Written by contributor Tiffany Larson.

If you had told me years ago that we would be a one-car family, I would have considered it impossible. But here we are, one year into it, and not looking back. While inconvenient at times, I challenge you to consider the possibility for your own family using the tips shared below for how to make it work.

1. Set Goals

Like Dave Ramsey says, “A Goal Without a Plan Is Just A Dream.”  Our future goals include buying a house so when we became a one-income family, we needed to make a plan. We needed to cut expenses and transportation was an area where we could save (keep reading to find out how much). Not only did we have a monthly payment for our second car, they were both gas guzzlers.  We discussed our needs, reviewed our schedules, and decided that selling it made sense.

Since then, we’ve continued to review that decision to make sure it fits our family’s goals.  As our lifestyle changes, we may need to purchase a second car but it will be a more cost efficient vehicle.

2. Plan Ahead

My husband and I often sit down on Sunday evenings to review the week ahead.  It prevents stressful car conflicts as we ensure each of us have transportation when we need it.  If there are any potential conflicts, we have enough time to change our schedules or find alternative transportation.

3. Alternatives to A Second Car

While having a second car is often the easiest form of transportation, it’s not your only option.  One of these may work for you:


Do coworkers live near you?  Are there other families that might want to share trips to your children’s school? I share carpool duty with another mom at my daughter’s preschool.  It allows me to free up the car for my husband’s needs and saves me gas and time.

Carpooling is also a great way to save on parking and toll fees.  If you don’t have someone in mind to share trips with, try looking at Carpool World or Craigslist for others going in the same direction.


Traveling by bike not only gets you where you need to go, but it’s great exercise too.  With over forty percent of people working within five miles of their workplace, commuting by bike seems like a great way to save money and burn calories.

As we do, you can use biking as a secondary transportation choice for your entire family. My husband rides his bike to the gym or grocery store and we all ride bikes to the park.

While my children, five and two, have their own bikes, we use both a Trail-a-Bike and a bike trailer to take them with us long distances or in areas of traffic.  Child bike seats are a great way to have your child right on the bike with you or invest in a family or cargo bike if you have multiple children and/or stuff to pack with you.

May is National Bike Month and cities all over the country are hosting special events to encourage bike use.  Bike to School Day on May 9 and Bike to Work Day on May 18 may be great opportunities to try out the one-car family concept.

family on busPhoto by Mike of Surrey

Bus, Train, Subway or other Public Transportation

Public transportation is the transportation of choice for many nations and if your city offers the infrastructure, you might take advantage of it. When my husband worked downtown, we saved parking fees and gas by having him take the bus.  He also enjoyed the free time to read or listen to music.

Now that he travels frequently out of state, he takes a taxi to and from the airport.  While this is reimbursed to us by his company, it is another creative way to live without a second car.

Using national transportation systems such as Greyhound or Amtrak is a great way to travel outside of your city without the added expense of a vehicle.  We will soon be moving to a smaller city and have found a great shuttle system that will transfer my husband to the local airport or drive him 150 miles to the next larger airport, if needed.  Again, a little research (and flexibility, see below) helped us avoid the need for a second car.

Moped, Scooter or Motorcycle

Two wheels might be a great way to eliminate a second vehicle but still provide needed transportation.  At one point, we had a motorcycle that my husband would ride to work.  At 40mpg, it shaved a lot off the gas budget.   It also allowed him to use the HOV lanes, saving time and was easier to park, saving on expensive parking fees.

Car Rentals and Car Sharing

Renting a car or using a car sharing service may be the perfect bridge between having one car and having two cars for your family.  If you occasionally need an extra car for the weekend or just a few hours, these options make it possible.

Car sharing services, like Zipcar, allow you to reserve a car just minutes, or months, in advance.  Similar to traditional car rental services, you pick up the car, use it and then return it to a reserved parking location.   Gas and insurance are included in the hourly or daily rate, although you would need to bring your own child seats, if you need one.  Hourly rates in my city of Portland start at $7.20 and daily rates at $64.80.


Working from home is a great alternative to needing a second car.  This is key to making one car work for our family as my husband works from home most days.  If one or both drivers can telecommute from home, even one day per week, it reduces the need for an additional vehicle.

4.  Consider the Savings

Every gallon of gas that your car doesn’t use saves 1.3 pounds in greenhouse gas pollution.  It also saves you about four dollars.  But gas isn’t the only cost associated with a car.  Beyond the initial cost of purchasing a car, we estimate we save $2500 – $3000 per year by not having a second car.  Annual savings include:

  • auto insurance
  • routine maintenance: 3-4 oil changes, tire rotations, alignment
  • replacement of tires, brakes, batteries
  • registration, tag and DEQ fees
  • taxes, depending on your state
  • parking fees

5.  Be Flexible

Flexibility is, without a doubt, the most important attitude a family needs to make leaving a second car behind, work.  Inevitably, there will be a time when more than one driver needs to use the car at the same time.

With the tips above, this is often not a issue.  However, when a last minute need comes up, someone has to make a concession.  Bikes are ridden in the rain, friends are called for a ride or plans get cancelled.

If you research your options and keep a flexible attitude, you can successfully navigate with one-car saving stress, money and the environment.

Are you a one-car family?  Can you share tips that help make it work for your family?  If you aren’t a one-car family, what prevents you from considering it?