I have a problem that I think many people have. I tend to focus on “big” things instead of small little everyday things. When looking at places I can be more frugal and conserve more and spend less, I tend to gravitate toward big sweeping statements like “we won’t use out air conditioner to save electricity, EVER” without thinking of the idea that changing our light bulbs to CFLs and being vigilant about turning off lights when leaving a room could make a big difference (and I will testify to the fact that it has). I also have had this rather myopic view about our budget. Cut out activities! No fun budget! Never eat out! But what about the rather simple idea of using my car more wisely to save on gasoline? Huh? Save on gasoline?
In the past, I have been guilty of not considering the cost of driving my car past being able to afford my car payment. At all. In fact, for example, I used to actually consider driving my car loan payment to the credit union as saving the cost of a stamp. Anyone (other than me) who considers that statement for half a second will realize I’d have to live pretty close to the credit union to spend less than $0.41 driving there. (I still drive to the credit union to drop off my payment, but I combine it with other errands in the same area now.)
When we started this budgeting experiment, my spouse asked me how much we typically spend on gasoline. I said probably $150, and didn’t really think about how much of our income that really was. Gasoline was just something that had to be bought in my mind, you can try to get a better deal by picking the right time to buy it (which I stink at), but there was no way to avoid having to buy it. The idea of “drive less” or “drive smarter” had never even entered my brain. When setting up our budget, I started thinking about how much $150 really is (which was indeed looking at past online bank statements, our typical expenditure on gasoline per month for the past several months). It averaged out to about 50 gallons of gas a month at the price per gallon then. Which at ~25 mpg for our cars, we drive about 1250 miles in the typical month. That may not seem like a lot to many of you, but to me it seemed huge. Where were we going?
When the budget was actually set up, I found that $150 was easily one of the largest of our “variable” expenses. Yes, some of it was necessary (like my spouse getting to work) but was all of it? I started thinking in a new way about driving. I didn’t change a lot of where I went, but I considered the rather simple ideas of combining many trips to the same area into single trips, buying more things at the same place, and looking at the actual cost in gasoline of a particular trip when considering where to go. The cost of a trip in gasoline was the most surprising to me. Not only does it cost $3 a day for my spouse to go to work, it costs me $2.50 to go to Walmart.
Last month, gasoline came in right at budget at about $130 of usage. I set our budget at $20 less than our typical usage had been and even with gas prices holding steady we managed to hit it with just a few simple changes. So far in August it is looking like we will come in even a little under that (with gas prices also falling slightly compared to past months).
A little information and consideration goes a long way in this case.