7 Unconventional Ways to Save Money on Gas

by Shawanda Greene

We cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again. ~ Barack Obama

Regardless of how you feel about the man’s policies, he’s right on this one. It was two frickin’ years ago we were pounding the death nail in the coffins of our gargantuan SUVs. Now look at us. We’re running scared, crying and complaining about how we can’t afford a 4-piece McNugget because astronomically high gas prices have rendered us insolvent.

I’m fairly confident you, along with the rest of the nation, will return to a zombie like stupor when a barrel of oil dips below $80. But while I have your attention, I’m gonna capitalize on the opportunity to introduce you to a new way of thinking.

You see, car ownership is expensive – ridiculously so. The price of gas isn’t your only problem. You’ve got oil changes, tire rotations, wheel alignments and the like. There’s car insurance, car loans, safety inspections, and tag registrations. You get ticketed. You get towed. You get property taxed. You get fed up!

Well, we don’t have to take this ish. There are other ways.

You can get by without owning a car.

I know. I know. Not having your own car is a radical move. I perfectly understand. So, before you work yourself up into a dizzying frenzy of excuses about how you can’t survive without your own private vehicle, let me say this.

Shut up.

Hear me out first, ya sissy.

You may not be able to utilize every technique, but you can still find one or two that’ll reduce your reliance on independent car ownership.

  1. Walk. When deciding on a place to live, the walkability of your neighborhood should be of vital importance to you. It’s so refreshing to be able to, literally, run to the store. Walking will require that you leave home a little earlier than you’re accustomed in order to get to your destination on time. But walking is both healthy and free. You’ll save money and get a bit of exercise while you’re at it. Get your Walk Score to find out how walkable your neighborhood or prospective neighborhood is.

  3. Bike. If you’re not like me, i.e., terrified of being run down by a book reading metro bus driver, this is for you. All you need is a bike and metaphorical balls to brave the open road. Not only can you find inexpensive bikes at thrift shops and yard sales, but bike sharing programs have emerged in certain cities. For instance, Capital Bikeshare has over 1,100 of the dorkiest looking, yet easy to ride, bikes located at self-service stations throughout the metro D.C. area. It’s specifically designed for those who need to make short distance trips around the city. It’s a really cool concept. It ain’t free, but it’s still pretty cool.

  5. Rent a car. Just because you don’t own a car, doesn’t mean you won’t ever have the need to drive one. There are the old and tired rental car companies like Hertz, Budget, and Avis. If you need a car all day or over a weekend, you can find a good deal using travel aggregators like Kayak or Mobissimo. Then, there are the hip and sexy car sharing companies like Zipcar where you can rent vehicles by the hour. They usually charge an annual membership and application fee. I’ve seen rates start as low as $4/hour. However, many car sharing services vary their price depending on the day and time you rent the vehicle. Gas, insurance, and up to 180 miles per day are often included in the price. Check out the  Car Sharing Association for a listing of member organizations that provide car sharing services.

  7. Carpool. Organize your own carpool, or find one using Craigslist or Nuride. With carpooling, not only can you score a free ride, but you can get to work faster via the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane. A relatively new way to carpool has cropped up called slugging. It’s also referred to as “casual carpooling.” Basically, you stand in a line at a predetermined location, and hitch a ride with a driver headed to the area where you need to go also. Although free for the passenger, this mode of transit isn’t for the faint of heart. Some people are really bad drivers. Washington, DC’s Slug-Lines.com and San Francisco’s RideNow are trailblazers on the casual carpooling front.

  9. Take a taxi. Yeah they’re expensive, but they should also be reserved for when you have next to no other option and are in a transportation pinch. I had to mention them because they’re still a valuable resource.

  11. Use public transportation. Not only is public transit cheaper than car ownership, but you can also qualify for a tax break by using it. Your employer may deduct up to $230 from your paycheck TAX-FREE to cover the cost of commuting to and from work via public transportation. You can also use tax free public transit funds to commute to and from fun places like bars, concerts, museums. I’m not saying that you should or that it’s even legal to do so. I’m just sayin’ that you can. Download available iPhone, Android, or other smart phone apps to make the use of public transportation more convenient. For instance, the NextBus app combines GPS tracking tools to determine your location, the nearest bus stop, and the estimated arrival time of your bus. Leave at the last minute to avoid exposure to harsh weather conditions.

  13. Sit tight. You don’t have to go nowhere. Instead of going to get stuff, let the stuff come to you. There’s more to delivery than pizza and Chinese food. Web sites like Delivery.com and GrubHub feature numerous local restaurants that deliver to you. Order household and personal care items from Soap.com or Alice. Have groceries delivered to your door step with Peapod and Netgrocer.

In case you’re wondering whether I own a car, I do. I drive an atomic blue 2007 Honda Civic LX, specifically designed for pimps, players, hustlers and divas. And yes, I drive my paid for car most places. But it sure is nice to know that I don’t have to.

What other ways have you found to reduce or eliminate the cost of car ownership?

This post was featured as an Editor’s Pick in the Totally Money Blog Carnival #13 over at Thousandaire!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

kim April 5, 2011 at 10:40 AM

Living in a rural area out west is particularly hard when gas goes up. We have no public transportation. Maybe 2-3 taxis to serve 35,00 people. Yes I mean 2-3 vehicles not services. It is too spread out and mountainous to bike or walk, especially when temps climb to about 100. We have about 4 months over 100. So when one commutes over 100 miles a day to get to work gas becomes a very significant part of the budget. It is funny how no one would car pool for years. My husband kept trying. Finally we have a carpool of three and sometimes four on his commute. It makes sense. But it took astronomical prices and people owning big trucks that they could not sell to get a car pool started. So frustrating.
Here we were driving a little Nissan Sentra. Well most people do not want to drive narrow, bad logging roads in a Nissan Sentra so we were forced to get a small truck. But it is nice to only have to budget gas every third week. I wish we could get out of owning a vehicle here but we can't. All things relative.
We were in the DC metro area at Christmas and taking the metro in and out of the city was about the same cost our gas bill a day to commute. However when you step off the metro you don't have to find a parking spot or pay for one. You also don't have to make a car payment, or incur any of the other expenses you get with car ownership. Take advantage of public transportation, you don't know what a blessing that it. Not owning a car can really save you money, it is inconvenient but so is debt.


Shawanda April 10, 2011 at 12:44 PM

I've never really had a need for a carpool. I live so close to my job, it's much easier to take the bus or just drive. But it is good to know that even if you don't live in a major metropolitan area, there are still opportunities for savings on gas and the cost of car ownership. You just have to be willing to look for them and make some sacrifices.


frugalforties April 5, 2011 at 11:46 AM

Ya know … if there's anything that makes me see red and makes my blood boil it's these types of posts that say "it's easy to be without a car and if you weren't such an excuse making loser, you could do it to".

Let me tell you that I've been w/out a car in a major metro area with crappy public transport for 15 months and it's damned hard. Hard enough that I can't do it any more and am buying a car next week.

Let met take your points:

1 – That's great. What about those of us who moved to a location based on past employment, lost that job, got a new one further away, and now can't move becuase we're tied into a home? My last job I could walk to work. Now? It's 12 miles down the busiest, major road in my town.

2 – Bike. See above about "busiest major road in my town"

3 – Rent. I've done that. It's expensive and time consuming. Zipcar doesn't serve my area.

4 – To some limited degree this is possible, but it's not feasible every day.

5 – Taxi? You have got to be kidding me??? Really? Save money on the costs of a car by .. PAYING $60 a day to get to and from work, not to mention errands? Plus please keep in mind that many suburban areas don't have cabs on every corner. You call for a cab and it *might* get there in an hour.

6 – Public transit. Yup. That's what I'm doing now. 2 hours in to work, 2 hours home from work. Plus a one mile walk at either end. Sure it's frugal. Because I have no time to do anything else except work and commute. But frugality eclipses quality of life, right?

7 – Sit tight. Right. Don't go to work. Don't buy groceries. Don't, in fact, do anything that requires you leaving your home.

I'll tell you what. YOu give up your car for 15 months. Totally give it up. Then you come back and revisit this post you made and see how easy it is. Because until you go totally carless .. you really have no right to write a post like this.


guest April 6, 2011 at 5:15 PM

All of your complaints are based on the area where you live. Same for the other poster. Let's face it, driving is getting more and more expensive. People in the cities (NYC/DC), by virtue of mass transit, have viable transportation options. That allows them to control what they spend on transport. You may not like living in the city. It is your choice to live in a rural area. But don't expect natural market forces to be suspended because you choose to live an inefficient lifestyle.


debtfreedivas April 7, 2011 at 1:43 PM

My DH just located a carpool program and is working on setting it up with his coworkers. Should be interesting.


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