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Can I Save Money On Gas? Maybe I Just Need To Move…

April 25, 2011 · 37 comments

in Personal Finance

There is a lot of talk about the surging gas prices lately.   Since it is such a hot topic, there are also a ton of articles written about how to handle the high cost of gas and what you can do to ease the pain.  One suggestion is to walk more. I was reading a recent article about the 10 Most Walkable Cities on CNBC.com.  Read the list and see if you see what most, if not all, of the cities have in common:

  1. San Francisco (hope you don’t mind the hills)
  2. Boston (hope you like walking in the snow!)
  3. New York (hope you like the crowds and the constant sounds of taxi horns blaring)
  4. Seattle
  5. Washington DC
  6. Honolulu
  7. Philadelphia
  8. Chicago (See comment for Boston…)
  9. Providence, RI
  10. Portland, OR

Did you figure out the common theme?  They have a high cost of living!  Yes, you can avoid paying a lot of money on gasoline, but the cost of housing and everything else will more than make up for any gas savings.  Oh, I probably won’t have much of a yard either.  In addition, if I lived in many of those cities, I wouldn’t WANT to drive.  Perhaps the article should be titled ‘Most Walkable/Least Drivable Cities’?

So, what about the rest of us that live in the suburbs, how can we save money on gas?  Where I live, there is almost zero mass transit, and walking/biking can be dangerous if you are going more than a mile.  For instance, I would love to ride my bike to the city just north of where I live.  To get to the where I want to go, I would have to share lane space on a bridge on a busy road that just has two lanes, and zero walking/bike space for part of the way.  Sure, I would love to ride my bike more and save some money, but I would rather be alive instead.

For people like me, our options are much more limited than those that actually have a choice.  Yes, we could go buy a more economical car.  However, shoving all 5 of us in a Prius is not really a great choice either.  (Side note:  we did recently buy a new vehicle and bought a Ford Escape, which has decent gas mileage.  However, the mileage does not come close to what the smaller cars get.)  Another option is to drive more sensibly and make sure that the car is properly maintained.  Well, we already try to drive carefully and we have the recommended maintenance performed on our cars, so not much ‘savings’ there.  We could drive less, but I am not willing to sacrifice watching my kid’s performances because of the cost of gas.  I recognize that is my own choice, and if we were financially suffering, some of our discretionary driving would have to eliminated.  It wouldn’t be replaced by walking, we just wouldn’t go to many places anymore.

The bottom line is, many many people really are not in a position to alter their habits greatly to save a lot  money on gas.  So, people like us either have to suck it up, or reduce other expenses to compensate for the incremental cost of gas.

Have increasing gas prices affected your everyday life?  Have you been able to reduce the amount of driving you do?

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

First Gen American April 25, 2011 at 5:56 am

Thankfully, my gas is paid for as part of my $200 “personal use fee” that I pay for my company car, so we try to avoid using my husband’s for most road trips. It kills me that my car doesn’t have a roof rack though because that means if we want to go somewhere with the canoe, it means taking his car.

Since I live in New England that are literally hundreds of places we can go that are a 2-3 hour drive and I used to think nothing of jumping in the car on a Saturday and taking an “adventure” somewhere. Once I started paying for my own gas (I’ve been off and on with the company car for years now), even if the excursion was free, I’d have to think to myself…is it worth $50 in gas to go here. It really did change my habits. I far more often opted to go to the in town lake beach vs the ocean beach and stuff like that, so yes, when I have to pay for my own gas, it greatly effects how I spend my money. Suddenly what used to be a $50 trip to the zoo, was now a $100 trip and I would go much less often. It’s kind of the same reason why I don’t go into Boston or NYC as often as I’d like. Even if I go just for the day, it’s like $50 for parking.

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Kris April 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I too love those little adventures where you just hop in the car and go. If I lived where you do, I would probably end up bankrupt because I wouldn’t be able to resist the ocean!

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Moneycone April 25, 2011 at 7:40 am

I certainly feel the pinch! Like you there aren’t too many options, I’ve thought of car-pooling, but I don’t think that’s practical in my case.

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Kris April 25, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Carpooling can be very difficult, especially if you have to visit client sites and such. If only there were more great options!

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Nicole April 25, 2011 at 7:42 am

I wouldn’t mind paying higher housing costs if we had better public transportation and a more walkable area.

We definitely paid a premium to live in a HOA that has actual sidewalks even though they only go down one side of the street and not down most cul-de-sacs. If only there were more places to walk to… right now we can walk to a small park (yay) and a Catholic Church (yay?)

FGA– why not drive to one of the far out t-stations where parking is cheaper and t into boston? (Personally once a year is enough for me and Boston…)

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First Gen American April 25, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Probably laziness, but mainly because it turns 5 hours of total transportation time into an 8+ hours of transportation to get in and out of the city which makes it kind of long for a day trip…especially with a 2 and 5 year old in tow. Before kids though, I used to park at Riverside all the time. It was a good deal for sure.

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Nicole April 25, 2011 at 3:24 pm

It’s really only a good solution if you can do Alewife or another one of those outer stops on like the red line, I guess.

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Kris April 25, 2011 at 4:03 pm

First Gen- to me, time and sanity is worth more than gas!

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Kris April 25, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Nicole- I grew up in a town where you could walk to shopping and stores and it was great. I very much miss that, and I am sure my kids would have loved to have been able to just hop on their bike to go to the store. (We were close to a Kresge’s, a drug store, a record store and more!)

By the way, I love Boston, as long as I am not driving.

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101 Centavos April 25, 2011 at 8:06 am

We’ve been kicking the idea of getting another fuel-efficient car, like a diesel. For what modest driving we do though, the additional insurance and cost of ownership would largely offset the savings in fuel, at least for now.

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Kris April 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm

101- That is it exactly. The measure people have to take to cut their gas costs can be cost prohibitive!

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Karen ho fatt April 25, 2011 at 9:25 am

We switched our vehicles from a Toyota Matrix to a Jeep. The latter is 3x more in gas consumption but being that I live in the country is safer in the snow having 4 wheel drive. Miss my Matrix alot to say the least. As far as walking, our city is more than most compared to somewhere like Florida where I frequently visit- you do not have a choice but to drive becuse of the extensive freeways.

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Kris April 25, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Karen- Living in Michigan, I more than understand the need for a 4 wheel drive vehicle. If only they could figure out a way to ensure great traction and great gas mileage.

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TUJ April 25, 2011 at 12:12 pm

When I think about rising gas prices – after I sigh about our upfront increase in cost – I also think about all the other things that need transported and what the effect will be on those items. Such as fresh fruit, for example, to get to our grocery store. I feel like the rising prices can’t be escaped! They truly impact everything.

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Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager April 25, 2011 at 12:41 pm

I live in PDX (#10) and honestly, I never have to drive, unless I’m driving up the to mountain to go skiing or heading to the beach to go play in the ocean. Plus, I believe the cost of living in PDX is way lower than the cost of living anywhere else on that list.

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Kris April 25, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I agree, I thought that most the other cities would be more expensive than where you live. Sounds like you have some nice options for places to drive to! I want to go play in the ocean!

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Squirrelers April 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I’m out in the suburbs, and walking places just isn’t a realistic option. Well, there is a mall that I could walk to without much trouble, but getting to work and other places requires a car. Unless somebody lives in an urban city environment with trains and taxis, I don’t see how having no car at all is possible. Particularly with kids.

I’m more likely to question driving places without a real value to doing so. In fun or for practical reasons, there has to be a need for driving a decent distance. Time is valuable as it is, but so is gas these days!

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Kris April 25, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I am the same way Squirrel, I usually just drive with a purpose now. However, I still go to most the places I normally do.

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The Biz of Life April 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Not too many places I can walk to either. I haven’t changed my driving habits any due to the price of gas. I mainly drive to work and back, but don’t drive much on the weekends.

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Kris April 25, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Biz- I used to take random drives just to think. I don’t do that anymore, I just go hide in my room!

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Linda April 25, 2011 at 3:36 pm

It’s just a trade-off and a mindset. In the larger cities you *may* pay more for housing and food, but you don’t have to pay for gas. I emphasize may because this is a matter of choice.

I live in Chicago. I wanted a single family home with a yard but didn’t have a lot of money. So, I found a house in a less expensive neighborhood near the edge of the city. I gave up some things by doing this: I’m not near the lake and there are no trendy restaurants, cafes, or bars nearby. Schools are OK in this area, but not great, but this doesn’t bother me because I have no kids. In summary, this neighborhood is safe and affordable, but there’s nothing trendy or exciting about it.

But when it comes to driving, I can live without a car very easily. I can take a bus or a train at any time of the day or night. (Although I would have to walk eight blocks to get to an overnight bus or the 24-hour el train since the bus that stops a block away stops running at 10 PM.) I’m steps from a street with a dedicated bike lane. I can ride my bike to work, although the 18-miles round trip can be a bit tiring and I sometimes involves dodging clueless drivers. (If I feel like it, though, I can just put the bike on the bus’s bike rack and ride the rest of the way to where I’m going). The only time it would be tricky for me to get by with just my bike and public transit is when I have to take the dog to the vet or when I need to visit relatives that live out in the country.

I couldn’t say what my cost of living is in comparison to anyone else here without discussing actual home values, etc, but I think the point I’m making is that each of us has made a lifestyle choice. Trying to live a lifestyle that allows you to independently transport yourself wherever you want to go means your transportation costs will be higher. Municipalities won’t spend their limited dollars on developing safer bike lanes or laying sidewalks if most people aren’t asking for them or indicating that they are more important than building and maintaing infrastructure for cars.

Higher gas prices will affect me through increased food prices and potentially increased fares on public transit. So I won’t be completely insulated from them. But changes like this always involve a choice.

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retirebyforty April 25, 2011 at 4:39 pm

We live in Portland and we pay more for housing, but only share one vehicle. It’s a choice that you make. If gas is $20/gallon, I bet many more people will move closer to work and take public transportation.

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Kris April 26, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I will cry if gas goes to 20 dollars a gallon. (Unless I am 180 years old or something… 🙂 )

It would be great to share a car! It wouldn’t work for us in our current lifestyle, but I hope you can share a car for a long time!

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Lindy Mint April 25, 2011 at 5:29 pm

My town is the same as yours – little public transportation, spread out, not very bike friendly. I had a co-worker who tried the carpool thing the last time gas spiked, but ultimately found it to be too inconvenient. But I guess, if you want it badly enough and can make the sacrifices, it can be done.

The other night I was going to take my kids to the outskirts of town to see my husband play a show, but found myself deciding against it to save the gas money. I think that’s the first time I’ve made a decision based on gas prices. Does that mean I’m growing up? 🙂

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Kris April 26, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Lindy- you are grown up! You are cutting cords and everything! 🙂

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krantcents April 25, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Moving closer to work makes sense, but it will be more expensive! If you can be satisfied with a smaller place, it makes a lot of sense. I used to commute from 60-90 minutes one way. It is expensive, and a waste of your time. The bottom line is you save some money and time. Many people in the Los Angeles area are moving downtown to reduce their time and travel expenses.

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Kris April 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Krantcents, living close to work would be ideal. However, a lot of homes in downtown areas are not the best place for kids. It is hard to have it all unfortunately, or at least be able to afford having it all!

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Untemplater April 25, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Certain areas of SF are quite walkable. I get around mostly by bus and it’s pretty convenient. Although it’s undeniable I’ve had a fair share of unpleasant Muni experiences. SF has a fair share of crazy people and a lot of homeless people esp. on certain bus routes so earplugs and noseplugs come in handy. 🙂

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Kris April 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Untemplater- I have been to SF only once, and I was surprised about the number of homeless people there were. One guy had quite a gimmick by hiding behind a giant branch with leaves and would jump out at you. I think I would rather play guitar and put out my hat…

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Untemplater April 27, 2011 at 1:30 am

Ah I see you encountered “Bush Man”. He’s one of the most famous homeless bums in SF. He scared me half to death when I first moved here. I give him credit for creativity though!

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Kris April 27, 2011 at 9:56 am

Wow, I had no idea this homeless person was so renowned! He scared me half to death too.

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Super Frugalette April 26, 2011 at 12:07 am

The gas prices have not affected me very much. (I am so happy that I am not living in Tennessee where I drove 120 each day to work and back.)

Madison, WI (where I now live)has a great bus system and you can commute to your job from many part of the city.

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Kris April 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm

SF – driving 120 miles to work would be depressing. Even though you have colder weather where you currently live, I am sure it is more pleasant having a reasonable commute and great mass transit.

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Crystal @ BFS April 26, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Get a Pentagon Federal Credit Union Visa and save 5% (cash back on your monthly bills) on gas. 🙂 No moving required, lol.

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Kris April 27, 2011 at 12:42 am

BFS- I already have an American Express Blue Cash card, which gives a 5 percent rebate on gas and other everyday items. Love my card! Thanks for the tip though!

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Travis@TradeTechSports May 6, 2011 at 12:56 am

I just think it comes down to happiness and where you want to be. The price of gas alone shouldn’t cause you to move to a cheaper location. You can buy fairly cheap cars now days that get really good gas mileage.

You can live in a big city like SF on a smaller salary as long as your smart about your spending. 🙂

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