considering the cost of things i took for granted

August 19th, 2007

Considering the cost of things I took for granted

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.

~J

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13 Responses to “Considering the cost of things I took for granted”

  1. I also had to take a hard look at how much I spend on gasoline and parking. I have started to ride my bike to work. I save on the gas it takes to get there, plus $50/month for parking. I also run errands on my lunch break with my bike (which saves time and gas). I’ve been surprised at how much money I have saved on gas in the past few months. However, I do visit my long distance boyfriend twice a month (about 6 hours round tripx2/month), which really adds up. I set my gas budget for $100/month…this month I might spend less than $50 because my car has been in the shop so much!

    FYI-I updated your link on my blogroll! I like the new page!

  2. Thanks!!

  3. I think that the problem we all face is that we take for granted the things that we have always done, which may have been perfectly good at the time, but we have to review this regularly. I think the key is scheduling time ech year to review budgets or expensives and then assessing whether we still need to be spending money on particular areas. I’ve saved loads on walking to work rather than going by car, although I live in the UK and everything is on a much smaller scale. For some in the US, especially out in more isolated communities a car is a must.

  4. I ride my bike or walk just about everywhere, and I’ve put less than 2000 miles on my car in the last year. At first it didn’t seem like much – walking a mile to the grocery store, biking four miles to the bank, walking a mile to my job at the library… but when I started looking at the numbers, I realized just how quickly those miles add up. I figure I average about 25 miles a week walking and biking instead of driving. In the course of a year, that adds up to 1300 miles that I’m not putting on my car – and not paying for gas. Makes me more motivated to continue!

  5. I haven’t even owned a car since 1995 – cars are not necessities – no matter what the powers that be will have you think. We have a choice of where we live and where we work! The environmental crisis is real and has been known for ages – it is just that our government, car industries, and media have been in denial and brain washing mode.

  6. Steve in W MA Says:

    March 31st, 2010 at 4:23 am

    I like the realization you had that it cost you $2.50 just for the privilege of getting to WalMart so you can spend even more of your money!

    A lot of driving is unnecessary and because it’s so easy to drive places I find I can lose track of planning things out. But most days I can bike to work and do errands on my bike on the way back (it is nicely set up for shopping and for rainy days and nights as well).

    It not only saves me the 6-7 mile round trip to work and back every day, but it stops a lot of extra car travel that would normally happen when I have my car with me and can easily make lots of side trips. I would guess that biking to work during the week saves me not just the 35 miles round trip to work and back, but also another 100 miles of “recreational” driving that doesn’t happen because I tend to plan better when I know I will be out on my bike and can’t easily travel long distances like I can in the car.

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