Seven Tips to Become a One Car Family

How many cars does your family have? Two is typical, but what if being a one-car family makes more sense?

She sat there alone for months. No one with which to run errands. No one singing songs with her. No one feeding her goldfish or the leftovers of squeezy applesauce packages. She missed the kids the most but she would have settled for an adult keeping her company. She knew she was never the favorite, not nearly as capable as the other one, but still, even in the Before Times she was proven useful at least once a week. But since March we barely looked her way. It was finally around August of last year that we admitted the truth. Our second car was depressed. 

Maybe you think I’ve lost my mind to offer mental health to an inanimate object, but then you also must not be the kind of person who names their cars.

And when you are the kind of person who names your car, Baby Blue III (not to be confused with Baby Blue the OG and Baby Blue Two), you start to think of them as another member of the family. We had to admit to ourselves that this member of the family deserved a better life than what we were providing for her.  

Family Driving In Open Top Car On Countryside Road Trip

The pandemic for all it took away from us, opened our eyes to a different perspective on quality of life, better options for work/life balance, and refocus on priorities. Some people even who came out with impressive new skills and healthy sourdoughs to boot, but I was lucky if I remembered to bathe my children more than once a week so you can just count me out of that group. 

For our family, one of the greatest lifestyle shifts we noticed in the pandemic was with transportation. With fewer activities to attend and both my husband and I working from home, we had all but abandoned our second car since March 2020. It seemed like a waste of money to pay for car insurance and car payments, not to mention depreciation of value on a good car just taking up a parking space in front of our house. So on a whim, and a good deal, we traded in our beloved Baby Blue the III and entered into life as a one car family. 

At the time, it felt like an uncharacteristic risky move for us. Then again, many people were getting pandemic puppies. At least you don’t have to potty train a car, I thought. We told ourselves we would give it a try as long as we could and if it proved too difficult, we could always get another car.

But the truth is, there were decisions we made naturally in our lives even before the pandemic that prepared us to be a one car family. As we have had to sit down and think about ways to make this successful, I realize we might have been able to make this decision long before a pandemic turned us upside down. It’s true, a one car family lifestyle choice does not work for everyone.

But if you are curious, I want to offer seven tips to set yourself up for success as a One Car Family:

  1. Communication is key. I list this first because I believe this to be the most important step to making one car work in your family. Talk. With. Your. Partner. Yes, this is obvious in marriage always, but it is even more crucial when you share a car. My husband and I compare schedules weekly to discuss who needs a car and when. If someone is out with the car, we check in before we leave or before we come home to offer to pick something up, drop something off, etc. Batching errands to maximize the time we have use of the car helps both partners. It also forces us to rethink our priorities when compared to our partner’s and keeps both of us accountable for what is necessary when we communicate.
  2. Choose walkable communities. This is only an option if you are already planning on making a move. But if this is the case, and you are considering the option to be a one car family, knowing the walkability of your neighborhood is a close second, if not tied with communication. We chose our current neighborhood in South Minneapolis for its proximity to schools, stores, restaurants, libraries, parks, as well as easy access to public transportation. Even more suburban communities are making intentional shifts towards walkability with better sidewalks or bike paths and increased public transit options. You want choices for transportation and walkability makes those options so much easier on your family. Another side effect is falling more deeply in love with your community. Not a bad deal.
  3. Invest in good alternative transportation. If you are going to try to use your car less, you want your alternative equipment to be a workhorse. Your stroller, your bike, your bike trailer—those become your second car. Invest in something quality and it will make the transition worth it. I call my double stroller the minivan for a reason. I have hauled two children, sometimes three if someone needs a lift, a bunch of groceries, a stack of library books, even extra scooters and bikes on my six year old double stroller and you might think it was brand new (except for those chocolate ice cream stains.) Even great equipment can be purchased second hand and work just as well. You will never regret it.
  4. Familiarize yourself with public transit. The more you use public transportation, the more comfortable you get. Pre-pandemic, I used the Metra Transit at least weekly but at the time it was more for entertainment for my four year old than a necessity. The pandemic made this challenging for us this year. Now that we know more about how to keep ourselves safe in public spaces, I look forward to using the train or the bus as an alternative to the car. The app for Metra Transit makes it easy to purchase tickets, track buses and trains, and plan the best route. I even take my double stroller on and off with ease. Plus, it’s always an adventure in itself for a curious child.
  5. Consider ride sharing. We’ve not yet had to consider this but it is a great choice for those with less access to public transit. Sometimes a second car is needed when all other options have been exhausted. Car sharing services or ride shares are still a much more affordable way to use a car when it’s only an occasional need. Also, if you or your partner travel by car out of town for work, sometimes renting a car is more cost effective for your company than paying you mileage fees. It’s worth knowing about all these options in your community so you aren’t scrambling when the need arises.
  6. Get comfortable with asking for help. This is the hardest one for me—a people pleaser who lives in fear of inconveniencing others. But you know what people like to do? They like to help. The phrase “it takes a village” is overused but completely accurate. We live better in our community when we learn how other people can help us as well as the gifts we can offer them in return. If you can’t run carpool, there are other ways to be of help. Make a meal for that family, give them a night of babysitting, provide a gas gift card if exchanging money is too awkward. Another thing I have learned to do is let my neighbors know if my husband will be out of town so they can be on standby in case of emergencies. It’s a personal choice we have made to be a one car family so we don’t want to inconvenience others based on that choice. But there are ways to be creative when transportation is challenging and it starts with getting comfortable with accepting help.
  7. Be flexible. This probably should have been listed right alongside the importance of communication and walkability. A family must adapt an attitude of flexibility 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. Grocery trips might have to happen early in the morning or late at night. You might have to invite your girlfriends over to your house instead of meeting for coffee. Extra time must be factored in when sharing a car to get to and from school or work. Some days will be inconvenient. But they are also teaching you how to prioritize, which always has a positive effect on your well being. That is the goal, after all.

And that second car of yours, whatever her name is? Remember she will probably live a better life, too, with another family giving her all the love and attention and cheerio crumbs she deserves out of this post pandemic life.

Rachel and her college sweetheart met in Indiana, spent early married life in Chicago, and now parent three children born in three different states, but since landing in their south Minneapolis neighborhood in 2017, decided with the access to good ski trails, running paths and beach side picnics, this might just be their forever home. Rachel is the curator of family adventures, builder of epic train tracks, lover of all of the library books, mixer of fancy cocktails, and writer in the in-between. You can read more from Rachel over on her blog blog or Instagram Squares.

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