How Selling Our Second Vehicle Changed Our Lives

How selling our second vehicle changed our livesI know this sounds hyperbolic, but I’m being completely serious: selling our second vehicle, and becoming a one-car family, has changed our lives in ways we never expected. (Mostly in terms of financial freedom we never believed possible on our tiny income.)

Here’s the story.

Our Financial History

Like many young people of our generation, Ben and I have always struggled with money. Not because we’re bad with money, but because we just can’t make any.

school-dayMy first day of school as a married woman.

We got married when I was still in university. For the first four years of our marriage, I was in school full-time. Ben went from working shift-work at a factory to working for my carpenter dad to starting his own carpentry business. We eventually had kids and I put my degrees to work by becoming a stay-at-home mom. (That’s what liberal arts degrees are for, right?)

So our household income has always been low. But we have always been frugal. We were raised by frugal Mennonites. We shop at thrift stores, buy used vehicles, cook from scratch, and DIY all our home renovations. Our idea of a fun, indulgent night out involves going to a local bookstore to flip through (but never buy) some books and share a venti frappuccino.

Despite our frugal lifestyle, though, we could never get ahead. We never got into debt, apart from our mortgage, but we could never make a savings, either. Our bank account always hovered around the zero mark.

We had no safety net in case of financial emergency, and absolutely nothing set aside for retirement. I felt constantly anxious and we fought about money often.

Month after month, year after year, we would look through our budget and wonder, where on earth can we cut back? We were already spending the minimum possible amount on everything. We almost never ate out; we didn’t go to the movies; we didn’t have satellite for our TV or data for our used smartphones. We biked instead of driving whenever we could. We didn’t buy each other Christmas gifts. All of our technology was outdated. We didn’t go on trips or buy new clothes. What else could we possibly do?

(I am leaving out the year we lived in the hospital with our son and were financially supported solely by our wonderful government and absolutely incredible community.)

The Vehicles

We owned two used vehicles, both for which we’d paid less than $10,000 (in cash). Ben needed a truck and trailer for his carpentry business, for picking up materials and for bringing cabinets to his installation sites. We needed a family vehicle for everything else. So we owned a 2003 Ford F150 and a 2003 Dodge Caravan.

But it felt like we were constantly pouring money into these vehicles. Repairs, gas, insurance, license plate stickers, maintenance . . . it never stopped. These inexpensive, used vehicles were sucking our bank account dry. They were like black holes for money.

But we thought that was just how it had to be. We needed the two vehicles.

Or did we?

Last summer we came across the blog Mr. Money Mustache. He promotes a frugal lifestyle similar to the one we were living, and writes about it in an engaging way. He calls it “baddasity,” and we thought it sounded exciting and life-enriching. But he had one interesting, new idea: ditch the second vehicle.  Even more interesting: ditch the work truck, even if you run a business like Ben’s.

After reading this fantastic article, Ben approached me with this shocking idea: what if he sold his truck and started using the family van as his work vehicle? The van would in fact work double-duty.

He only rarely needed to pull a trailer — less than once a week. The van could handle that. Most of the time, he could probably load his materials into the back of the van. The rest of the time, he was working from home.

And since I stayed home with the kids, I only rarely needed the van, too. There were usually two vehicles sitting in the driveway, sucking up money just by existing. Even with one vehicle between us, our transportation needs would rarely conflict. And when they did, one of us could bike.

Losing the Work Truck

see ya, work truck!

Within a matter of weeks Ben had sold his truck. And suddenly we had an extra $5200 in our bank account. For the first time, our bank account was well in the black, with no reason to go down any time soon.

And the money kept piling up. We got a $1200 refund on car insurance for the year. We saved about $1000 on fuel and $500 on maintenance by not using a truck. Ben had planned to replace the tires that year, which would have cost another $1500.

That first year, we earned/saved $9000 by not owning and operating a work truck.

It was mildly inconvenient for Ben to do all his work with the family minivan, but definitely not $9000 worth of inconvenience.

What To Do With All This Money?

It was thrilling, for once, to have extra money. What should we do with it??

The first thing we did was create an emergency fund. We’re not big fans of Dave Ramsey in general, but we felt this was a first good step. It lifted a huge burden from my mind to know that money was there in case of emergency.

And beyond that, we knew we ought to invest some of our money. But how?

Investment planning is not our forte. There are likely better ways to invest extra money than the route we chose. But one thing felt like a safe bet: to use it towards our mortgage.

The amount of money you can save in interest by putting cash towards your mortgage is mind-blowing.

We figured out that by putting down an extra $8000 on our mortgage, we would be saving almost double that in the long run on interest (i.e. close to $16,000.)  (The savings on extra mortgage payments for you will, of course, vary depending on your interest rate, amortization and size of mortgage. But for some, it could mean doubling your money, as it did for us.)

Another bonus? The sooner our mortgage is paid off, the sooner all of our income becomes pure spending money, with which we can do whatever we want — from investing and saving to just plain old spending on things we want (including donating to good causes). We estimate that our first extra payment alone shaved off almost two years from that goal. We are eager to enjoy that freedom as soon as possible!

And there’s more!vacation

In addition to putting down all that money towards our mortgage, in the second year we were also able to do the following:

  • buy some good used bikes and a bike trailer for getting around town
  • visit the dentist without guilt or worry (first time in six years!)
  • experience general freedom to purchase things we needed, and get the best quality
  • start saving up for our next mortgage payment!

We plan to continue putting extra money down on our mortgage every year — ideally at least $5000 — until it’s paid off in full. In doing this we hope to shave off more interest and more years to reach financial independence.

All that freedom from getting rid of the work truck that we thought we “needed.”

In Sum:

So, basically, a $5000 clunker we were maintaining to mostly sit in our driveway had the potential to suck up $20,000 of our hard earned money and life energy over the years. Once we got rid of it, all that money slowly trickled back into our lives to go towards smarter things.

We feel more relaxed about our financial situation and we have more freedom to choose where our money goes.

We’re not promising we’ll never buy a second vehicle, but the benefits of going without for a few years have already been enormous.

If you have more than one vehicle, maybe you’d benefit from giving one up, too? Just something to consider!

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Comments

  1. Way to go! That’s incredible; there’s nothing like some financial security. MMM is truly an awesome inspiration. If you haven’t run across them already, another great blog is the Frugalwoods!

    God bless!

  2. I’m so glad you posted about this! My hubby has been pushing me to sell our second vehicle to pay off some debts and I’ve been on the fence…it means that one of us would have to take the bus sometimes….would you have done this while you were still in school and not a full time mama? I’m going to school and working part time right now…. but it is very tempting to sell our second car! You make it sound soooo appealing!

  3. Thank you for sharing! Interesting that you mention not being huge fans of Dave Ramsey, because I’ve felt the same way, but I’m not sure exactly why. I’ve explored the Mr Money Moustache site a bit, and found it interesting. Would love to hear more from you on making it work on a small income!

    • Hi Bernadette! A friend helped me realize that the reason we like MMM over Dave Ramsey is because they have slightly different philosophies. Dave Ramsey emphasizes making sacrifices now so you can be rich later. MMM emphasizes learning to love and appreciate frugal living as a lifestyle, permanently, because it enriches your life on so many levels. The second philosophy just appeals to my frugal Mennonite heart. :)

  4. Molly Walter says:

    We’ve done the one car thing when we can and it’s great – not in a stage of life where we can do it now (we work in opposite directions, at different times, and there’s unreliable public transport), but one thing you touched on really changed how I see money and purchases a while back – sometimes it’s about what you don’t have to spend on. It’s what’s kept me from changing my work schedule – it allows us to keep our kids out of daycare and our childcare costs minimal….. so my work hours even though not ideal are essentially money I don’t have to earn. Those tires that you were going to buy is now money you don’t have to earn, etc. – so if you do earn that money over the year (maybe from overtime or an extra gig) it’s bascially automatic savings. Sometimes it’s not about make *more* but finding ways to not need as much that really turns a corner on savings!

  5. That’s so exciting that you were able to figure out a way to do something to help you be in a better place financially! I must check out this mr money moustache, I’ve never lived well with Dave Ramsey even if I can see a lot of wisdom in some of his ideas.
    We’ve been a one (used) vehicle family since we were married so that’s not an option for us but I wish there was something that we could figure out ….sometimes I feel like there’s not much we can do😒.
    Marissa recently posted..May Day CelebrationMy Profile

  6. Kathleen, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on Ramsey. We’ve adopted a couple of his basics, and I appreciate what they’ve done for us on a very general scale. We are going to be starting his financial peac university next month.

    I love your single car story. How I wish something like this would work for us. It’s right up my (single stalk) alley.

    • And of course by stalk I mean stall. Geez.

    • I don’t think I object to his program. His Baby Steps seem pretty smart and I appreciate how he’s helped thousands of families become more financially savvy. I’m just not a fan of his language and I’m not as inspired by his vision as I am that of Mr Money Mustache. That’s a subject I’d like to explore more in a future post, though!

      • I’ve been slowly plugging away at his blog! Talk about feeling convicted. Everything he teaches couldn’t be more appealing and terrifying at the same time.

  7. Hi, so happy I found your blog. We have been mortgage free for a couple of years now and we were able to pay off a big chuck of it by getting rid of our second vehicle. Another thing that worked for us was once we owned enough of our home that we were able to get a line of credit using the house as collateral we did not renew are mortgage but paid it off using the line of credit (PLC). We had to go to another bank to do this because the one that held our mortgage would not allow us to even though our term was up. The new bank paid all the lawyer fees and did all the paper work to make this happen, we did not have to pay anything.
    ( also, At that time you did not have to pay to have your home assessed because the banks make money off of the PLC interest, now they charge about $1000 for the assessment. 😕 )
    You will want to shop around to see what kind of interest rate you can get and then find a calculator online that shows what you pay in interest for the time it takes to pay off the loan amount using a PLC vs. a mortgage. You have to pay the minimum payment on the PLC (which is the interest for that month) and of course you want to pay more then that to decrease your principle amount. We set ours up with an amount we could manage and automatically paid it every 2 weeks , treating it like we had to pay that set amount. With our PLC we were able to make extra payments anytime we wanted without penality and for whatever amount we could.
    One warning. If you thing you will be temped to purchase other things because you can just throw it on the PLC that stick with your mortgage. It’s safer.
    However, if you get to the point were you need a newer vehicle and don’t have enough saved up for it, chances are the rate on your PLC will be better than what the bank will offer for a car loan.

    Best of luck in the future to you and your family,
    Penny

  8. I’m so excited you’re on board with MMM! We are also a low-income (and currently no car at all!) family and I found MMM’s blog (and the amazing forum) about four or five years ago. I think a lot of people’s initial resistance to it is that they think it’s only worth doing if you can do everything – all the scratch cooking, biking literally everywhere, downsize, move closer to work – and save 50%+ of your income. The magic with MMM is that there are so many options to start with, and that it’s really worth doing even a tiny bit because you’re in such a better position (your dentist thing really made me smile! Perfect example) from both a financial standpoint and a stress one. I too love his emphasis on living a great frugal life NOW and how easy and great it is to feel in control of your finances.

    I was so happy to read this post and how much less stressed you are about finances. If I might ask, how did you find out about MMM? And what was your first reaction to it? Also, big +1 to the Frugalwoods blog – very upbeat and encouraging tone!

  9. just catching up on your blog! i found this post very fascinating. we live in australia and a lot more people are one car families here than in North America. Even my pastor and her husband are a one car family and they both work full time! we aren’t home owners sadly (theres a housing bubble here, no chance of getting a mortgage anytime soon) but i love your advice for if we ever are able to buy a house! xo b

  10. Paying off your house is so freeing! We love MMM and are also on our FI journey.

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