This contribution is a guest post from blogger, Katie P. Look forward to more from Katie in future posts.
A few months before I delivered my youngest daughter, my husband and I faced two dilemmas: The first was that neither of our vehicles, purchased before we got married, was big enough to drive around our soon-to-be family of six. The second was that money was tight – really tight – and a new baby meant more money going out, and less money coming in, for at least the next year. We had planned to wait one year after our wedding to “try” for a baby of our own, after combining our three children under one roof, but it turns out we were really bad at the rhythm method so our little Erinn came along earlier than we anticipated.
She was born just three weeks short of our one-year wedding anniversary, and four weeks short of the first year anniversary of starting my freelance writing business. Our family was still in minor chaos, and our finances were meager, at best. We were renting a beautiful home (thanks to a deep family discount on account of my father-in-law) and our electricity and cell phones were turned on. But my car payments had fallen behind (his was paid off), and we somehow needed to find more money AND a bigger car before our littlest came along.
So we made a drastic decision. We decided to get rid of my car, and get by with just one family vehicle for a little while. We weren’t sure how long we would go – after all, his was still not big enough for all of us – but with me working at home, and him only going in one or two days each week, just one family vehicle made immediate and long-term sense.
Well, my youngest turned one in May and we have yet to transition back to a two-car family. In fact, my husband still has the same vehicle because it turns out that our family very rarely goes anywhere all together (we do most of our family errands on the weekend, when my stepkids are with their mom and their school, the park and the library are all within walking distance). We have been able to save some toward a new (to us) vehicle in the process, and saved another $800 or so in insurance costs, not to mention maintenance savings.
We are in the process of pricing upgrades to replace my husband’s car this fall. Last year, we worked out some rides with other family members over the holidays but we want to have our own transportation figured out this time. I have a good friend from college who owns several dealerships who is helping us find the right car, at the right price. But at the moment, we have no plans to add a second car.
This whole journey has made an impact on us. Here are three of the lessons we have learned as a one-car family:
We over-drove. And we still probably do. But on the days that my husband is at work with the family car, and I know I need to get out with my little ones, we walk to the beach, or the library, or a friend’s house. The distance range for most of those trips is between half a mile to just under a mile, and all have sidewalks. I found that it was so easy to just throw the kids in the car to go to places that we really SHOULD have been walking in the first place. Now we often have no choice, and that’s a good thing.
Driving cost us beyond the obvious reasons. I already mentioned the gas, maintenance and insurance savings we have experienced by just having one car for over a year now. We save money other ways too, though. It used to be so easy to drive to the grocery store to pick up one item, or to get out of the house via a Target run that wasn’t really needed. We paid for things to do, when we could have saved that cash and just stuck close to home. I’ve certainly come to realize that this last year.
It’s okay to go without. The three older kids had a lot of questions when we cut our driving fleet in half. What happened to your car? Why do we only have one car? When will we have two cars again? At first, it actually made me feel pretty bad about myself. I knew the main reason was financial, and it always feels crummy to “not have enough” money for something. But I quickly adapted my thinking and our kids have too. I explained (as best as I could to the 6 and under crowd) that a car is an expense. Two cars is an even bigger expense. I told them that instead of having that added expense, we were going to save up for a little while and adjust our habits to include more walking and riding bikes. They still like to grumble when we set off for a trip to the library, but I remind them that even if we HAD a car to drive, we would walk. We cannot have everything that we want just because we want it. They understand that we are working towards a bigger car that will fit all of us and that we cannot just snap our fingers and have one magically appear in our driveway.
Getting by with one car has been an interesting experience and I think that it has helped cement our family identity in these early years together. It has made my husband and I (both artistically-brained, if you will) more mindful of our family finances, and our kids more understanding of how we make, save and spend money. The day may come when we are back to two cars in our driveway. Until then, we will get by just fine.
Katie Parsons is a freelance writer who lives with her four children, husband and the sound of the ocean nearby. Before she was a freelance writer, she worked in news media in Chicago, Orlando and Shelbyville, Indiana. She has a Creative Writing degree from Ball State University. Katie is writing a memoir about the time when she was single and pregnant. She owns a content creation company and you can contact her by emailing her at email@example.com.