Coffee heat rising

Time to buy a new car?

With $5.00-a-gallon gasoline staring us in the face, I’m wondering if it’s time to trade the Dog Chariot, a 2000 Sienna, for a more gas-efficient vehicle, even though it looks like careful driving will yield almost 26 miles a gallon.

I know I should be looking at used cars. However, I don’t know enough about cars to tell whether I’m getting ripped off, and around here not a single car dealer can be trusted. Toyota dealerships are especially obnoxious for their high-pressure tactics. I don’t own a male voice-studies have shown that women consistently get worse deals from car dealers than do men-and so I buy through a broker. The guy I’ve used in the past will negotiate only for new cars, so if I’m to have a man front for me, I’ll have to buy new.

I’d planned to drive the Sienna for 10 years and then get something smaller and, preferably, much jazzier. However, with gas prices soaring, the value of large vehicles is crashing. Right now the Kelly Blue Book value of the little tank is $5,610, precious little compared to the price of a new vehicle. I have about $15,000 in savings to buy the next vehicle, which I expected would be the last or second-to-last car purchase of my lifetime. If I buy a new car now, that will guarantee I’ll have to buy another one before I die-meaning I have to pinch still more pennies to stash another 20 or 30 grand for that purpose, just as I’m about to retire. Whee!

So, what’s out there?

The Prius gets 48 mpg in town and 45 mpg on the highway. The lowest-priced model, the “standard” hatchback, costs $22,870, slightly more cash than I have in hand, assuming I actually get the Blue Book value for the Sienna. That mileage is very nice, but

a) I’m suspicious about the long-term reliability of the new technology; and
b) that’s really more than I want to pay.

The Camry hybrid gets 33 mpg in town and 34 mpg on the highway. Its price tag is $24,740, more than the Prius. Its gas mileage is not all that much more than the 26 mpg I’m getting right now…certainly not almost 25 grand worth!

The Toyota Corolla gets 26 mpg in town and 35 on the highway. The cheapest model costs $15,166. Uh huh. I should pay 15 grand for a roller skate that gets the same mileage as a paid-for vehicle that can actually carry some cargo? Even if hypermiling extracts a few more mpg, I don’t think so.

Even as gasoline reaches the exorbitant level, the cost of a new vehicle is so much more exorbitant—and such a black hole into which to throw money, because depreciation converts what ought to be an asset into a distinct liability—that it’s not worth trading in a functional though relatively low-mileage vehicle.

We need to drive less and drive smarter.

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

Consumer Rant of the Day: Tomatoes

Argh!!!! Now we’re told that Basha’s, AJ’s, and Food City have removed all tomatoes from all their stores. Why? Because two people in Maricopa County have fallen ill from eating tomatoes with germs on them.

AJ’s is the only store in town that carries edible tomatoes. Every other store, Whole Paycheck included, sells cardboard and styrofoam imitation tomatoes, those fine hard balls that hold up well in transport and when gassed while green will turn bright red, faking out the consumer once again.

Look. I know salmonella will make you sick, and I appreciate that a retailer (under threat of potential lawsuits) is concerned enough to take potentially contaminated produce off its counters. But there’s an easy fix for this, something we all should be doing as a matter of course: WASH YOUR PRODUCE BEFORE YOU EAT IT!

Contaminated and impure processed foods pose a real problem and certainly should be removed from commerce as soon as they’re identified. That’s because the contaminants are mixed in and packaged with the product, so there’s no way for a consumer to get them out of a canned, bottled, or prepared food. Also, it’s reasonable to expect that something in a can, a bottle, or a package is clean and safe to eat.

Not so with produce. Folks. Tomatoes do not grow in sterile rooms. Neither do lettuce, strawberries, blueberries, apples, oranges, asparagus, potatoes, carrots, radishes, parsley, sage, rosemary, or thyme…. They grow in dirt. Dirt is called “dirt” because it’s dirty. If you eat a tomato (or anything else that grows on a farm) without washing it, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get sick.

Personally, I resent being treated like a child. Too much of America’s package designs and marketing policies treat consumers like they were children, and not too bright children at that. I’m tired of wrestling with child-proof caps-and then leaving cleansers and OTC medicaments uncapped or transferring them into other packages-and I’m tired of having to dig out a knife to peel off inner labels intended to keep maniacs from dripping a little strychnine into the cough medicine. Please. Let me take my chances. If I’m too dumb to put dangerous products out of my kids’ reach, maybe the collective gene pool would be better off without my offspring. If I’m the one-in-87-billion who happens to pick up a product contaminated by a lunatic, I won’t be happy, but let’s get real: I’m a lot more likely to be hit by a car as I cross the street outside my office than I am to swallow strychnine in my cough syrup. And take a chance, dear Leaders and Giants of Commerce, that I’ll have enough sense to wash my produce before I gulp it down.

Yes, dear readers. Wash all raw food before you eat it. Wash it even if you’re going to cook it. A few years ago, Consumer Reports published an article saying that when you wash most nonorganic produce, you remove almost all the pesticide and fertilizer residues. This rule is especially important in our splendid era of globalization, when so much of our produce comes from countries that have no rules governing the safe use of pesticides on farms, and where fields may be fertilized with substances that Americans would rather not think about.

Here’s how to do it:

Clean the kitchen sink. Fill it with water and add just a few drops (doesn’t have to be much) of dish detergent. Place the produce into the water and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Agitate the produce around gently. Then drain the sink and rinse each piece well.

With lettuce: break the head of lettuce into individual leaves and wash them, as above, in a sink of weak detergent water. Rinse well and allow the leaves to drain in your dish drainer. Then lay the leaves out on a clean kitchen towel, roll up the towel with the leaves inside, and place the roll inside a plastic bag to refrigerate. This will keep the lettuce fresh for a long time, and your salad is half-made when you’re ready to eat it. Avoid precut packaged lettuce: it costs too much and it’s too difficult to wash.

If contamination on the outside of fresh produce is a serious problem, do what we did when I was growing up in Saudi Arabia: fill a sink with weak detergent water and add a quarter-cup of Clorox. Alternatively, add several camper’s iodine tablets, made for decontaminating river and stream water. Place the produce in the treated water and soak for 15 minutes. Rinse well. Lettuce treated with Clorox must be eaten promptly, as the chlorine will cause it to wilt after you store it. Also, this method does not work on strawberries.

Or, with produce that has a rind, peel, or skin (such as oranges, apples, and tomatoes), wash it under running water using plain old bar soap.

None of this is very hard to comprehend or to do.

4 Comments left on iWeb site


With the California spinach scare last year, the problem (as explained by the media) was that the bacteria wasn’t merely on the surface of the plant.The spinach had taken it up through the roots, so the bacteria was inside the leaves, and no amount of washing would get rid of it.Cooking would probably destroy it, but apparently you can’t trust people to cook spinach.Is that what is happening with these tomatoes?

Wednesday, June 4, 200811:29 AM


N-n-n-o-o. Salmonella cannot get INSIDE the leaves of anything. The little fellas can’t get inside a tomato. They’re on the surface.

Ah, yes. The Great Spinach Scare. The little guys got on the spinach when the fields were irrigated with water contaminated with the…uhm, offal, shall we say politely…from a cattle feedlot, one of the filthiest environments this side of a commercial henhouse. Depending on the part of the country where the farm is located, a field can be flood-irrigated or irrigated by sprinklers. We used to irrigate our fields with mobile sprinklers that connected to untreated water piped in from the Hassayampa River. Whatever li’l critters were living in the river water (interesting, some of ’em, such as, oh, say, giardia) would be sprayed all over the crops.

Yesh. That meant the crops had, oh, say, giardia on them, so if you were to trot out there and pick off a piece of freshly watered greens, you would get very very sick, indeed.

Giardia is as nothing compared to the sewage dumped into the water from a feedlot.

Trust me. Wash your produce. Then stop worrying about it. I know whereof I speak.

Wednesday, June 4, 200803:27 PM


i’ve got some tomatoes in the backyard, a few are just ripening now.feel free to come over and pick some if you’d like.

Thursday, June 5, 200807:13 PM


M’hijito! Remember to eat those oranges on your tree! The ones that have survived in the shade of your house are very sweet and juicy.

Thursday, June 5, 200808:03 PM

How I spent $48,346.36 on my dogs

You read that right: one German shepherd and one greyhound cost me, all told, about $48,346 over thirteen years.

How many times have I said on this blog that the cost of pet ownership is beyond the means of the average single middle-class earner? The instant you say any such thing, you run the risk of being excoriated by passionate animal lovers, who argue that adoration of a furry friend is soooo worth it, and who imply or say outright that there’s something obscenely cruel, materialistic, and downright sacrilegious in suggesting otherwise.

I’ve always based those remarks on a general sense that I was spending too darn much on the dogs, particularly on the shepherd, and that the vet had me helping to make payments on a Porsche. Though one swift Quicken report suggested I’d spent something in excess of $18,000 on dog care, I never really looked hard at it.

Well, last night in a moment of idleness I ran a Quicken report on the category “Dog” and dated it back to October, 1995, when I bought Anna as an eight-week-old puppy. Walt came along seven years later and lived with us just over five years, from March 2001 until he died of cancer in September 2007.

Between October 1995 and June 1, 2008, when I sent the new vet flowers for kindness above and beyond the call of duty after she put Anna down, I posted $20,515.44 in Quicken’s “Dog” category. Feeling agog at that? Check out the figures here. This accounts for food, veterinary bills, endless medications for the shepherd, training, construction of a dog run (huge rip-off by a guy who ran a short length of chain-link fencing between the house and a block wall and then charged over $435 for the job), toys, dog beds, collars, leashes, and the like.

But that’s not all.

It doesn’t count the $635 that I paid to install a “security” dog door in a wall, supposedly near-impermeable to burglars when deadbolted shut, at the time I moved into my present house: $20,515.44 plus $635 = $21,150.44. I carried that as a capital improvement, so it wasn’t picked up in Quicken’s category report for “Dog.” Nor does it include the several hundred dollars in meat, vegetables, and starches I bought at grocery stores during the Great Chinese Dog Food Scare, charges that got lumped in with “groceries.” For our purposes, we’ll have to write off that cost—it was relatively minimal, anyway, compared to the next one.

Oh, yes. There’s more.

As a young dog, Anna was extremely vocal. A vocal German shepherd is a loud German shepherd.

I was driving a Toyota Camry at the time. It was a very nice car, only about seven years old and running exceptionally well. When I would put Anna in the back seat, she would become very excited and emit a loud, constant “are we there yet?” stream of yaps. Better yet, she would position her head so that her muzzle was right next to my ear, between my head and the driver’s-side window, and she would SCREAM every inch of the way between Point A and Point B. Nothing, including tying her to the seat belts with a special and wildly complicated doggy car harness, would ameliorate this. When I would drive her to the vet or to a hiking trail, I would get out of the car with my ears ringing and literally hurting.

I realized that if I didn’t do something about that, it was going to damage my hearing. No amount of training—and I’m pretty good at training large dogs, folks—did anything to shut her up. The only strategy that worked at all was to open the rear passenger’s side window so she would stick her head outside to scream. But that put her at risk, to say nothing of creating quite a distraction for fellow drivers.

Finally, I decided to buy a larger vehicle. But instead of trading in my perfectly good Camry, as a normal person with even a smattering of IQ points would do, I gave it to my son, whose junker was falling apart like the Minister’s One-Hoss Shay. He took it to San Francisco, where he was living at the time. There he parked it on the street, where a teenaged girl came along at a fast clip and rammed it, full bore, into the back of another car, crumpling it like a beer can. Of which she no doubt had plenty in her own car.

The car I bought to replace mine was a Toyota Sienna, a minivan large enough to pen the dog in the back so that at least she couldn’t shriek directly into my ear. This worked to save my hearing, but it did nothing good for my bank account. The Sienna cost me $27,195.92 (not counting the vastly increased cost of registration over the next several years and the cost of increased gas consumption).

Think of that: $27,195.92 + $21,150.44 = $48,346.36.

That is what Anna and Walt cost me, approximately. Yes. That’s $3,718.95 a year, or $391.91 a month.

If I had kept the Camry for ten years, as planned, and then bought a similar vehicle, the cost out of my pocket would have been around $10,000 to $15,000. And had I put $391.91 a month into savings over 13 years, that 48 grand (plus interest!) added to my other funds would have plumped up my retirement savings to the point where there would be no discussion of my working to the age of 70. No, indeed, my friends: I would be retired today, yea verily, even as we scribble.

Except for the Dog Chariot, most of these costs came in more or less affordable, not-very-noticeable chunks. The $21,150 represents the gradual accrual of expenses such as food and veterinary care, plus the usual doggy gear one picks up at PetSmart.

The pet industry has evolved into a huge cash cow whose primary purpose is to separate animal lovers from their money. And, as anyone who thinks objectively about it can see, it’s very successful at that. Too bad we can’t all think clearly while we’re in the process of letting ourselves be sheared.

5 Comments left on iWeb site


Uh huh.I spent a very ugly amount on my dear departed Jonah.My current dog is costing far, far less.I hope it stays that way!

So, are you getting another dog?

Tuesday, June 3, 200808:26 AM


Right now the greyhound people have a gorgeous little fawn female up for adoption, ohhh so pretty and I do love greyhounds….

But no, snap out of that!!!!

LOL! Probably not for a while. I think I need to decompress from dog ownership. As much as I miss Anna H. Banana and Walt the Greyhound, gee…it’s nice to have the floors clean. It’s sorta neat to have my old, still viable area rugs back on the floor in the living room and family room, and to have a soft rug on the floor next to the bed that’s not full of dog hair or wadded up and shanghaied for use as a dog pillow. It’s amazing not to be up to my elbows in grease every morning, trying to slip pills down a dog’s throat and cutting up chicken to persuade the dog to eat its food. It’s a relief not to be quietly wondering what kinds of adulterants lurk in commercial dog food (and did they give Walt cancer?). And wow! No daily dog poop patrol…

Most likely I’ll wait two or three months and then give in. You’ve gotta have a dog. Don’t you?

Tuesday, June 3, 200809:08 AM

Mrs. Micah

Wow. Micah and I may have a dog since we’re probably not going to have kids. But like a kid I want to be sure that we can handle it financially before we take the plunge. I don’t think we could have both…

Tuesday, June 3, 200805:36 PM


Thats amazing! just under $400 a month, although i think you are a little hard on them allocating the full cost of the car to the dogs, surely you got other benefits from having a larger car? The <a href=” associated with pets is still extremely high, Just the basics Vet+Food+toys+time cost families lots of money.

Thursday, June 5, 200801:35 PM


On maybe two or three occasions, the van came in handy for hauling materials from Home Depot and the brickyard. In general, though, the Camry would have been a better ride: cheaper, classier, and on budget. I could have rented a pickup to haul junk for a lot less than the cost of a Toyota Sienna.

Thursday, June 5, 200808:00 PM

Moments of Fame

Pinyo has the 115th Carnival of Personal Finance up at Moolanomy. Funny’s rant on the persistence of SUVs appears among the choices here. Pinyo has a “time with family” theme and has woven some cool sayings into his post. While you’re there, be sure to check out Red Stapler Chronicle’s advice that we stop worrying about gas prices and focus on things that are under our control (I like this: puts some common sense into the question of whether it’s time to buy a new, more fuel-efficient car: you should go out and spend $16,000 to save $480 a year?). The Wisdom Journal offers 26 ways to make extra money. At the You Finish Rich Plan, you’ll find an interesting piece on thin credit files-what that means and why it matters.

The 128th Festival of Frugality is up at No Debt Plan, where proprietor Kevin kindly tagged Funny’s rant on the value of Things as an editor’s pick. This is a fairly vast festival, chockful of articles not to be missed. Here’s one at the Personal Financier on one of my favorite topics, the psychology of spending: The Case of Expensive Wines. Single mom Frugal Fu tells how she’s coping with her 84-mile (!!) commute. And My Dollar Plan delivers a dose of common sense when she draws the line at some frugal tips.

Each of these events offers many, many more entertaining, interesting, and useful posts. Go there!


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


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