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How Our Family Saves Thousands Every Year on Gas and Vehicle Expenses

Frugal Parenting (featured column)
by Rachel Keller

Have the soaring gas prices squeezed your family budget? All budgets must add up to 100%. So if gas costs more, you have less to spend in another category. But what if you don’t have extra money to spare, or what if you would rather save that extra gas money for other needs or wants?

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Over the past couple of years, our family has saved thousands on vehicle expenses. (Yes, I do mean thousands!) I realize that not everyone will benefit from the same changes our family has made, but I share our experience to inspire you. With some determination, creativity, and willingness to change, you too can save money.

The easiest way to save money on gas is simply not to drive. Yet very few families can get by without a vehicle. Our family is very active physically. So we choose to walk, run, and ride our bikes whenever possible.

Since we were only using our car for traveling to church, vacationing, and some miscellaneous excursions, our second car sat idle most of the time. We decided to sell it because we had to make a special point of driving it occasionally to keep the battery charged. (One time when we hadn’t used it for a couple months, the battery was nearly dead.) At first, I was a little apprehensive. After all, as a family of seven, how could we ever get by without a second car?

We’ve been a one-car family for over a year. Selling the second car was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We never miss the car. In fact, we have less stress in our lives because it’s gone, and we now save even more money. No longer do we worry about extra insurance, inspections, oil changes, car repairs, and other upkeep. Plus, we had kept that car for so long that it was an antique. We sold it as a collector’s item on eBay!

Since we only have one car, we’re careful to keep it maintained, inspected, and oil changed regularly. When we need to take our station wagon to the garage, one of us drives it there and either bikes or runs back home. When the car is fixed, we run or bike to pick it up.

My husband works full-time as a financial planner. Our car is not the best on gas mileage, so every day that he bikes to his office, he saves a gallon of gas. My husband purchased cycling rain gear, cold weather cycling clothes and lights for his bike so now he can bike to work even during inclement weather, saving us several gallons of gas a week, not to mention the wear and tear on the car, less oil changes, etc. An added benefit is my husband is thin and in excellent health. As a busy husband and father of five children, he doesn’t "have time" for a regular fitness program, so he uses his commute back home (when it doesn’t matter how sweaty he gets) to train for races.

My husband has two bikes, and we each have our own bikes, plus a bike trailer for our two youngest children who can’t yet reach the pedals of a bike. We do spend money on bikes and equipment, but that is insignificant when compared to the savings on gas, car repairs, and insurance.

By using leg power to get around, our family gets much needed exercise and stays healthier, thus preventing unnecessary trips to the doctor's office, saving even more money. We bike to nearby parks, libraries, and special events. (We even take our bikes whenever we travel and use them as much as possible rather than driving everywhere.) We avoid making unnecessary trips and combine errands whenever possible to see how long we can go without purchasing gas. I usually plan one day a month to do my errands by car. This takes careful thought and planning.

I get up very early and bike (or run--literally) to the store to get my groceries or to the bank to get some cash. Our child trailer (which holds two children or 100 pounds) is ideal for holding all our groceries, as well as household and other items from Wal-Mart.

In the past, when I drove, I did all my shopping at just one store. Now that I bike to the grocery store, I save even more money by taking advantage of sales at more than one store. As part of my exercise routine, I bike to a couple different grocery stores to purchase sale and low price items. On weekends when my husband is home, I can stop at some of the department and/or drug stores to purchase sale or rebate items. This also takes careful planning. I peruse sales ads. (You can do this online at our GrocerySavingTips.com site!) I’ll note what items I want at each store and have my coupons ready. I actually spend less time shopping than when I drove because now I know exactly what I need, and I go in to get it. (Of course, I always check the reduced rack to see what is on sale.) My husband bikes to Sam’s and other stores to purchase our heavier or bigger items.

To save money when we do drive, we observe the speed limit and stay alert for red lights. (No need wasting gas racing to red lights.) Once stopped, we gradually increase our speed rather than accelerating quickly. Nothing burns gas more than frequent stops and starts and stepping on the gas pedal. When we purchase gas, we buy premium. (Unless your car needs it, purchase regular to save money. Our car is older and it "pings" unless we use premium.)

We live in a hilly section of Virginia, so it's not always easy running or cycling on these roads. But through the years we've gotten stronger and healthier.

We’ve had fun while staying fit and learning some important lessons:

1. Rain won’t melt you.

2. Running in the snow can be fun (albeit, much slower).

3. Running or biking in sleet or ice is dangerous and not recommended.

4. Running or biking in a thunderstorm is foolish, frightening, and to be avoided! (Twice an electrical storm came upon me while running and once while biking. My husband has gotten caught in an electrical storm before, too.)

Given the choice, we would rather use our leg muscles to get places than pushing the pedal to the metal. We didn’t think that when we first started. It was hard work, and it is still hard work pedaling heavy loads up steep hills. But after several months, driving to the store has become boring. It's so much more fun, cost effective, and healthier to bike!

Author’s note: My husband is fortunate in that he has a personal wardrobe/closet in his office. He changes from "cycle man" to "Clark Kent" when he arrives at his office. Before leaving to come home, he changes back into "cycle man." Because it is cool in the morning, and he doesn’t push himself, he arrives at work just slightly windblown--nothing some fresh clothes and a comb can't fix. On the way home, he doesn’t care how sweaty he gets because a warm shower awaits him.

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Copyright © 2006 by Rachel Keller. All rights reserved.

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