Monday, May 19, 2008

Ways to Save Money on Gasoline and Electricity

So, with the gas prices climbing ever higher, and now with analyst not ruling out a $200 a barrel "price spike" as inconceivable, I put forward some common-sense ways for Americans to save money on gasoline. Some are no-brainers, others are common sense. I'm not talking about the obvious things like trading in your car for a hybrid, driving less, etc. I'm talking about small things that can add up. These are in no particular order of importance.

#1 Buy a deep freeze. When you're out shopping and you see a deal on something, load up. Having food on hand will reduce your trips to the grocery store and a full deep freeze is more energy efficient than an empty one. To save gas, buy one online from Sam's Club. They have the cheapest prices I've found on them, the 7.0 cf freezer is small enough to fit easily into a laundry room, garage, or even a big closet.

#2 Car pool as much as you can. When I have a meeting a school, church, etc, I always see if I can carpool. On my recent trip to Mexico, we had to drive 2 1/2 hours to the Myrtle Beach airport. One of my students had an SUV, so all four of us pitched in gas money totaling around $64. We needed a big car to handle four people + baggage. If we had each driven ourselves, it would've been $64 x 4 cars. We used 25% of the gas that would've been expended by pooling our resources. If we all did this, even if it were every once in awhile, it would make a difference, in the overall price and in our personal consumption of gas.

#3 Parents, let your kids ride the school bus. My daughter's school is kindergarten only, and half the students are driven to and from school every day by their parents. This is patently ridiculous. Not only is transportation to and from school provided free of charge, it is a highly efficient means of getting everyone to and from school. Multiple parents taking their precious snowflakes to school every day means more traffic and waiting in line, which uses even more fuel. Parents will sit and wait for a half hour before school gets out so that they can be one of the first kids to go (because so many other parents get their kids too). All the while they let their engines run because they need the AC on. The school bus is safe; not using it is just foolish and wasteful.

#4 Switch to in-home entertainment. If you've always wanted a bigscreen TV, well, buy one now, create a home theatre. Then get an account with Netflix (so you don't have to drive anywhere to rent the movie), and watch DVDs at home. You'll save tons on gas, tickets, refreshments, and hassle. I would imagine that with a family of four, a $2k home theatre system would pay for itself in two years. Also, if you have cable TV, don't forget about movies on-demand/pay per view. Oftentimes you can get recent films for around $4-$5, that's one ticket, no matter how many people watch. To further increase the savings, invite another family over to watch and rotate back and forth between houses.

#5 Proper tire inflation. Whenever you get your oil changed, make sure to have the mechanic check that they tires are all properly inflated. Overinflated tires cause less friction and boost fuel efficiency, but they can be deadly on wet roads or at high speeds. Under-inflated tires cause more friction and drag, using more gasoline. Be sure they are perfect every oil change. Since this is every 3,000 miles, you can avoid inefficiency.

#6 Get all the junk out of your trunk. Why haul around stuff you only use once a year. When Mickelle and I moved from Utah to New Orleans, I had 2 full garbage bags of JUNK in the trunk of my car (RIP Bob Marley). Those bags probably weighed about 30 lbs. combined. It might not seem like a lot, but if you carry around an extra 30 lbs. a year, that's a few tanks of gas over the life of the car.

#7 Pay more for something close to your home vs. driving all over for the best deal. Especially in Atlanta, people will drive around town for better prices, when they probably burn up the savings in gasoline during the commute. If it takes $1.50 in gas to drive to a gas station that will save you $2.00, is it worth it to save 50¢? Now, obviously, you can save tons by going places like Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, or Costco (my favorite), but if you need a piece of hardware, go to the little local shop vs. driving 10 miles to Home Depot or Lowe's, seriously.

#8 Walk if you can, or get a bike with a basket. This might not work for everyone, but if you can, give it a try. You won't know until you try. I walk home from work whenever I can. It probably saves about a twelfth of a gallon, so every twelve times, that's one more gallon of fuel on the market. Saving a gallon a month doesn't seem like much, but if all 180 million car drivers save a gallon a month, and with 45 gallons per barrel, that's 4,000,000 barrels per month. We consume 600,000,000 barrels per month, so that's less than 1% of monthly consumption, but that's just with each person saving a gallon a month. If we could all save 16 gallons per month (one take of gas), that would be 64,000,000 barrels per month, and that would decrease our energy consumption by 10% of current levels, something that would have a profound impact on gas prices...worldwide.

#9 Grow a garden and plant some fruit trees. It's good exercise and it will provide you with fresh vegetables and fruit. It's more expensive the first year to grow a garden than to buy the stuff fresh, but after you've got seed put away and all the tools, you will enjoy ripe vegetables for years to come. An orchard takes longer to come to fruition, but it's worth it. I've got a satsuma mandarin orange tree in the yard with about 15 little fruits on it. If it makes it through this next Winter again, I'm going to plant four more. Peaches, plums, cherries, pears, and pecans all do well in the Southeast. Rather than planting ornamental pear trees, replace them with the fruiting kind. Look for drought resistant kinds. You can find an excellent selection by ordering them online, and save gas in the process. Try growing the pricier crops that you enjoy. For example, we're trying leeks, fennel, and spaghetti squash this year, along with the standard corn and tomatoes.

#10 If you live in a major city, go to the main farmer's market during the week (not the weekend) and buy bushels of crops. You don't have to know how to can, rather, you can deep freeze most things and enjoy them throughout the year. (e.g. corn, strawberries, peaches, beans, squash, chiles, okra, cassava), and if you know how to can, you can put away almost everything you see at a farmer's market. If you'd like to learn how to can, ask a neighbor, friend, fellow church-goer, or family member over age 70 to show you how. Canning is becoming a lost art, and if you don't know what you're doing if you're canning, you can make yourself sick. This website offers excellent tips.

#11 Say "no" to meetings. Oftentimes we feel pressured to attend meetings at church, school, or work. Sometimes when I am supposed to attend a meeting, and I can't carpool with someone, I just say "no." Many times we can find out what happened at a meeting via asking someone who went, a newsletter, or if someone takes minutes. My church holds meetings 26 miles away in Florence sometimes. That's about $16 in gas just to go to a meeting. If I can't carpool, I rarely go. See if some meetings can be done over the phone, and if your employer gives you a telecommute option, well duh, take advantage of it as long as it doesn't affect your performance and professionalism.

#12 Whenever you purchase a new appliance, bite the bullet and get an Energy Star-rated one. It might cost 25% more, but it will use far less energy in the long run, and more than pay you back the increased cost in the long run. If just one in 10 homes used ENERGY STAR qualified appliances, the change would be like planting 1.7 million new acres of trees.

#13 Reduce, reuse, recycle. Try and purchase things that will limit the amount of waste that you create. Reuse things that can be reused. Mickelle and I save sour cream, yogurt, and cottage cheese containers and use them to keep leftovers. You can also give people food to take home (after a party) in them and not worry about getting them back. They are always airtight and it seems wasteful to throw them away. Finally, recycle. If your community has curbside service, make full use of it. If it doesn't, see if there is a nearby dropoff center; if it's far away, don't waste gas driving your trash somewhere, instead, lobby for a closerby center or curbside pickup (the most efficient recycling method).

#14 Buy a composter. You can recycle all household food and paper waste in a composter, as well as virtually all of your yard debris, clippins, and windage. For example, this composter, would be a great first one for someone who isn't sure about composting. If you keep the organic matter out of your garbage it has many benefits: You dispose of less trash, less gas is needed to haul your organic matter to the dump, your trashcan won't smell, you'll have a rich fertilizer for your garden, and it will make you realize how much food you throw away (which will diminish your wastefulness).

#15 Go bulk shopping with friends, family, or neighbors. You'll save money buying in bulk. However, sometimes when you buy in bulk, you buy far more than you need. Five gallons of peanut oil at Costco will save you TONS of money, but that much oil might go rancid before you could ever use it all. If you create a bulk-buying club, you can go shopping together and divy up the purchases, saving money, trips to the store, and extra packaging for all the little purchases you might've made. We're so hell-bent on convenience that many people don't try this, but if you want to save money, you can make this work.

#16 Have to drive between cities by yourself? Consider using a service like Not only can you find a ride, but if you're doing the driving you could find a rider, a vetted one at that. Sharing the gas cost always makes it better, and having a companion on the trip can make the time go by faster.

#17 Consider Amtrak. I know the train isn't an option in most of the country, but along the eastern seaboard, it's viable. I plan to take Amtrak to Washington D.C. this Summer for my NEH Institute at Howard. It's far cheaper than driving or flying, and I can read or watch DVDs the entire way. If you're going to DisneyWorld, they even have a take your car train that will save you a ton of money (via gas and avoiding rental car fees).

#18 Think. Before you do something, think about how you could save gas. Whether it's planning your route for errands, making only right-hand turns, traveling during off-peak hours to avoid waiting in traffic, calling someone to see if they want to go shopping with you, renting an apartment closer to work, living in on-campus housing, or investing $136 billion in energy research rather than buying votes in an election year with "rebates." Anything that we do to save fuel will make a difference; every little bit helps. I'm not saying that we take draconian steps that lead to no fun, but we can do certain things that will help. Start today.

Useful sites: (Full of energy-saving tips from the DOE) (Energy Star Home) (National Food Safety Database) (If you're upper middle class and can afford it, buying groceries onlines saves gas).


JC said...

#1. Got one.
#2. Yes. Carpooling does save, both $ and wear/tear on your car. #3. We live too close to the school for our kids to qualify to ride the bus for free. We're not going to pay $400/kid/year to have them ride the 1.5 miles to school. We carpool instead.
#4. Already there buddy. Now I need a good surround sound system. Any ideas?
#5. Proper tread too. You want to stay safe.
#6. I thought you were talking about MY trunk. Whew. My football shoes and orange cones don't way more than a couple lbs. I can live w/ that.
#7. Completely agree on this one.
#8. Kinda hard in suburbia, especially w/ little kids. One thing that was nice about living in NYC was everything was w/in walking distance, or w/in walking distance of a subway/bus stop.
#9. The wife is on it.
#10. We have a few of these around. Never been there. Will try and make it out to them and see what all the fuss is about.
#11. AMEN! Luckily I work from home 100%, so I don't really have to go anywhere for meetings. All of mine are over the phone.
#12. Agree.
#13. Agree. We have curbside recycle. I'm not sure they don't just throw it all in along w/ the regular trash, but hey, we're doing our part. It's up to them to do theirs once they take the recyclable material.
#14. We have one. Needs more green stuff.
#15. I wonder how many people would really go for this.
#16. N/A
#17. N/A. I wish we did have access to good train service. Maybe we do and I just don't know about it. But I doubt it.

JC said...

18......Still thinking......