Coffee heat rising

How higher gas prices save money

Here I am thinking that four-&-a-half-dollar gasoline is driving me to the poorhouse…but WAIT!

Wai-wai-wai-wait! Not so! Whereas ’tis all too true that more of the Budget is going to support my driving addiction, something odd has happened: because of the changes in driving and buying strategies forced by the run-up in gas prices, I’m buying a lot smarter in other ways. Groceries, normally my biggest indulgence, have dropped by 50%; spending on yard items is an eighth of what it has been.

In fact, over the past month I’ve saved way more on these items than the extra amount I’ve had to spend on gas.

What is going on?

When the cost of gas headed for the stratosphere, I decided to shop for necessities only at stores that are on my way to and from the Great Desert University. No extra trips would be allowed: whatever I needed would have to come from someplace along the commute.

This cut out Home Depot, the scene of many an impulse-buy frenzy.

All my other regular stops in fact are along the route from here to GDU. However, the “no extra trip” rule eliminated an amazing number of junkets. Using Quicken’s transaction detail shortcut report feature (right-click on the category!), I compared June 2007 spending with June 2008’s in several areas. Here’s what happened.

Groceries

Here’s the biggy for me, since I don’t eat out and I very much relish food. I don’t hold the horses in the grocery store: this is my only indulgence, and I do indulge. I’m given to shopping in gourmet specialty stores, and I do not worry myself with such details as how much food costs.

But within the constraints of the “commute-route” rule, AJ’s, a local retailer, is the only fancy grocer on my way. It suffices: you can bankrupt yourself there just as easily as at Whole Paycheck.

In June of 2007, my grocery bill was (hang on to your hats, frugalists!) $721.99.

Done hyperventilating? O.K. In June 2008, it was $334.96.

Wow! In 2007, I made 17 trips to purveyors of groceries, three of them to the dangerous AJ’s. This year, I made 12 grocery runs, five of them to AJ’s. Even though I made more hits on the fancy store, I spent less than half as much on groceries this year as I did a year ago.

Why? In June 2007, the Great Chinese Dog Food Scare was peaking. That was when I decided to make real food for Walt the Greyhound and Anna the Ger-shep, both 90-pound dogs. This would be about the equivalent of inviting a couple of 12-year-olds (or petite adults) to your dinner table. In May, shortly before the Scare, I spent $417.25, a more normal figure. But still: way more than I paid out last month.

In any event, restricting grocery-store runs to stops on the way home from work cut out five trips to the store, which evidently limited grocery spending

Yard Items

In this category, Home Depot is a real menace. I love plants. It’s almost impossible for me to walk through Home Depot’s nursery without buying a plant, a pot, or both. And the swimming pool chemicals are located in the garden department, so you have to walk past the plants to get to the chlorine, acid, and diatomaceous earth. Cleaning goods and some electrical gear are right next to the plants. Meanwhile, the whole store is laid out like a medieval street bazaar: impulse buys as far as the eye can see.

On the other hand, Ace Hardware, which unlike HD is on my way home from campus, has no garden department. I started buying at Ace to avoid the 8-mile round trip to HD. Ace carries almost everything one needs from Home Depot, but the store layout is pragmatic, boring, and untempting. The place encourages you to get in, pick up only what you need, and get out.
June ’07: $61.62 (3 trips)
June ’08: $7.58 (1 trip)

Why? No Home Depot!

Pool

In these parts the weather heats up the first part of May. Warm weather consumes chlorine tablets and, unless you stay on top of things, grows algae. Until the gas run-up, I’d been buying chlorine tabs, shock treatment, and acid at Home Depot. Lately, though, I’ve been stopping for those things at Leslie’s, in the same strip mall as the Safeway that’s directly on the way home from GDU.
June ’07: $92.78
June ’08: $55.98
Why? Lest you think that specialty-store pool chemicals are cheaper than HD’s, the truth is that in 2007 I spent $42.50 for a service call, and so the real cost for chemicals was $50.28. Still, that’s only five bucks less than I paid this year.
HD’s shock treatment contains a chemical that causes the filter to clog up, and so every time I use it, I have to backwash and then add 8 pounds of new diatomaceous earth (DE), which HD does not give away for free. A DE filter in theory is not supposed to need backwashing more than about every three months, and so having to do that noxious chore once a week got old real fast. Not only that, but the HD shock treatment turned the pool into a puddle of Clorox that was unswimmable, even in the hottest weather, for at least three days. Since I’m in the water two or three times a day, I found myself putting off shock treatments until the walls were coated with green stuff, not a good habit.
Leslie’s has a non-chlorine shock treatment that does not contaminate the water and does not clog the filter. You can dive in the water right after you dump the stuff in. And thanks to this stuff, I managed to delay the quarterly filter clean-out ($100) for about six months.

So, even though I paid $5 more in June 2008 than in the same month of 2007, over the long run I’ve been paying less on pool maintenance because I haven’t had to buy giant boxes of DE every time I turn around and I haven’t had the pool guy over here every three months. And now I can use my pool every single day, with no hiatuses to wait for scary levels of carcinogens to drop from ungodly toxic to only mildly poisonous.

Gasoline
June ’07: $ 83.45
June ’08: $138.20

That’s a $54.75 increase.
Grocery savings: $ 387.00
Yard item savings: 54.00
Pool savings: 36.80
Less gas rip: -54.70
Result: $423.10

Approximately: when I copied and pasted these posts out of iWeb into Word, the last character before each hard return disappeared, so I have no idea what appeared in the ones columns. At any rate, when I wrote this I appeared to be $423 to the good, thanks to the inflated cost of gasoline.

If This Is So Great, How Come I’m Busted, Disgusted, and Can’t Be Trusted?

Those of you who’ve followed my whining know I’m up to my eyeballs in red ink. Last month’s budget cycle ended $111 in the hole. So far this month, I was $126 in the red at the end of the first week and, with three days to go am $17 in the red against this week’s budget.

I’ve blamed this on the run-up in gas and food prices. But a closer look reveals the actual cause: a long series of extraordinary expenses biting into cash flow over the past two months.

Between April 21 and June 20, I racked up $1,012 in veterinary bills for the dying German shepherd. In May I pledged $100 to a charity, Andrea’s closet, thinking the amount would come out that month; instead it was charged against American Express in June, when I had to cover $332 of those vet bills. While I might have been able to handle around $300 of unplanned charges, $432 broke the bank. And so far in the first week and a half of this month, I’ve had to pay $55 for car service and $87 for pool service.

So, while I may have saved some $430 in a few categories these past couple of months, it’s as nothing compared to the $1,254 in unplanned expenses ($1,012.33 vet bills + 54.72 car repair + $87 pool service + $100 donation) that I’ve been trying to cover with cash flow and emergency fund savings.

Without those extra expenses, I would be doing just fine…thanks to the gas prices.

Buying futures at the gas pump

One of the local television Play-Nooz programs reports on MyGallons.com, an online membership plan wherein you can buy gasoline in bulk at today’s rates and pump the fuel later, when everyone else is paying more per gallon. You buy a virtual stockpile of gasoline; then you draw it down at the pump with a debit card the company issues to you. Almost any gas station that takes a credit card is participating-there are more than 50 within five miles of my zip code.

On its face, it sounds like a good deal. Except of course you’re betting on the come: with your purchase you subscribe to the theory that gas prices will keep rising and never come down or even stabilize. And you pay $30 (or, if you don’t want a “refill” automatically charged to your credit card, $40) for the privilege. So just to make this pay for itself, you would have to save $30 or $40 on future gas purchases. That’s before you start actually saving money on gasoline itself.

Let’s say a week after you buy in, 10 gallons worth of gasoline rises from $4.05 (current price at Costco) to $4.55 a gallon. At that rate, your saving on the next 10-gallon fill-up is $5. You would have to buy six times that much to pay for the base $30 membership fee: 60 gallons. How long it would take you to break even, before you started to make a “profit,” would depend on how much driving you do in what kind of vehicle.

I drove 266 miles last week and bought 9.9 gallons of gas. So earning back the membership fee would take me six weeks…assuming the cost of gas jumps 50 cents a gallon and stays there. Only after the first six weeks, after I had consumed $60 worth of gas, would I start to see a real savings at the pump.

But…will that savings still be there in six weeks? Some observers think the gas price inflation is driven by yet another economic bubble, one of these days to burst. Others scoff at the very idea. So whether you buy in to buying futures with MyGallons.com depends on who you believe.

You pays yer money and you takes yer chances.

Not all Costco gas is equal

The other day while I was at Costco topping off my gas tank with the last gasoline priced under $4 in the future history of humankind, SDXB happened to go into the Costco on his side of town for the same purpose.

He paid $3.86 a gallon.

Say what? I paid $3.93 a gallon: a seven-cent-a-gallon difference! Same day, same time of day, same retailer.

Only difference as far as we can tell is the demographics. My Costco is a ghetto store that serves a downscale clientele in a tough part of town. His Costco, located on the booming westside, caters to the upper middle class and a large, relatively affluent retirement community.

Why, one might ask, should low-income customers have to pay seven cents a gallon more than people who can afford an extra ding at the pump? Beats me. Only thing I can figure is Costco must figure us pore folks are too dumb to know better, too lazy to drive across town to get a better price, or too broke to run our cars far enough to get out of the ‘hood.

This has long been so of grocery store prices: they’re always higher in areas where many of the customers don’t own cars. A friend worked as the manager of a ghetto grocery store, and he reported that they jacked up prices across the board because they had a captive audience of people who either could not or would not drive further afield to buy food and household products. Maybe Costco does the same.

Message: If you live in a downscale area, consider driving to a more affluent district to seek better prices.

4 Comments left on iWeb site

BeThisWay

I noticed that same thing about grocery stores long ago.Touristy areas also always charge an arm and a leg, too.

It’s good to know, though, while planning your purchases. I often bring non-perishables on vacation just to avoid that type of gouging as much as possible.And if you need gas and are going to see SDXB or have to be in the other Costco area anyway, you can do your fill-ups there.

Tuesday, June 10, 200808:38 AM

Karen

A Costco representative came to my business awhile back to sell memberships, and she they do price the gas individually.Basically, people go out in the morning in the immediate area and compare the local prices so they can price just below all of them.
But as some areas are more expensive than others, two Costcos in my city that are 30 miles apart will definitely have different prices.
Needless to say, I go to the “ghetto” Costco when I need gas.:-)

Thursday, June 12, 200807:27 AM

Karen

P.S.I realize this is the opposite than what you experienced, but it may have also been timing.
I’ve gone to fill up twice in one day for our second car at Costco, and paid a different price!

Thursday, June 12, 200807:30 AM

vh

It’s true that in general gas prices are lower on the westside. That may account for the difference.

But we pay dues for the privilege of spending our money at Costco. That should buy us consistent and fair pricing across the board–not a gouge because we live in a downscale neighborhood a few miles away from a different neighborhood in the same city. That’s unfair and unreasonable.

Report: Does hypermiling work for a Toyota Sienna?

In a word: Yes.

Last night on the way home from work, I heard on the news that the price of oil had jumped another $10 a barrel, and that gas prices are expected to reach $5 a gallon by July 4. Even though I was down only a quarter-tank of gas, I figured I’d better stop by Costco to top off at a price we’ll likely never see again.

At $3.939 a gallon, Costco’s gas had jumped since SDXB filled up five hours earlier. The lines stretched to the street; 25 other drivers had conceived the fill-up idea before I did.

My car took 4.6 gallons. That amount had carried it 118.8 miles, for an average 25.8 miles per gallon.

Not bad, for a lumbering minivan whose year 2000 EPA estimate was 18 mpg in town-a figure we know to have erred on the high side. The gummint’s revised estimate is now 16 in the city and 22 on the highway, for a combined 19 mpg. Since about half the 118.8 driving miles took place on the surface streets, we might take the EPA’s combined mpg as what we could expect. So, using a very basic seven frugal driving techniques gleaned from the hypermiling set, I managed to squeeze an extra 6.8 miles per gallon out of the old tank without much practice or expertise.

Next steps:

  • Check tire pressure; inflate to maximum
  • Use lowest recommended weight oil for next oil change
  • Change air filter

Frugal driving = stress relief

It ought to drive you bats to dork around with your driving habits, which have served you just fine over lo! these past 45 years, in penny-pinching resolve to save a gallon of gas here and a gallon of gas there. Focusing on every mile per hour and wondering whether the tattooed fright behind you will brandish his Uzi if you slow his blast-off from the red light should leave you grinding your teeth. It’s only common sense, right?

No. Paradoxically, the truth is quite the contrary. For the past week or ten days, I’ve been trying out hypermiling techniques, just to see if $4.00 can be stretched to cover a little more of my 38-mile round-trip commute. One issue the hypermiling advice has brought to my attention is that what I call “assertive” driving is actually…well, it’s true: aggressive driving. Also, it’s possible that flying down the freeway in the pod that habitually moves 10 or 15 mph over the limit could, maybe, be called “speeding.”

Since I’ve taken to following just a few steps to save gas, the hated drive has mysteriously become a lot less hateful. The stress of wending my way across the surface streets and then competing (yes, competing) with other wired-up drivers across 18 miles of freeways has gone away. If it doesn’t matter whether you get there first and it doesn’t matter whether you get across the city at 65 or 75 miles an hour, then suddenly it doesn’t matter whether someone cuts you off! It doesn’t matter whether slower traffic wanders right in front of you. And it doesn’t matter that you can’t see around the truck ahead of you, because seeing around it wouldn’t make you go any faster.

Removing all these frustrations that used to matter, at one psychological level or another, causes driving to morph from mildly annoying to fairly relaxing.

Now, here’s the weird part: Not only does frugal driving relieve stress, it gets you there just as fast as jerking around and racing down the road will! In fact, it may get you there faster.

First time I tried a couple of hypermiling techniques, I noticed I got all the way out to campus in about 20 minutes. Fluke. Gotta be a fluke: it was coming up on Memorial Day weekend. All the moron drivers must have knocked off a day early and gone on vacation. Next trip: 20 minutes flat. Next day: think I actually got there in under 20 minutes. But, uhm…this is a 30- to 40-minute drive under the best of circumstances; two hours on a bus.

Why? For one thing, it’s in the interest of hypermiling to stay on the freeway even if traffic is moving slowly, as long as it’s not stop-and-go, because you don’t want to have to accelerate from a standing stop (i.e., you don’t want to stop at intersections). So, instead of dropping onto the surface streets at the earliest sign of a back-up, I’m hanging in there to see what develops. Often freeway traffic will slow to 30 or 40 miles an hour but then after a few minutes go right back up to speed. So I’m making more of my trip at 55 mph, nonstop, than I would if I traveled half the way on the surface streets at 50 mph but stopped at red lights, slowed for a school zone, or got stuck behind a school bus.

It may also be that second-guessing the speed of various lanes somehow slows you down. Some mathematically inclined bloggers look at traffic in terms of fluid dynamics and argue that driving slower and keeping a wide space between you and the car in front of you actually forces traffic around you to flow more efficiently. True? Not knowing, I’d hesitate to state, for fear of being erroneous.

Here are the frugal driving techniques I’ve been using:

  • Try to avoid applying the brakes any more than absolutely necessary. Watch the traffic flow ahead and, when red lights start to glow, coast to decelerate. Try to reach traffic stopped at the light as it’s beginning to move, so you don’t have to start up from a dead stop.
  • Accelerate from a stop slowly. It’s a car, not a jackrabbit.
  • When starting from a dead stop, allow the car to idle forward for a second before stepping on the gas.
  • Use the cruise control to maintain speed on the freeway and on steadily moving surface streets, and use it to accelerate and decelerate. Use the “coast” and “acc” functions to slow and speed gently. Try to keep your foot off the gas pedal as much as possible. But n.b.: don’t use cruise control on an uphill grade.
  • When approaching a grade, speed up a little (stay sane about this) to build momentum; then allow the car to slow as it climbs. Use the downhill grade to get back up to your cruising speed before resuming the cruise control.
  • Never drive faster than 60 mph on an urban freeway. Try to keep your speed at around 55 mph. Stay in the slow lane and take it easy.
  • If it looks like you will have to stand for more than 30 seconds (for example, at a long stoplight, in a gas station line, at a railroad crossing), turn off the engine.

Hypermiling includes several other strategies, some of which apparently aren’t very safe. We’ll see soon enough whether the seven techniques above work to improve my Sienna’s 18 mpg performance. I’ll let you know the next time I fill up!

1 Comment left at iWeb site

Value For Your LIfe

Great post!These are some gas saving tips I haven’t seen repeated over and over again elsewhere.I always go easy on the brakes (as a result it also makes my brakes last almost twice as long as average), and we have just gotten into the habit of driving more slowly and have noticed a significant difference.I will defintiely try some of the other hypermiling techniques you mention here!

Tuesday, June 17, 200809:56 AM

Gasoline

The latest Consumer Reports just arrived in the mail. Not surprisingly, it devotes lots of print to saving gas, most of which comes under the heading of conventional wisdom. Every now and then, though, CR comes up with something really original.

This time they’ve figured out how much a new car costs per mile-per-gallon. This is great stuff. They did it by dividing each car’s overall mpg into the price they paid for the car, as purchased for recent tests.

Seen in this light (the light of burning gasoline?), the Honda Fit Sport with manual transmission comes out on top. CR paid $15,765 for one of these; at 34 mpg, the thing costs you $464 for each mile per gallon.

Good grief! Makes riding the bus look pretty good, doesn’t it? Hey — it’s only two hours to work and two hours ten minutes back. Could be worth it.

The base model Toyota Prius, at $23,780, rates third in their list, fairly high despite the high price, because of the 44 mpg rating. Running one of those will cost you $540 per mpg. The Hyundai Elantra GLS, at the top of this month’s ratings among gas-saving sedans, costs $17,555 or $650 per mpg. Because the gas mileage is less than the Prius’s, the Hyundai theoretically costs more to drive even though its sale price significantly cheaper. The Toyota Yaris hatchback with manual transmission came up with the lowest price per mpg, a piddling $370, but CR tested this vehicle and found it wanting. As in “not recommended.”

If money is no object, the priciest cars CR tested are the Dodge Viper SRT10 and the Mercedes SL550, which will cost you more than $6,000 for each mile per gallon.

Moving on, among used cars, you can (theoretically) pick up a 2000 Honda Insight with manual transmission for under 10 grand and get 51 mpg. The 2001-02 Prius also supposedly costs less than $10,000; it gets 41 mpg (note that not every consumer review of this vehicle can be called “glowing”).

La Maya just returned from the Imperial Valley with reports of $4.19/gallon gas prices, headed upwards. Her California relatives expect gas to be selling at $5 a gallon before long. The four-hour drive cost her $200 round trip in a Toyota Rav-4. Lordie!

Now that I no longer need the gas-guzzling Dog Chariot (a 2000 Toyota Sienna), I guess I should start looking at more efficient cars. Trouble is, I’d planned to drive it 10 years; I hate to use up my car savings to buy a new vehicle two years prematurely. Also, truth to tell a vehicle with some serious cargo space comes in mighty handy now and again. And for my old age I really, really wanted a sporty car. These gas-savers are frugal, that’s for sure. But they’re also boring, boring, boring.

I think what I should do first is calculate the real cost per gallon for my present car, using the newly learned gas-saving driving strategies (you actually can use your cruise control on a surface street, provided traffic is light and moving steadily, and it’s possible, within limits, to use it on an urban freeway). If it’s getting less than 20 mpg, I probably ought to start looking for another ride.

2 Comments left on iWeb site

Rachel @ Master Your Card

I have a Toyota Prius and it has certainly saved us a lot of oney on fuel compared to our last car. I am not sure how it compares to other hybrids or more up to date models but I am happyw ith the saving we are making.

Tuesday, June 3, 200806:35 AM

vh

Oh, how I covet a Prius! Want one of those things, want want want….

But I think I’d better hang on to the van for a little while longer, since I can telecommute and so don’t actually make that 36-mile (round trip) commute five days a week. Some people think those of us who have gas guzzlers had better dump them now or take out an application to live in the poorhouse. They may be right–in another couple of years the Dog Chariot may be worthless. But given the number of behemoths still lumbering around the street, I’ll bet there will still be some demand for a vehicle that can carry cargo and kids. I hope….

Tuesday, June 3, 200808:53 AM