Last year we spent $5,160 on gasoline. That’s a lot of money, just about as much as we spent on food four our family of 8! Today we’re going to talk about how we, and you, can spend less on fuel, so we can do more interesting and enjoyable things with our money.
Saving on fuel is not that easy to get excited about. It’s involves a difficult matching problem. Since we don’t pay each time we drive, it’s hard to know what’s the right amount of financial pain we should feel for any given trip in the car. That makes it easy to just fill up when the tank is empty and keep ourselves blind to the actual cost of driving. Of course we wish we didn’t have to fill up, but what can be done?
For most people, fueling a car is a necessary part of the monthly budget. There are some people without cars at all. There are others who have vehicles but find other ways to get around and drive the cars only for special occasions, like out-of-town trips. One blogger who has strong opinions about wasting money on cars is Mr. Money Mustache. If you haven’t seen his blog, go check it out and get great financial advice with a little attitude. So what should you do? If you can cut your car completely, go for it! That’s a no-brainer.
Cars are a huge cost. Each vehicle is just a bundle of license and registration fees, maintenance costs, repair bills, fuel purchases, and depreciating value. But each vehicle is also a people carrier that goes farther and faster than your feet or your bicycle. And If you need to carry people farther and faster, and public transportation, or ridesharing, or moving isn’t an option, then well, then you’re like us, and like most people.
So our main focus today is not on getting rid of a car, or buying used cars, or finding fuel efficient cars, or doing your own auto maintenance at home, though those are all good ways to spend less. Today we’re assuming you have a car, and you’re driving it, and you keep spending money to fill up the gas tank. Today we’re talking about ways to cut that spending.
It starts with adjusting your perception, and that might require some information. Open your workbook to Day 12. There’s a place for you to write down how much you have spent on fuel for each of the last three months. Look back at your credit cards or receipts or account transaction history, and find those numbers, and write them down.
If you didn’t already know your numbers, you may be surprised. Now don’t forget, that total number happens across many small trips in the car. Every time you drive, you are also incurring real expenses in fuel.
To reduce those expenses, here are…
Our top ten ways to save money on gasoline.
#10– Combine Trips
Combining trips can mean two things. First, when you know you’ll be going out, try to schedule other errands at the same time. Try to plan your trips to be geographically efficient. Hopefully you’ll avoid driving back and forth across town. Second, combining trips means that instead of making three Target trips this week to pick up a few things each time, you’ll keep a list of what you need so you can get it all in one trip!
If you know someone else is headed the same direction, offer them a ride. Chances are you’ll be on the receiving end the next time. Not only will you save gas, prevent wear and tear on your vehicle, be more environmentally friendly, and get to use the carpool lane, you’ll also have good company!
A note of caution: I heard from my sister that one of her friends’ husbands has been commuting 45 minutes with a female co-worker to save on gas. Sadly, that time together has led to an affair and a divorce. No amount of money saved on gas (or anything else) is worth jeopardizing your marriage! Be smart about who you ride with and don’t put yourself in a compromising situation.
#8– Take the Car that Gets Better Mileage
If you have more than one car, be conscious of which car gets better gas mileage and use it whenever possible. A few years ago we had a car and a van. The car got 10 more miles per gallon than the van, so when we just had three children we would take the car whenever we went out as a family. Just taking the car instead of the van to church on Sundays, I calculated our savings to be $145 per year.
#7– Consider the Cost of Each Trip
Have you calculated how much a trip to the store costs you in gas? Consider that amount when you decide whether the trip is worth it or not. For example, if I know that a trip to Walgreens costs me $4 in gas, then it’s easy to realize that making a trip there just so I can use my $2 off coupon to get a free item isn’t worth it.
I don’t like paying for shipping when I buy things online, but knowing that it costs me $9 for a round trip to Target (true story when we lived in the boonies) makes shipping costs sound a lot more reasonable. Plus, with Amazon Prime, I don’t even have to worry about shipping costs (or standing in line, wrestling my kids, impulse buys, or being in the the car for 2 hours).
#6– Remember that Even Free Isn’t Free
If you’re driving around town grabbing all sorts of free things people are giving away, you might want to rethink your strategy. It’s easy to think, “Hey, it was free!” without taking into account that your old pickup gets terrible gas mileage. While the chase may be fun and sometimes yields great rewards, the prize often ends up just being more clutter at your house that will require a drive to the dump or the thrift store later down the road. Free stuff is great, but be selective. Don’t start your engine at the first mention of a great deal.
#5– Get Rid of Extra Weight
When you get back from your camping trip, take your Dutch ovens, tents, and coolers out of your trunk. Only keep what you absolutely need in your car. Remove extra racks and external storage when you’re not using them.
#4– Keep Tires Inflated
It really makes a difference to keep your tires inflated to the recommended pressure. You can usually find the tire pressure recommendation on the inside of the door (near the hinge) or in the glove compartment. Check your tire pressure regularly, especially in cold weather. In addition to giving you better gas mileage, properly inflated tires will wear better, last longer, and be safer.
#3– Drive Smarter
We all realize that idling, revving the engine, or peeling out when the light turns green uses more gas. A more subtle waste of gas is to keep the gas on when you could coast. Coast to slow yourself down instead of racing to the stoplight and then slamming on the brakes. Look down the road and time the stop lights so that you aren’t always either on the gas or the brake.
A few years ago on Halloween we were at a party at a friend’s house who lives 25 miles away. Mike met us there in his car after work. The van was completely out of gas (the “distance to empty” meter said 0 miles) and there wasn’t a gas station open on our way home to get gas. Although there are some uphill spots on our drive, we live generally downhill from our friends (about 1,500 feet difference in elevation). Since Mike could drive behind us and we could all pile in his car if the van stopped, we decided to see how far we could make it.
I avoided using the gas or brake on our long downhills and would let the van coast uphill with its
momentum. I wouldn’t push on the gas until I absolutely had to. Since it was late at night and we were driving empty country roads, I didn’t have to worry about anyone behind me when I was going slowly. Miraculously we made it all the way home! It made me realize that we can conserve a lot more gas by taking our time and “going with the flow.” We are in a hilly area, so there are lots of opportunities to take advantage of this!
#2– Walk or Ride Instead
For those of you who don’t live in the boonies, some of the places you frequent are probably within walking or biking distance. When I was in college, I didn’t have a car, but I didn’t let that deter me from getting where I wanted to go. I can also be a nice change of pace and a good excuse for some exercise! The bus worked fine for longer trips.
#1– Just Stay Home
As often as possible, try to stay home instead of driving around. This is a surefire way to save money on gas,but you might have to say no to some things or cut out some activities. You’ll also find more time to cook from scratch, work from home, clean your house, play with your kids, and maybe even take a nap.
Make Sure Savings Aren’t Lost in the Shuffle
Now, just like with the others savings we’ll be finding during this Frugal Fresh Start, just as important as actually saving money on gas is making sure that those savings go somewhere productive, toward your six-month financial goal. If you’re not super intentional and meticulous in your tracking, these savings will get lost in the shuffle.
The way we make sure our gas savings aren’t lost is tied to how we budget down to zero each month. As a quick reminder, at the end of the month, any budget category that we didn’t have to spend as much as we budgeted for, we sweep all of those extra dollars into an extra payment toward our mortgage, the object of our six-month goal.
Even if we only save $35 in fuel, we add that to the small amounts we save in other categories and we have a few hundred dollars to pay toward extra mortgage principal! You do the same, and one month at a time, month over month, you can reach your six-month goal! Yes, you can do it!
Resolve to reduce your gas usage in some way and aim the savings toward your financial goal! Write down what you are going to do in your workbook, and start saving on fuel today!
- How do you save money on gas?
- Have you ever considered the actual cost of a regular trip that you make?