Monday, April 25, 2011

How Are You Saving Money On Gas?

I woke up Friday morning to a horrifying story on the morning news: gas prices in Orlando, Florida are at $5.69 per gallon and could hit $6 nationwide by summer. A wave of terror ran through my body because I think current gas prices are outrageous.

I drive 40 miles round-trip to Lake Forest each day five or six days a week and fill my car weekly (not because it's on empty but because I can't afford to let an 20 gallon tank get to empty). If I fill up in Arlington Heights, gas ranges between $4.24 and $4.39 per gallon, but filling up at Costco in Mettawa (practically across the street from my office) yesterday, I spent $3.99. I saved $4.60 or 10% of what I spent. The national average is $3.84, up $0.98 from a year ago, and in Chicago it's $4.18, up $1.10 from a year ago. Ouch.

Wanting to share the good news with my Lake Forest peeps, I sent the following tweet: "Hey Lake Forest peeps! Need gas? Costco on 60 is $3.99. FYI. @LFCollege @LFGSM #GasCostsTooMuch." I was immediately re-tweeted by my friend Carolyn who drives further than I do.

To avoid pain at the pump, some people are slugging. This was hugely popular in Washington, DC when I lived there in the 1990s. Slugging is when people share rides with total strangers. In DC, there were slug parking lots in Northern Virginia where people would park and then get in the slug line waiting for someone to pick them up. At the end of the day, there were a couple of designated pick-up spots on 14th Street where slug lines would form waiting for drivers. The idea of course, was to catch a ride in the morning with someone going near your destination because it would be rude to ask someone who'd just given you a free ride to out of their way and possibly be late for work. At the end of the day, you wanted to make sure you were getting in a car with someone headed to the I-395 slug lot rather than the I-66 slug lot so you ended up getting home in a reasonable amount of time. The benefit for the driver was that by having more than three people in their car, they could use the designated carpool lanes.

How are you saving money on gas? Are you telecommuting more? Does your company have alternative work arrangements where you could work four longer days and have a fifth off or work hours that allowed you to miss rush hour? In mid-May, I can officially start telecommuting on a regular schedule and I can't wait.

In addition to filling up at Costco and telecommuting when I can, I have eliminated the one-off errands. Now I run errands in bulk and I make sure get all my groceries in one trip. Last weekend I actually did a cost analysis of driving versus taking the train into Chicago on a Sunday. Driving ended up being less expensive because I had free parking, wouldn't need to take any taxis as I would getting off the train, and because the train schedule simply wouldn't allow for convenient commuting times.

Do you check gas prices online before heading out? My favorite online tool is Gas Buddy. Just type in your zip code and it pulls up local gas prices from lowest to highest. While John McCain may not believe it to be true, keeping your tires properly inflated increases your gas mileage and driving the speed limit, reducing excess weight in your car, avoiding excess idling, using cruise control, and using overdrive gears also helps with gas mileage.

Because I believe the days of low gas prices are long gone, it's imperative on each of us to insist our elected officials to invest in alternative fuel and demand all car manufacturers produce the most fuel-efficient cars they can, along with producing more hybrid and electric cars that run longer between charging.

In the meantime, let's share the wealth on gas-saving tips.

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