My husband and I merged cars before we merged finances. A few months out from our wedding, I asked Rob where I would park when I moved in. I had a guest pass, but the previous two winters of Minneapolis street parking hadn't done my car any favors, and I was hoping to snag the indoor spot.
"Well, uh, I love you, but you never drive your car. I mean, when was the last time you filled up? Three or four months ago? Maybe, you can park in the outdoor lot."
"But my hands get so cold," I replied accompanied by pleading eyes that I've never perfected, and even a smitten fiance can resist.
"We'll talk about it later," Rob responded.
Thankfully, my husband's car was totaled a few weeks later, and we never had to discuss the parking situation. In fact, we merged cars that day and never looked back.
DINKs with Bikes
When I first gave the car to Rob, I already used it less than once per week. I might use it for grocery shopping or to visit my parents, but only if I were doing those things alone. More often, we shopped together after playing ultimate frisbee, and I would take the bus to my parent's house and get a ride back.
Since I lived two miles from my job, I biked, or I took the bus on snowy days.
Everyday, Rob battled traffic in Anna Honda, and I wasn't the least bit envious. On the rare occasion that I wanted the car, it was available to me in the heated garage below our condo. Deluxe!
Our ultimate leagues, our church, our friends, and my job were all conveniently located less than five miles from our condo in South Minneapolis. We often walked or biked to events even if we didn't have to (though we switched to the car in the winter cold). As two young, fit people living in the city, a car was only necessary because my husband worked out in the burbs.
Even throughout my pregnancy, I walked or bused everywhere (including to the Birth Center which was less than one mile from our house).
New Parents in Raleigh
The one car family deal was a bit more difficult in Raleigh and as new parents. Originally, Rob dropped Kenny off at our babysitter's house, and then spent 7-8 hours at school before picking him back up and heading home, and I worked from home. Since Rob attended classes full time, this wasn't an issue, but after a year Rob started his research which required longer days in the lab.
We considered getting a second car, but with an unsold (and empty) condo hanging over our heads in Minneapolis, we decided to put off big purchases until we knew we would walk away from the sale with some money. In the meantime, we hacked a solution.
Rob drove Kenny to the babysitter with his bike attached to the car. He then biked the remaining 4 miles to school. In the afternoon, I rode 6 miles to pick Kenny up, attached my bike to the car, and drove home. Most evenings, Rob rode 11 miles on dangerous dark streets to meet us.
The solution sucked (only the part where Rob's life was in danger every night), but it was necessary for several months unless we bought a second car (or a motorcycle- in retrospect, Rob should have bought the motorcycle), and we didn't buy a car.
Instead we bought a house
Seriously. Rather than buy a car, we bought a house. One located near to our babysitter's house and about six miles from school. Our new house is closer to our friends, closer to our church, closer to school, and closer to downtown.
It's a junky house, but we're fixing it up and we love the location. We can bike many places (notably to school and church), and we're driving less than we did as DINKs with bikes. The bus system here in Raleigh is incredibly bad, so we could never do without a car (unless we decided to forgo doctor's appointments or groceries), but life is good as a one car family.
How to become a one car family (if you want)
The most critical part of being a one car family is that one (preferably both) spouses must live biking/walking/busing distance from work, and the kids must be able to walk/bike/bus to their daily destination to. To achieve this, you'll have to live where you live.
What? Yes, wherever you spend the majority of your waking hours, that's where you should have a home address. Living in Raleigh, this was a small order since it's cheap to buy a house in the area that we live, but other places might take more effort and money. In many cases, the increased cost of rent or mortgage will not offset the downsizing of a car.
However, it is worth taking baby steps to live where you live even if you don't cut out a car. For example, if your kids are enrolled in school, then all your kids should be in the same district. If your kids are in activities, make an effort to enroll them through your local park or your local schools, so they don't have to travel much for practices and games. Likewise, try to enroll in adult activities that are near to your house (if you're into activities). Try to find a church located close to your kid's schools/activities (which means that church is located within biking distance, and so are friends from church in many cases).
Once you get kid and family activities to the point where you don't always need a car (remember kids can bike to and from practices), figuring out how to downsize to one car is likely to be less challenging. Can you take a bus to work? What would it take for you to walk or bike? Are there job opportunities closer to where you live or where the kids go to school?
Even if the answer to all of these is no, it's possible that the answer will change in the future. It's nice to set up your life to eliminate a car if you can.
Rob and I are committed to the one car family lifestyle, because it keeps us living as a family instead of as roommates. This probably means that we will forever be city dwellers, and that we'll constantly battle the desire to live right next door to a state park, but I think the trade off is worth it.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.