away, easily bike-able. We had a one car garage which meant one of our vehicles had to be parked sometimes far away in our condo community parking lot. Did we really need two cars? Would we regret the decision?
A year ago this month, we sold one of our two cars on Carvana (fantastic experience, by the way) and pocketed the cash. It felt amazing, standing there holding a check for $12,000. But it wasn’t just that. We called our insurance company and cancelled our second policy on our second car. We felt lighter, better. Could being a one car family be a decision that super charged our path to financial independence? Here’s how the last year has gone as a one car family.
February 2021 – Our first month as a one car family
It felt amazing. Holding that check for $12,000 was like pouring lighter fluid on the small financial fire we had going. At the time, that $12,000 check was 10% of our entire net worth. This was big. We were struggling to squeeze out extra money in our monthly cash flow. This felt amazing.
Our first month as a one car family felt great and went great. We loved that Nissan Altima, but the truth was, we just didn’t need it. I was working from home and it only took me 10 minutes round trip to drop Mrs. Frugal Feline off at work. Some days she rode her bike to work and back. Some days I dropped her off and picked her up. It was easy. It felt like we were living smart and living below our means.
We were able to put that $12,000 to work immediately. We used much of it to fund Roth IRA accounts and max out contributions for both of us for the year prior. This was the first time either of us had ever maxed out a retirement account. We felt like we were finally making big moves towards our independence.
March 2021 – An unlikely email rocks the boat
We were 30 days into our decision to become a one car family. Our friends and family thought we were a little weird. We didn’t live in a state or city with massive public transportation infrastructure where this kind of decision would be normal and easy. We were embracing the “crazy” reputation of the kind of people who retire in their 30’s, pay their mortgage off early, live debt free, etc. That’s what we wanted. We wanted freedom. And we were willing to do whatever it took to get there – except our coffee, we aren’t willing to skimp on our coffee.
In March, I got an email from a friend of mine letting me know that the company that he was working for was looking to grow their product team. They were looking for software engineers. (The backstory here was I had been teaching myself software development for the last year and a half and had just lost an on-spec software development opportunity. I was back to square one. And this email was a timely and interesting prospect.) My eyes lit up because this company had a great reputation and I wanted to make a living as a software engineer. This could be my ticket to higher pay, shorter formal employment career, faster ticket out of the rat race. Plus, I loved software development. It was my hobby. Now it could be my career.
April 2021 – “In person only”
I was only a couple weeks into the interview process with this new potential employer when the offer details changed. A decision was made to require all employees that were going to be hired to relocate to the employer’s city which happened to be 1,000 miles away from where we were currently living. Suddenly, our perfect one car family situation became an, “Uh oh.”
Initially, we hesitated a lot. We were happy living where we were. Mrs Frugal Feline had finally found a job she liked. She got to work outside in a city with 330 days of sunshine and near perfect weather. Our life was easy. Her employer LOVED her. We were making more money and parsing out the complexity in our life. This decision really made us think.
Did I really want to go back to working in an office?
I wasn’t sure. But we decided to continue through the interview process and hold the decision with open hands. We didn’t even have an offer yet. Why stress out? If we didn’t end up getting an offer, then all this stress was for nothing. If we end up getting an offer, we can worry about the details then.
Midway through the month, we completed the interview process and received an offer. I asked for the weekend to think it over. We had a big decision to make. Before having to relocate for the job, we had nothing to lose. Now, we had everything to lose. We had to move 1,000 miles away from a place we loved. A place we could mountain bike, hike, ski, and enjoy the outdoors year round.
It was at our favorite restaurant on a date that we decided to accept the offer and make a big change. I can still remember the moment, where we were sitting, everything. This was without question the biggest decision of our marriage to date. This was a chance to move forward. And we took it.
May – June 2021 – New job, same lifestyle
We had accepted the offer and now we had a few months to get packed up and plan our relocation.
The hiring company’s city happened to be the city that both of us were originally from. It also happened to be a city where Mrs. Frugal Feline already had a job lined up (family employment who were thrilled to have her back) but would be working 8 miles away. It was a city where I would need to be in the office on a regular basis, 5 miles away. We had enjoyed our one car lifestyle for only a month before we were tormented by thoughts about whether or not we had made a huge mistake. Used car prices were skyrocketing. We would probably have to pay $13,000 to buy back that exact car now.
Since we were going to be homeowners now, we considered taking the opportunity to buy my dream car – a Toyota Tacoma. We needed a pickup truck for all of our home improvement projects. We were going to be making a lot more money now, too. My income would increase 1.5x and Mrs Frugal Feline’s would increase 1.2x. We were staring lifestyle inflation in the face. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed and we decided to wait and see if we could make it work. Did we really need two cars or could we make it work?
July 2021 – Our last month before the move
Our last month before the move was bitter sweet. We were excited about our new life, but we were sad to leave our home that we fell in love with. It was time for Mrs. Frugal Feline to put in her two weeks and ended up getting an offer to become the manager on the same day she planned to let her boss know she was moving (haha)! Funny how life works.
We had to get ready to leave and start a new chapter. We had to fit our lives in a U-Haul truck. This was a bad time to have a houseplant obsession. How many of our 87 house plants would make the trip? Spoiler alert: Not much more than 1/4th. 🙁
In the U-Haul, I received an email from my new employer notifying me that our company would remain remote for another few months. Ugh. It was a bad email to receive. For anyone who’s packed everything up in a truck and put your vehicle on a trailer to drive 1,000 miles, you know that you’re typically in a “I’d prefer no surprises” kind of mood. But, on the bright side, this would buy us more time. We could get settled in our new home and look for used cars. We could just wait it out and see if we could make it work.
Most of these weeks were spent working from home. I did end up going into the office every now and then. Mrs. Frugal Feline was working her day job 4 days a week. So on days I needed to go into the office, we decided to have her drop me off at the office in the morning with my bicycle. That way, we could leave work whenever we wanted and not have to wait on each other. It was hot. But it was nice. It takes me about 25 minutes to ride home from work. Most of the ride is on a car-less paved bike trail. Fortunately, we live right off a major bicycle trail system.
September 2021 – Today
Not much has changed since August. I still go into the office about once a week. I work from home most of the time. We keep the same routine – I get dropped off with my bike and ride home. Mrs. Frugal Feline often takes Fridays off as her work schedule is flexible which allows me to take the car to work and drive home if needed. But to be honest, I have only had one day where I haven’t been able to ride my bike home from work (snow storm). I’ve come to love it and see it as a challenge. Lately, I’ve had to dress a lot warmer than normal and be a little more picky with which days I go in. But luckily I have a very flexible and gracious manager who allows me to pick and choose which days I go into the office.
We don’t regret the decision. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t gone through periods of serious regret about becoming a one car family. There will likely come a day where we can’t make it work anymore. One day we will have kids, more responsibilities, different work expectations. But we’ve always approached the situation with open hands. Unfortunately, the used car market has gone bonkers. Prices for used cars are often well above prices for new cars. Nothing makes sense and we are glad we are not needing to buy another car right now.
It’s Not All Gravy
I have been surprised at how easy of a switch it’s been to become a one car family. On the whole, it’s been amazing. We have one car insurance payment. One annual registration payment. One car to wash, vacuum, fill up, maintain, put new tires on. Everyone thinks it’s free to own a car that you own, but it’s not. In fact, its surprisingly expensive to own a car. For us, it’s routinely in the $200-$300 dollar range for our gas, tolls, and insurance. Some months, like December 2021, it cost us $381 to own our car. Obviously, use factors into a lot of that number, but still. It sure isn’t free.
Today is a good example of a day when it would be more convenient to have a second car. Its unusually warm today and I plan to go ride my mountain bike at our nearby spot after work. We are very fortunate to live 5 minutes away from some pretty sweet mountain bike trails. But even though I’m working from home today, I will have to wait for Mrs. Frugal Feline to get home from work before I can load up my bike and head to the trails. It really comes down to being willing to share. (Talk about champagne problems, right?)
Other times when it’s inconvenient are when my brother in law wants to go throw the football around for exercise. This is one of my favorite things to do and if Mrs. Frugal Feline is at work, then scheduling a time is really out of my hands. And sometimes, I just can’t do it at all.
While I can dig up some examples of when being a one car family has sucked, the truth is, it’s SO much easier than I was expecting. Could and will that sentiment change? Sure, but for now, it’s mostly all gravy.
Would We Do It Again?
If we could go back a year and have another chance at becoming a one car family or not, would we make the same decision?
When we think about it, it’s really only one or two days a month when we wish we had a second car. The vast majority of the time, that second car would sit on the street. It would be another thing we’d have to maintain, keep clean, or worry about getting side swiped or broken in to. While this decision hasn’t been completely trade-off free, I think without question we have come out on top.
I think being a one car family can work for a lot of people. Especially if someone in the family can work from home.
I do think we will get a second car within the next 3-5 years. I don’t think we can make this situation last forever. However, this decision has challenged us to live a lifestyle below our means and learn to share. Not only did it make our move a ton easier, it also removed a lot of headache of trying to manage the second car.
As you can see, despite our life taking a wild turn this past year, our decision to become a one car family still paid off. Both financially and physically. It’s less stress. Less headache. And the older I get, the more I think not every decision is all about the numbers. Psychology does play a role in personal finance. At least it does for me.
Call to Comment
What do you think? Have you considered reducing the number of cars in your family? How much does your car(s) cost you each month? What’s holding you back from becoming a one car family?