No, Our Family Of Five Doesn’t Own An SUV. Here’s Why.

That’s right, I have a family of five and I don’t own an SUV. This family of five includes two adults, one teenage boy the size of an adult, a soon-to-be eleven year old, and a three year old in a carseat.

Apparently car companies are counting on younger families buying ever-larger SUV’s. Why? Because “When families shift into the large SUVs, they can pay from $50,000 to $90,000 with extras.” according to this USA Today article. They are apparently even designing vehicles, like Ford’s new Expedition SUV, with space for extra large purses!

$8 Consignment Shop Purse
My $8 consignment shop London Fog purse is so happy there’s a car company finally considering its needs.

My fellow ladies – this is what you really want, right? At least Ford thinks so. Be sure to let them know how thoughtful they are!

What I love is that the USA Today article linked above considers 37 year olds millennial. We’ve seen this definition before in their famous article about how one in six millennials have$100k saved. So, according to this, I’m a millennial, which means this SUV strategy is targeted right at me. Hooray!

Sometimes, living in my own bubble, I forget how unusual our choices can seem to other people. I’ve seen this before when writing about why my kids don’t have cell phones, or all about kids birthday parties at home.

So yes, it’s true. I have three kids (one adult sized, one in a carseat), a largeish dog, and a cat. We go camping for a week once a year, and haul all our gear for the trip in our vehicles. We drive two cars – a 2009 Honda Accord and a 2012 Ford Focus hatchback – and make it just fine. How do we do it – and why? Let’s discuss.

But First – A Brief Sidebar

Where I live, almost every family seems to own an SUV. I know this isn’t the case everywhere in the US, or around the world, so perhaps it’s not common where you live. If so, not owning an SUV or minivan wouldn’t seem like a big deal. If that’s the case for you, I’d love you to leave a comment on what’s common in your region or country!

Also, I don’t want to play a game of frugal one-upmanship. Long time readers know that I’m big on supporting others no matter what their circumstances. Personal finance is personal – meaning you have to do what works for you. If you own an SUV or minivan, I’m not passing judgement on you. Also, maybe you have a family of ten and all ride bikes everywhere, not owning a car at all. I think that’s awesome.

My families decisions are ours alone. They may not be yours.

As long as you’ve made a careful decision based not on what everyone around you does, but on your own goals, dreams, and priorities, then you’re good.

When you want what other people don’t have, you need to do things other people won’t do ~ CMO

Why We Don’t Own An SUV – Or A Minivan

Neither my husband nor I want an SUV or minivan. Why not?

There are a number of reasons.

I’m going to go through all the different aspects of my decision – both to share with you (because it’s fun!), and to hopefully help you think through your own decision process. If you know someone struggling with a car decision, be sure to share to lend them a hand.

So without further ado, here are all the different aspects we’ve considered when making this decision.

Gas Prices

I first got my license back in 1998, and my husband in 1992 (or so). We remember pretty low gas prices from our childhood, and from when we were first licensed. In 1998, gas was $1.06 per gallon. In 1992? $1.13.

Side note – typing this makes me feel old. “Back in my day, I could get a movie ticket for a quarter and a candy bar for a nickel…”

When we were growing up, pretty much everyone drove a car. Some folks drove trucks – my father had a truck for his painting side hustle. Large families like my husbands (four kids) drove vans.

Both my husband and I remember the first rush to SUV’s back in the early 2000’s. At first they were no where, and by the mid-2000’s they were absolutely everywhere. When parking at the grocery store, it sometimes felt like we were the only ones in a car. Back then, we just had one little child in a carseat, so a car had plenty of room for our small family. Even after our middle son was born in 2007, since both boys were small, we were good.

Before they could get much larger, we went through the gas price increase of the Great Recession, where gas spiked above $4 per gallon. That price increase was a painful addition to the budget for us, and I can’t imagine how much worse it was for owners of large vehicles.

Interestingly, after that we saw a very marked decrease in the number of SUV’s on the road. Our observations were confirmed by news reports that people were fleeing SUV’s and trucks. Cars had come back in fashion, and this would continue for the better part of the last decade.

But, as always, people don’t learn the lessons of the past. Gas prices went down, and stayed down for a long time. Eventually the financial crisis was over, and more SUV’s crept onto the road.

We didn’t forget, though. Gas prices were $4 per gallon once, and they’ll reach that price again. History shows that gas prices fluctuate a lot. I like the flexibility of not needing a large amount of gas to drive my vehicles around. In fact, I’d love to get an electric or hybrid car once the cost makes sense.

Maintaining and Insuring More Expensive Vehicles…Is More Expensive

This sounds obvious, but I believe most people don’t give enough thought to the costs after they purchase. Not only are SUV’s more expensive to buy (more on that in a minute), but they’re also more expensive to maintain.

Luckily AAA has done some research on this, and their findings aren’t that surprising. Check out the real cost of owning different types of vehicles, assuming you drive 15k miles per year (for other mileages, go to their report and find the details):

  • Small sedan: $6,354
  • Small SUV: $7,606
  • Hybrid: $7,687
  • Medium sedan: $8,171
  • Electric vehicle: $8,439
  • Minivan: $9,146
  • Large sedan: $9,399
  • Medium SUV: $9,451
  • Pickup truck: $10,054

The smaller the vehicle, the less expensive it is to repair. Interestingly, the small SUV is less expensive to repair than a medium sedan. My Honda Accord is a mid-sized sedan, although my husbands Focus would be considered a “small sedan”. I think. I’m not a car person.

I always highly encourage people to check the source of quoted facts, and be an educated consumer. When you read the report, you’ll see that the cost above includes not just maintenance and insurance. It also includes gas (already covered above), depreciation, and financing.

Yes, car loans are so standard that they assume you’ve taken out a 5 year loan to buy this car.

I want to note that costs also vary a lot based on two other factors not addressed in the report:

Taxes On More Expensive Vehicles…Is More Expensive

I didn’t see the reports mentioning taxes, but I did want to make a (likely obvious) point about taxes. Where I live, car taxes are pretty high. Just like owning a more expensive house means more expensive taxes – forever – owning a more expensive vehicle does the same thing.

Luckily, the taxes go down over time as your vehicles get older.

Purchase Price

The smaller, and older, the vehicle is, the less it will cost.

See, I promised I would talk about it later, and now it’s later. Hooray!

Also, I know this is super obvious. But it’s still something I want to mention.

Original purchase price shouldn’t be your only consideration when picking a vehicle. Maintenance, insurance, taxes, etc. can add up over the years to multiples of the original price of the car. It’s still a large consideration, especially if you have to finance the purchase.

Small SUV’s seem to cost about the same as mid-size sedan. Small compact cars have the lowest price. Hybrids and electric cars are more expensive at smaller sizes, of course, but generally this rule holds true.

It’s Too Much Car – Most Of The Time

This is a tip I picked up a long time ago from The Tightwad Gazette, one of the OG books on frugality that I still re-read from time to time.

I’ve known people with two kids who “need” large SUV’s, and then proceed to mostly use the SUV to drive back and forth to work. Alone. For over an hour a day. Probably not the best use of a vehicle of that size.

Are there times I wish we had a larger vehicle? Sure! When we go camping once a year, we actually fill up both cars with equipment and people. It would be nice to just head out in one vehicle. When we head out on our road trips, the car can get a bit cramped.

But deciding on a vehicle size based on one or two weeks per year, rather than our needs 50 weeks of the year, isn’t ideal. My car is mostly driven back and forth to work – by myself – so I get my car with that in mind. My husbands car is mostly used to drive the kids around, with their backpacks. So we don’t want to buy a huge car for two weeks per year.

If we ran out of room in our cars, I would rather buy a trailer for the extra stuff. Or we might rent a larger vehicle. Renting a large vehicle for a week or two would still be more cost effective for us than buying an SUV or minivan.

How We Manage

It’s really not hard to manage five people in cars.

Most weekdays, we’re driving around separately, so it’s not an issue at all. I drive back and forth to work (1.5 hours per day), and my husband drives the boys around. The oldest, 14 and adult sized, will drive in the front seat with my husband while the two younger boys are in the back.

And then, on the weekends, we’ll usually take my car (the Accord) because it has more room in the backseat. Sometimes we will drive the Focus with all five of us together, but it’s less comfortable for the teenager. He still fits, but it’s a bit cramped.

As I mentioned above, when we go camping we’ll take both cars with us.

If we need to transport something large, my cars backseats will fold down. If it’s something very large, we’ll have it delivered or we might rent a truck.

What about the dog? All five of us plus a dog can actually fit in the Focus, since it’s a hatchback. We don’t often need to do that, though. Thor doesn’t like to go camping with us, so he usually hangs out with Grandma and Grandpa while we’re gone. My husband will typically drop him off with the boys while I’m at work.

What about friends? If a friend needs a ride, there’s room for them. If we need to transport more friends, then we need to split up the kids (two cars, again) and remove the carseat from one of the cars. We’ve done that before when our oldest son had a birthday party where we drove everyone to see a movie. He had five friends over, and everyone made it just fine.

The Accord has a pretty large trunk, and since the Focus is a hatchback, it’s pretty easy to pack a large amount of stuff. We can easily fit luggage for all of us for a week into the trunk of my car.

We don’t have a frequent need to give other people rides, but if we did, we would use the same strategies.

It’s Not That Hard

From some of the reactions I get, you would think this is some sort of huge sacrifice. It’s really not. Sometimes it’s mildly inconvenient, but 99% of the time it works just fine. And that other 1% of the time, it just takes a bit of work and creativity to get things to work out.

What kind of car arrangement do you have – and more importantly, what was your decision process? And if you have an “untraditional” or unusual arrangement compared with the people you know, what kinds of reactions have you gotten?

Let me know in the comments. You’ll be part of helping others make the best of these kinds of decisions for themselves.

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chiefmomofficer

IT professional, MBA, working mother of three, avid reader, geek and personal finance nerd

22 thoughts on “No, Our Family Of Five Doesn’t Own An SUV. Here’s Why.

  • June 25, 2018 at 11:08 am
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    I don’t know how you do it, this life of deprivation that you’re leading. Please send me your address so I can donate money to you and your family, to make your lives better and more convenient.

    🙂

    First off thank you very much for the highlight! You are correct, everything about owning an SUV is more expensive than a regular car. Just tires alone on those things are hugely expensive and when it comes time to replace four of them your bill is like twice as much.

    Most people that have SUV’s obviously don’t need them, and if they do legitimately need the space they would be much better off buying a minivan. They don’t need the four-wheel-drive which kills their gas mileage and creates all sorts of other expenses. But because of vanity they won’t own a minivan. Too bad for them. As your quote says, when you want things other people don’t have you have to do things they won’t do.

    Reply
    • June 25, 2018 at 9:26 pm
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      I will accept any and all donations-especially if it’s enough to cover the cost of an SUV plus maintenance! 😃 I think if we had four kids instead of three (meaning we would actually run out of space), we would probably get a minivan. And a car for my commute or when only a few people needed to drive.

      Reply
  • June 25, 2018 at 11:11 am
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    We had three of kids in a Honda Accord for two years and it worked great! Easier to hand them snacks and toys during road trips in the Accord than in a minivan. We finally bought a minivan a month after our fourth kid was born, and it was a painful purchase. The good news is that the minivan actually gets better mileage than the 10 year old car we traded in.

    Reply
    • June 25, 2018 at 9:27 pm
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      Love my Accord! And I hear you-I haven’t figured out how to get four kids into a car with two adults.

      Reply
  • June 25, 2018 at 12:26 pm
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    My wife and I were just having this conversation over the weekend. What a timely blog post!

    We have a four year old and 3 month old baby and currently have two small/mid-sized sedans. We aren’t planning to have more children, but if somehow that happened we were talking about how we would HAVE to get a minivan or SUV. Thanks for the reminder that if we ever have a third child that we could be creative with our options.

    Reply
    • June 25, 2018 at 9:29 pm
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      You sure can be creative! An SUV or minivan is an option, to be sure, but there are others.

      Reply
  • June 25, 2018 at 2:39 pm
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    Great perspective CMO!

    We did settle for a minivan, and I will say out of “need” but maybe that isn’t completely accurate. We currently have 4 kids under the age of 10, but for a time we had 3 kids in car seats. Certainly the easy answer was getting an SUV (not really an option for us based on desire) or a minivan that can fit 3 car seats. We eventually had all 4 kids in either a booster seat or a car seat and I don’t think we could have done that in any other type of vehicle.

    I think once our oldest is able to drive, we can downgrade in car and get rid of a minivan, but I think for our family makeup we are going to have to keep the larger vehicle in the mix (with all the negative financial burdens).

    With all that being said though, we do like the van and have enjoyed numerous years of family vacations driving around the country in it!

    Reply
    • June 25, 2018 at 9:29 pm
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      A van sounds like fun!

      Reply
  • June 25, 2018 at 3:11 pm
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    I have a Toyota Corolla and my husband drives a truck. We live in a winter-y climate and I hear the 4-wheel-drive argument often in favor of SUVs, but I’ve never gotten stuck in my little car yet 😉 Most of my friends with kids had SUVs in preparation for kids long before they were born. I’m pretty sure my toddler gives zero cares about the type of vehicle she is being transported in though.

    I will admit I’ve been tempted to get an SUV, but I plan to keep my little car as long as possible. It just feels like overkill to get an SUV with a truck already. It’s helpful to hear how you manage transporting people with your two cars!

    Reply
    • June 25, 2018 at 9:31 pm
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      Oh I hear the winter argument too-I live in CT and we get quite a bit of snow. There have been a few times four wheel drive might have been helpful in the snow, but you can certainly manage just fine in a car with good tires.

      Reply
  • June 25, 2018 at 3:49 pm
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    We recently traded in both of our vehicles for a Jeep Grand Cherokee. We traded with a family member, so we received an insane deal, which is why we made the decision. Also, we traded in vehicles so we could move across the country to a large city, so the SUV was very useful. The larger car is nice to have sometimes – we can haul furniture, and anything else we desire. There are some drawbacks though – fuel efficiency and the mere size, especially since we are just a family of two. I can’t park it in the city for the life of me!

    Reply
    • June 25, 2018 at 9:31 pm
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      Ugh I hate parking in cities! Even with cars!

      Reply
    • July 1, 2018 at 12:09 am
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      Your comment about parking is right on! We just helped my now independent son trade the Jeep Grand for an older RAV-4 because he lives and works downtown. Also, the gas mileage is much better! (Remember, I’m the guy who created an excel spreadsheet during the Great Recession to figure out how high gas prices would have to get before I could trade our Jeep for a more fuel efficient car)

      I live in the South and I still hear the snow argument, though we only get one to two events a year. In typical Southern fashion, I just wait it out for the 2 days before it melts.

      Owning an SUV is one of our financial mistakes early on. But once “we” were pregnant, the car seat and the 2-door hatchback became impractical. Moving from that to the SUV though… not smart.

      Wishing you the best with the Grand Cherokee. I’m out of the Jeep business now. Downsizing

      Reply
  • June 25, 2018 at 7:26 pm
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    We’ve always had mid size SUV’s and once a mini-van but we generally only needed one car since work gave me another one free (plus free gas!). We pulled a boat and a utility trailer frequently and small cars cannot do that safely plus only having to have one car allowed us some latitude. Now that we are early retired and money is truly no object I still buy used cars, last month I bought a 2008 model for $7,000, so we are fairly frugal in spite of being able to buy a Porsche Cayenne if we wanted to. We hike some extreme territory and often the trail heads are not accessible to something like a Focus so we still like having an SUV and since my part time consulting involves some 200 mile or more trips I like having a sports car for road trips because driving an SUV or family sedan is just too boring for me on extended drives. As far as typical in Arkansas I’d say 50% of the people drive pick up’s, 40% drive midsize or large SUV’s and maybe 10% drive just plain old cars.

    Reply
    • June 25, 2018 at 9:33 pm
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      Wow, only 10% drive cars? Here in CT I’d say closer to 40-50% of people are in cars. But most of the vehicles at the school parking lots are SUVs.

      Reply
  • June 25, 2018 at 9:48 pm
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    A family of 4 here, soon to be 5. Plus a medium sized dog. We’ll have all 3 children in car seats for a period so are currently looking at purchasing 2 x slim car seats for the two older children so we can fit 3 car seats across the back of the car.

    We have an 18yo stationwagon (not sure if you call it the same thing over there in the US) that has travelled from the top to the bottom of Australia and is still kicking. Easy for husband to fix, parts readily and cheaply available.

    We are very intentional about only having one car, we purchased our house to be in close proximity to a large shopping centre, kids school/childcare and in biking distance to the train station (how I get to work).

    When we announced baby #3 was on the way my partners parents immediately started sending us links to vans. They can’t really understand why we wouldn’t want one.

    I’m sure we’ll end up with more than one car in the future, but for now we’re saving all those $$ from being spent on insurance, registration, fuel etc. Plus I get a bit of exercise most days riding to the train station 🙂

    Reply
    • June 25, 2018 at 9:58 pm
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      Love it! Those slim car seats are a great way to fit kids into the back.

      Reply
  • June 26, 2018 at 1:06 am
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    I have 3 kids in car seats (2 rear facing, 1 forward facing) and have them all in the back of a Subaru Outback. We did have to make sure to buy narrow seats, but they all fit just fine. We also have a large trunk. If we have a 4th, we will likely get a van, but we really have no need for a larger vehicle right now. EVERYONE told me I needed a van once I announced I was pregnant with my 3rd, but the baby is almost 1 now and we are managing just fine… 🙂 It seems to irritate people that we didn’t get a bigger vehicle.

    For super long road-trips in the future, we will likely just rent a bigger vehicle if we feel like we need it. I’d rather pay $500 once a year than $50,000 for a new car.

    Reply
  • June 26, 2018 at 11:43 am
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    Great points and the good approach for solving problems 🙂 You need more logical thinking folks there, over the pond. I can happily report that in my area (northern Serbia) regular cars are still dominating and most of them are hatchbacks. However, in recent years the SUVs started to spread and you can see a truck every now and then. Also there are folks who just buy too much car for themselves. What troubles me is that I don’t know how many of these people who are using rational cars have their decisions based on logic and how many because that is what they can afford.
    In our single car household we have an 8 year old small hatchback and it is perfect for our family of four (2 adults + 2 kids in seats). I have to admit that I was tempted to look for a bigger car, but my wife vetoed my plans and she was totally right.

    Reply
  • June 27, 2018 at 5:47 pm
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    In Germany very few people have minivans and only very (very) rich people have SUVs. Most families have a station wagon. Our only car is a Suzuki Wagon R, it is 3,5m long and we inherited from my mother. Our family of 4 fits in perfectly but it becomes tricky when a fifth person wants to join because of the big car seats of the children. Since we live in a city (Germany has in comparison to the US good public transport, the tiniest village has to has a bus station) it is all we need. Sometimes when we need something from the hardware store only one goes there so we can fold the backseats and put the passenger-side seat to the front. The supermarket is 200m away, the school 800m. We don’t even have to walk al lot.

    Reply
  • July 2, 2018 at 3:10 pm
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    My parents finally got rid of our minivan in the last year. Back when we were a family of five all living under the same roof with relatively frequent roadtrips it made more sense. Plus my parents used the old minivan as more or less a pickup truck to haul water, tools, and the dog the few miles out to their veggie garden (in someone else’s yard, not ours, since we don’t have the space or sun for it). Once we kids left the house though, it was making less and less sense for them to have the van for the increasingly rare times the five of us were in one vehicle together for an extended period of time.

    Now they’ve got a used Subaru that dad attached a trailer hitch to so we can use it like we did the minivan (and the first test will be when my parents pack it up to drive to the beach in two weeks. We’re closest to the beach of all my extended family so we’ve always brought the food/linens/etc). Success!

    Having kids is YEARS in the future if it ever happens for me, and even then the Corolla I drive now would be plenty big enough, I’d imagine. Small cars for the win.

    Reply
    • July 2, 2018 at 4:57 pm
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      I’ve thought of getting a trailer-that’s something we might do in the future to make camping easier. 95% of the time, small cars are perfect! Especially if you have a commute, like I do.

      Reply

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