The summer of 2008 saw rapid gas price increases, then after the downturn in the economy, prices settled back into the lower $2.00 range. And they have been creeping back up ever since. As I write this, gas is hovering around $3.00 a gallon here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. From what I understand, that is slightly lower than the rest of the nation.
Gas may seem like a cost you can’t do much about, and while it is true you cannot lower the price of gas, you are in control of how much you choose to use. And one thing seems fairly certain, the prices are expected to keep increasing over time.
Some things to consider as you budget for gas:
Slow down. Rapidly accelerating and driving at a high speed both use up more gas than gradually accelerating and maintaining speeds around 55 mph. Do keep in mind the speed limits – if it is 60 mph, try to stay at that and stay in the right lane if you are driving slower than the rest of the traffic or if you are not passing. And when you are going to be braking (say at an upcoming light or stop sign), then take your foot off the accelerator and let the car slow down a bit on its own. What is the point of using gas to get up to a certain speed, only to brake and waste it all? (Full disclosure: I am bad at implementing this last one, but I am working on it.)
Plan better. Lump your errands together and plan a route that puts the stores in order. When you have to go out of your way for something (training, a party), think about what errands could be along that route and take care of things on that trip, rather than making a separate trip later. It helps to keep a running list of errands/purchases. That way, you already know what you need and can be prepared. Split errands up with your partner or roommate, if some errands are on his or her regular route instead. I have a group of friends and if one of us is going somewhere out of the way, that person will take care of the odd errand/purchase for the others in an effort to save time and money.
Stay home. Yep – just don’t go out to shop. You will save money, clutter and gas. How about that? Have a family game night, use Netflix streaming rather than driving to and from the video store or go for a walk, go sledding or do something outside.
Keep it local. Get your errands/shopping done close to home and support the businesses in your area. This helps keep your neighbors employed and property tax revenue in your area. Plus, it builds community. If you have a relatively small community, you might be able to run errands by bike or on foot.
Make it a priority. If you are planning to buy a car, make the mileage of the car a priority in your purchase. If you shave off $20 in gas purchases a week, that adds up to $1,040 over a year, or $5,200 over 5 years. As gas prices increase, you only save more. If you are interviewing for a new job, consider the impact of your location. Is it close to home? What will it cost you in gas at $3, $4 or $5 a gallon to commute? Can you telecommute? Take public transportation? Carpool? Are there costs for parking?
Look at your current job. Similar to looking for a new job, figure out what commuting costs you. Investigate if you can take public transportation or carpool. I have a friend at work that rides the bus. He and his wife only have one car. He points out that the few times he has needed to get home in a hurry and has taken a cab, each time cost him less than a week’s worth of gas. And think how much he saves by having just one vehicle!!
More job ideas: Is parking space at a premium? Where I work, my company pays for parking. If one of us is willing to use public transportation, the company saves money by paying for the bus or train passes and having one less parking spot to pay for. Even though we have 29 employees, we only pay for 13 parking spots this way. Your company may do the same. Can you telecommute? This is far more common than it used to be, and you may be able to suggest a pilot program if you company does not already have a plan in place.
Carpool to activities. Not just kids’ activities, but go with another family to an apple orchard, amusement park or other event. Pick up the grandparents or aunts and uncles. The more the merrier!
The bottom line is that you are not powerless against higher gas prices. You can cut back consumption to a certain level and it may not even be that painful, and in some cases, it will even be enjoyable.