This is part of an ongoing series about how to trim the budget of the average American. As this series focuses on such broad-based tips, some will work for you and some will not. You’re invited to mention in the comments the tips that you found to be the most useful for inclusion in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of this series.
Transportation – gasoline, motor oil – $2,384
The average American family drops $200 a month on gasoline and motor oil – and that’s at early 2009 prices for gas, which were significantly lower than prices today.
However, this is one of the easiest numbers to trim in your entire budget. There are several simple steps anyone can take to reduce their gasoline usage without making radical lifestyle changes. Here are twelve options.
Form a carpool (or join an existing one). Even if this is an irregular carpool – my wife, for example, carpools with a friend two days a week, saving her one day of driving – it still saves you signifcant fuel costs on your commute and wear and tear on your car. In some localities, you also gain the option to use HOV lanes, which can add to the fuel efficiency of the drive.
Use public transportation. If you have easy access to public transportation, it is almost always a fuel saver, particularly if you can use such transportation routinely. Even if you can just occasionally use the bus system or the subway, it still leaves gas in your tank.
Use a bicycle – or your feet. Alternately, use a bicycle – or your own feet – to reach nearby locations. I often walk to the post office instead of driving there – it takes substantially longer, but if I use a brisk walk, I can get a moderate workout from the situation, making me healthier, while also saving money on the fuel.
Buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle. If gasoline is $3 a gallon, moving from a 20 mile per gallon car to a 25 mile per gallon car saves you $360 a year (assuming you drive 12,000 miles a year). If you’re buying used, such a savings can make it well worth your while to invest a bit more in a more fuel-efficient car.
Change your own oil. Not only will you save on the maintenance costs if you’re not paying someone to do it, but it also gives you much more control over the actual oil that goes into you car – and much more power when it comes to comparison shopping for that oil. Study up on the type of oil that’s truly best for your car, then shop around for it. You’ll find a great price on the best thing for your vehicle – a win all around.
Drive the speed limit, especially on the interstate. Stick in the slow lane and stick with the speed limit and you’ll find yourself saving quite a lot on gas. “But everyone’s going 90!” If that’s the case, and you still choose to drive there, then you’re paying a substantial amount to drive at that pace. And you’ll avoid tickets that will raise your insurance rates.
Keep your windows closed – or your air conditioning off. If you’re driving in town at low speeds, keep the windows down and your air conditioning off. However, if you’re out on the open road, do just the opposite. The wind drag when you go at higher speeds becomes significant, exceeding the fuel costs of running an air conditioner. Alternating between the two will save you the most money.
Minimize the “stop and go” when you’re driving in town. Instead of gunning it out of a stoplight then just slowing down again to a complete stop at the next stoplight, accelerate more slowly out of a stoplight and slow down gradually well before the next one. You’ll maintain much more momentum (and thus retain fuel) by slowing gradually rather than slowing quickly, stopping, and then accelerating from a stop.
Re-evaluate your routes. Are you taking the most efficient route to your regular destinations? Many people lock themselves into the first route to their destination that they discover, not bothering to investigate further and discover shorter routes. Doing so saves on fuel costs, wear and tear, and your valuable time.
Keep your tires properly inflated. Ever tried a bicycle with partially deflated tires? It’s hard work to pedal. Improperly inflated tires on your car cause your car to burn a lot more gas to get going. Given that it’s really easy to properly inflate your tires at your local gas station, you should take advantage of the free air to save yourself some cash.
Remove excess weight. If you’re carrying items in your car without a good purpose, remove them – they’re just slowly milking your fuel efficiency. Go through your trunk, your back seat, and the bed of your truck and look for items that don’t need to be there. (The same goes for fuel itself – you’re better off refueling when you’re close to empty than when your tank is mostly full – though the effect is tiny.)
When you’re stopped, turn off the engine. Whenever you’re going to be idling for more than fifteen seconds or so, turn off the engine on your vehicle. Idling just causes your car to burn gasoline without providing any forward motion for you – and even just a few seconds’ worth of idling eats more gas than is eaten during ignition.
I want your help! In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming these costs. I’ll include the top choices in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of the series.