Throughout my life, I’ve made many decisions that have actively made my life more difficult in the name of saving money. For example, when I was 22, I lived in a 400 square foot cottage for almost two years. It was tight quarters with my husband and my cat and my dog, but we made it work. I also got married for only $3,000 because I DIYed a considerable amount of the wedding myself. That was incredibly stressful, but without doing the work myself or enlisting friends and family, I wouldn’t have been able to get married at all.
Beyond those two examples, there have been countless uHaul moves, dinners at home, flights at ridiculous hours, not to mention DIY projects – all in the name of saving money.
But the single decision I’ve made that has saved me the most money over the past five years has been the choice to be a one-car household.
Having only one car initially started out of necessity. I was a new graduate and had just totaled my husband’s car. I barely had the money for one car, let along one for each of us, so we made due with a used Volkswagen Golf that I financed for $12,000.
It was not easy living in the country with just one car where there was no public transit, and the nearest town was 8km away. We made it work through careful coordination and straight up having to decline some events because one of us was using the car.
Fast forward five years, and I’ve moved to a city where having a single car is much more feasible for the average person, and it saves me a bundle of cash.
Having Only One Car Saves $5,250 Per Year
According to the Toronto Star, the average yearly bill for owning a car is $5,250 per year including payments, insurance, gas, and maintenance. That is a hefty chunk of cash, and since it seems like most Canadian families own two cars, you can double that amount, which means most families are spending over $10,000 of their hard earned after-tax dollars on cars. I don’t know about you, but I can think of about a dozen better places to spend my money than on an asset that will eventually depreciate to zero.
By living with only one car to share between two people, I’m freeing up a significant amount of cash to invest or put towards home renovations. I’m also lowering my minimum monthly expenses significantly, so if one of us loses our job, there will be fewer minimum costs to cover.
How to Get Around Without a Car
Here’s what living with one car looks like for my family: My husband works about 10km away, and his hours are 6 am – 2 pm. He uses our only vehicle to commute to work because transit doesn’t run that early in this city. While he has the car, I rely on alternate sources of transportation like:
When looking for a house to buy, I specifically looked for homes that were close to amenities, even though that meant paying more. That means there is a grocery store, liquor store, coffee shop, bank, post office, and park within a 15-minute walk of my home. If I need to grab a coffee or groceries during the day while my husband is at work (I work from home), I walk, usually with the dog in tow.
In the winter I take public transit to get to destinations further afield. Whether it’s downtown for a meeting or appointment, or further away, public transit is a good, albeit slow option to get around. It’s also not exactly cheap, at $2.50 a ride. That’s why I always prefer taking to two wheels.
Riding a Bike
Riding a bike is hands down the fastest way to get around the peninsula of Halifax, and is my #1 choice for transportation. After the initial investment and teaching myself basic bike maintenance, my bike costs me almost nothing to operate. There is always plenty of free parking, often right at the entrance of my destination, and – best of all – nothing beats sailing past a lineup of cars sitting in traffic in a nearly empty bike lane.
Getting used to riding my bike in traffic took some time, and I plan my route carefully to incorporate bike lanes and side streets where possible. At intersections that make me nervous, I get off and walk, but it’s still faster than public transit or even driving a car – especially during rush hour.
As I mentioned, my car is unavailable to me from 6 am – 2 pm, Sunday -Thursday. So, if I need to make an appointment that I can’t reach by bike, I use good sense and plan my day accordingly. For example, my doctor’s office is way out in the suburbs, inaccessible by bike and 45 minutes away by public transit, yet only a 15 drive on the highway by car. Guess when the vast majority of my doctor’s appointments take place? Friday morning.
All of my other appointments are reachable by bike, bus, or walking, and – I cannot stress this enough – that is by design. By spending a little more on my house, so it’s in a walkable neighbourhood, I can live with just one car, just beautifully.
I’d Rather Spend the Money on an Appreciating Asset than a Depreciating Asset
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people who admit to spending upwards of $800 per month on car payments, gas, insurance, and maintenance, and then – often in the same breath – exlaim that they couldn’t imagine spending as much money as I have on a home.
The problem with this logic is that by spending more money on a home in a walkable neighbourhood, you’re investing in an asset that a) you’ll eventually own outright and b) increases in value. Cars, on the other hand, are a ridiculous asset to sink your money into because you’re going to have to replace them continually throughout your life – sometimes before the loan is even paid off!
Looking Towards the Future – and CarShare
Right now, living with one car is a great way to save money, help the environment, and stay fit without much sacrifice of convenience.
But circumstances might change down the road, for example, if my husband and I decide to procreate. If that happens, there will be a slew of new logistical challenges. I’ll have midwifery appointments, follow-ups with my family doctor, not to mention my ability to walk and bike long distances will be restricted. If that time ever comes, I still don’t plan on adding a second car to our household.
Instead, joining CarShare Atlantic will be a top priority. CarShare Atlantic is precisely what it sounds like: a membership-based car sharing company similar to ZipCar. The membership fees are pretty low, and there are a few cars very close to my house, so I’ll use that option for journeys that aren’t walkable while pregnant or with a little one in tow. I’ve done the math and the membership and the fees for using a car several times per month would still be less than I’d pay for just insurance on a second vehicle, let alone car payments, parking, maintenance, and gas.
The Last Word
The reality of living as a one-car household is that it’s actually pretty great. While sharing one car between two working adults isn’t the pinnacle of convenience, with some careful planning of both where we live and how and when we run errands, it’s entirely possible with minimal annoyance.
When I consider the ten’s of thousands of dollars I’ve saved over the past five years of living in a one-car household, this lifestyle becomes a no-brainer.
How many cars do you have? How much do you spend on them every year? I want to know!