What It’s Like As a One Car Family With a 26-Mile Work Commute

A 27 mile commute as a one car family is rough

You know, I love our house. It’s awesome, has great finishes, is exactly what Kristin and I wanted. There is plenty of room for visitors – and we just close the rooms off and shut the vents to keep utility costs on the space down.

Our neighborhood is pretty awesome, too. It’s quiet, but we’ve got good friends who live close by. For all of the awesomeness, however, there’s one major drawback.

I currently commute 26 miles to and from work each day.

Yeah you read that right – 26 miles. The distance itself wouldn’t be so bad if it were just me, but Kristin and I share a car. (actually, it WOULD be that bad, but it’s even more painful now)

How We Became a One Car Family

When we moved from California, we packed up all of our belongings into our two cars. All of our possessions, crammed into my Hyundai Sonata, and Kristin’s smaller Elentra.

My dad flew out to help with the drive (Kristin just flew up later) and we hopped into the cars, and off we went. The first night we made it to Grand Junction, CO. After a few hours of sleep, we hit the road for the home stretch to Minneapolis.

Our apartment in Minnesota was close to work – so close that I didn’t use my car. It was a short mile and a half walk, and so Kristin would drop me off in the morning and I’d walk home in the afternoon.

We quickly realized that having two cars in this situation didn’t make any sense. Kristin had gotten her car on a lease (decided before I met her, before y’all groan about this haha) so when her lease was up, we simply returned her car.

Thus, we became a one car family.

Balancing One Car

For a long time, one car worked for us. Even in the winter, a mile and a half wasn’t horrible. On the few days where it got below 0 degrees, I’d call an Uber/Lyft. It’s amazing how easy it is to walk a mile and a half in the cold.

Things were great – and then I got laid off.

In addition to worrying about financing for our house (we’d already had money saved up), my mind immediately went to thinking about our vehicle situation.

If I wasn’t able to find a job either in the same direction as Kristin’s work (opposite of downtown where there’s a higher concentration of jobs) or something on a bus line, we’d have to fork up money for another car.

Thankfully about a month later I landed a job that was on the light rail line. An $85 bus pass lasted a month, and got me right to where I needed in just under an hour. Not ideal, but at least I could read on the bus and the light rail.

The Slow Move to Inconvenience

Slowly our one-car situation has become more and more inconvenient. We moved in early summer to a different apartment to save some money while our house was being built. The new apartment wasn’t on a bus line.

That meant dropping Kristin off at work (about 40 minutes early) and then picking her up at the end of the day after I was done working.

But Kristin also works out after she’s done working. I would run back to our apartment about 5 minutes away and work on the blog during that time. It was inconvenient – sometimes I’d be totally in the zone writing and then have to just stop and leave.

Other times I would never get inΒ the zone because I knew my time was limited.

The Farther Move to Inconvenience

Things for the past two months since we moved into our home have really tested my patience. What used to be a 5 minute drive from our temporary apartment to Kristin’s work is now a 20 minute drive. That means that going home afterward isn’t really an option.

Thankfully one of Kristin’s coworkers started working out with her, and can drive her on Mondays and Wednesdays. Tuesdays are Kristin’s late day, so I typically will work late.

Here’s how we balance our Mondays and Wednesdays:

6:45am – Leave for work. Drop Kristin off, and then I take the car.
7:30am – Get in to work
4:15pm – Leave work and go home. Work on the blog
6:10pm – Pick Kristin up
7:00pm – Get home, make dinner, etc.

Please, nobody break into our house now that you know our schedule.

Tuesdays I’ll sometimes work late and just pick Kristin up and go home.

Thursday and Friday still pose challenges. These are the days where I need to both pick Kristin up from work as well as from working out. That means no working late for me, no going home.

I’m trying to find a balance and something productive to do during this hour+ of downtime. If we’ve got errands to run – like grocery shopping or some Christmas shopping (even though I don’t want to do gifts like, ever again) – then it’s easy to kill an hour.

But those times when we have nothing in particular to do? That’s the down time that used to be filled with blogging.

Why We’re Staying With One Car

This is inconvenient but it’s not the end of the world. I need to get a new laptop at some point and will be able to leech Wifi at a coffee shop and write. In the meantime it’s just not worth the cost of another car to make this situation less sucky for me.

The cost of another car would make it pretty tough for us to just live off one income. It’d make it more difficult to hit our goals of paying off our house. We’d have no problem saving some money, but may need to rethink how long we’re planning (hoping) to work.

It’s an inconvenience now, to be sure, but I’d rather deal with some temporary inconveniences than not hit the goals we’ve set for ourselves.

I thought that after we moved, being a one car family would be really tough, but in reality it’s not too bad. The key is finding things to occupy any sort of down time while you wait for the other person.

And worst case, if we absolutely need to get somewhere immediately? Just call an Uber/Lyft. If that’s less expensive than owning a car is on average, we come out ahead.


What should I do with my downtime until I get a laptop? Does anybody else share a car with someone?

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  1. Hi Dave, interesting post! I think the slow move to inconvenience is exactly what happens in life. Take any situation you can see that it will drift over time. The correction is always painful and that’s kind of things end up the way they are.

    I’m wondering if you wouldn’t benefit from an electric car. With that kind of commute you would be saving both on gas and on wear. The electric motors are more durable, and you can charge cheaply over night. Just a thought. But then you’d have to write a post about how a PF blogger spent a bunch of money on a car πŸ™‚ haha There are downsides to being a pf blogger. πŸ™‚

    1. I was just telling Kristin that the next car we get will be electric for sure. I just don’t think it’s worth it right now to switch quite yet. Admittedly I haven’t done all the math yet, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a Volt or even a Leaf. Really though I’ll be honest I want a Tesla Model 3 or Model X.

      We’d just have to figure something out when we wanted to take longer trips, or go up to two cars I suppose and just use the Sonata for long trips.

      1. This is almost exactly our thinking! We both have older Hondas, and are holding out until Teslas become within our price range (realistically another 3-4 years). Then we will get an electric for my commute (also made the mistake of living almost 20 miles from where I work: http://www.budgetepicurean.com/finances/my-commuting-mistake/) and either keep the CRV for long trips or become a 1-car household and rent a vehicle for infrequent, longer trips. Good job sticking to your long term goals even when it gets tough! You gotta do what works for you.

        1. UGH I’m waiting for a Tesla, too! Hahah. Hopefully though by the time we realistically need another car, EV’s are much more prominent. With GM’s pledge to move toward an all-electric lineup in the future, I’m hopeful that the price point will drop significantly. Maybe by the time we need a new car, autopilot will be more common and people won’t even own cars anymore.

          haha, a boy can dream right?

          The biggest thin – like you mention – is going to be handling the long trips.

  2. Nice work, Dave. I would totally choose temporary inconvenience over not meeting my goals. You’re framing it right — temporary.

    I don’t drive at all. All the gals who work in the supermarket I frequent know the scoop. Every time I shop they smile and ask “Is your husband sitting in the car?” Mr. G uses the time to listen to or watch motivational videos.

    1. It’s temporary but it is still difficult at times. It bugs Kristin more when she’s having a crappy day and can’t drive somewhere over her lunch break to just decompress away from everyone.

      I typically use my extra time in the car, if I have it, listening to Podcasts like Afford Anything, DYEB, or Fairer Cents as of late. Just started listening recently to podcasts so I have quite a ways to go to catch up on all of these. πŸ™‚

  3. I grew up in a one car household family and when my wife and I got married, we were a one car household family too. It can be a bit inconvenient but if you do some planning, it really isn’t too bad. πŸ™‚

    1. If we had kids it might be a different story but yeah some planning is really all it takes. Like last week Kristin had off for a few days so she had to drive me. It was inconvenient because it took a few chunks out of her day but we made it work!

  4. Way to stick with it Dave. Circumstances can always change and another car can be in the future. I agree with you though I always will sacrifice to ensure I am moving toward my personal goals.

    1. For sure. And having another car would be nice at times but the pain points haven’t been painful enough to want to back off from our goals πŸ™‚

  5. My wife and I only have one car and it’s not fun but completely doable and financially worth it. The car is paid off so it doesn’t make any sense to purchase another. I’m also at school all day. So I don’t need another car.
    Way to put financial goals and do what you have to do to achieve them. We come off as extremists for doing what we have to do to achomplish the goal. But I think that’s what is fun about it!

    1. Haha it’s definitely not fun but yeah, worth it for sure. It’s convenient because we both work in the same direction so really it’s only ~10 mins out of my way to drop her off. It does make it pretty inconvenient for her, though.

      I think being a one car family isn’t that extreme – but it is a bit unusual when people do it out of choice. We could easily afford another car if we wanted…we just don’t choose to prioritize it.

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