Some people assume that saving money and frugality is all about cutting down, getting less, and sacrifice. And when we talk about cutting down on fuel costs, it just seems like more drudgery. Commuting to work aside, here are some ways to cut down on those extra miles.
Advice about saving money on car fuel usually falls into three categories:
- Use your car less
- Consume less fuel when you do drive, and
- Make sure you’re getting the lowest prices on gas.
Let’s focus on number one first, because it’s the most powerful method and it’s the funnest.
Think about it this way: if you are not in the car, not only are you spending zero on gas, but you’re getting time for other things – whether it’s hanging out with your family, getting the house organized, or just putting on a pot of soup.
Now here’s something that will really motivate you to be in the car less: let yourself develop a passion or a hobby – something that totally engages you, and makes you want to stay home and do it. If you pick an activity like gardening or cooking – you can save a ton of money on food. If you pick something that could turn into a part-time job or home business, you can make more money!
So let’s focus on the first point today, and we’ll cover the other two as we get closer to road trip season.
Drive Less and Get More Time
Since we’ve only got one life, time is just as valuable as money, if not more. Of course we have to pay the bills, but there are ways we can maximize the free time that we have.
1. Organize our lives close to home or work
Every time we choose professionals and services — dentists, activities, banks — we have choices. Call me crazy, but I make my life easier by choosing services based on closeness to home.
Just like trying the cheapest brand at the grocery store first, I choose the closest doctor first. As I explain in How to Simplify Life when Picking a Good Doctor (or Accountant or Mechanic or Dentist or…), we have had great outcomes with this method 9 times out of ten. Not only do we have great service-providers, but we don’t spend hours going back and forth and battling traffic.
2. Do as much as you can online
Patronize the little shops and services near home that make your neighborhood a vibrant place to live, but for everything else, let your fingers do the walking. It’s easy to find the best product at the best price by doing online research and comparing prices. Plus having stuff delivered may be eco-friendly, since one delivery truck does the same job as many individual cars, which clog the streets and create more pollution.
Everything from banking to postal tasks can be done online now. After moving a million times, we use an online bank (USAA), and I love the quiet convenience of just slipping a deposit into an envelope and letting the mail carrier do the rest.
3. Communicate and combine errands
It’s easy to just live our own lives, rushing around to cross off our to-do lists. However, when family members check in with each other every morning — “I’m going downtown. Do you need anything?” — we can all save time, money, and gas.
Besides thinking strategically about the paths we make with our cars, we can also give ourselves rules, like only doing errands on the way to work or school. Some families agree that if something gets forgotten, it has to wait until someone is going that way again. No more “just running out” to do this or that.
Drive Less and Make More Friends
When we depend on each other by sharing — whether it’s pet-sitting or clothes-swapping — our relationships deepen. Coordinating with another family requires familiarity and trust, qualities that most people find more satisfying than smiles and small talk.
Carpools are a great way to connect with people while you’re also getting stuff done. Of course adults can share rides to work or even to errands, but carpooling is also great for families. (No one seems to love all the toting back and forth to extracurricular activities.)
In addition to using a ton less gas, here are a few great things families can get out of sharing driving:
Character-Building: When kids are on their own with another family, they learn responsibility for themselves and respect for another family’s rules
Bonding: Even though you may be spending less time with your child in the car, when it’s your turn to drive, you have an up-close opportunity to observe your child interacting with his peers. (If you can manage to keep quiet up front (something I’m not good at), I hear that kids forget you’re there and start really talking.)
Fun: And of course, the parent who is not driving can use the time for something else, while the kids in the car get to spend time with their friends.
Drive Less and Skip the Gym
Why drive when you can walk? Or bike, scooter, or pogo stick? Walking to places helps me slow down and get fresh-air exercise. It’s also a great time to connect with my kids — we have some of our best conversations walking to and from school.
A lot of us live in a car-dependent communities (even though real estate prices are showing developers that Americans now value walkable communities). If you can’t walk anyplace, can you drive and then walk? One of the participants in the Frugal Mama Makeover video series said that instead of dropping her sons off at their activities and then driving home and back, she saved a lot of money by staying there and walking around for exercise. (You could even keep ankle weights in the car if you want a more vigorous workout.)
Saving money on gas and getting more of what we want is exactly the kind of win-win that I revel in discovering here at Frugal Mama. If we need to buckle down — or we just want to simplify life — we might as well find the fun, right?