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Blog: Simplify Your Life
Frugal Living 101 -- Transportation Options

With gas prices hovering at more than $3 per gallon, it makes sense to try and reduce your transportation expenses -- but how to do it? Unlike cable TV or Starbucks or eating out (which are obvious luxuries that could easily be cut from the budget), you need your car! After all, you have to get back and forth to work, the grocery store, and your kid's soccer practices. Things were so much easier before we became dependent on the automobile.

The Road Less Expensive

Folks used to live and work and play all in the same neighborhood -- everything was within walking distance, and you only got in the car to go on long trips. Now, the average commute in this country has grown to 16 miles one-way -- an unthinkable distance, before the mid-20th century! I understand that transportation can be a tricky thing to simplify in modern times --  but you still have a few options for reducing your dependence on that gas-guzzler:

  • carpool (back before each American had his own personal vehicle, carpooling was the norm -- a group of people who lived in the same suburban neighborhood and drove the same route to work would ride together, splitting the cost of gas and taking turns behind the wheel -- such a novel concept! -- even a compact car can accommodate up to 4 people, meaning that for every vehicle-full of carpoolers, you're burning 1/4 the gas, creating 1/4 the traffic jams, and spewing 1/4 the pollution into our air -- unfortunately these days, the roads are clogged with single-car drivers, all headed in the same direction but individually sealed in their own tin cans -- have you ever watched the HOV lane and seen how few cars are actually in it? -- the Census Bureau estimates that nearly 3/4 of all commuters drive to work by themselves -- why? -- if you ask folks to explain this aversion to carpooling, they will cite reasons like conflicting schedules, unpredictably long hours, and sudden unexpected deadlines at work -- but at the core of each excuse lies a failure to draw healthy boundaries and plan ahead -- if every workaholic out there were better about telling the boss that he or she had to leave on time, there would no longer be any good reason for people NOT to commute -- actually, carpooling is the perfect excuse for leaving work on time -- you just tell your boss, "I'm sorry, I can't work late today or I'll miss my ride" -- carpool and not only do you get out of work earlier, you also spend less time in traffic, experience fewer instances of "road-rage," are able to read the paper while someone else drives, and have more leisure hours at home -- so you see, carpooling is not only good for your wallet and the environment, it's good for your sanity, as well!)
  • take the train or a bus (public transportation is just carpooling on a grand scale, several dozen or hundred people riding together instead of just 4 -- unfortunately, this option isn't available in many small towns and rural areas -- however, even where public transportation is plentiful, it is still grossly underutilized -- according to the Department Of Labor, less than 5% of commuters take public transportation to work -- and these folks are almost exclusively clustered in a few major cities like Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. -- it's sort of a catch-22 -- when ridership is down, the transit authorities raise fares to cover their expenses, but raising fares reduces ridership -- I know I balked when a 75-cent ride on MARTA went up to $2, and I'm a lot more likely to just walk than pay that much! -- it truly is cheaper to drive in Atlanta and D.C. -- but in cities like San Francisco and New York where parking is scarce and expensive, you're going to save a ton by riding with the masses -- plus, in most towns, you'll get there quicker on public transportation -- especially if you can grab a train or find a bus that has its own lane and can whiz past all the single-car drivers who are going nowhere fast)
  • shrink your garage (how many cars does your household own? 2? 3? more? the average in America is 2.8 per household -- considering that the average household size is 2.59, that's more than a car per person! -- why is this necessary? -- is there some reason that family members can't ride together anymore? -- Matt and I have only had one car since we started cohabiting in college, and we've always done just fine because we make a conscious effort to coordinate our schedules -- trimming down to one car requires flexibility and a willingness to occasionally be inconvenienced, something Americans just aren't any good at! -- as a society, we've so overloaded our calendars with appointments, extracurricular activities, meetings, and other "responsibilities" that the idea of being available to pick up your spouse and kids every afternoon is inconceivable -- in the end, we decide that it's just easier for each person to drive him or herself, yet another in an ongoing series of trade-offs between money and convenience -- with every extra vehicle, you increase your insurance, maintenance, and gasoline expense -- so just think about how much that convenience is costing you the next time you have to work late to cover your car payments!)
  • downsize your vehicle (the days of every suburban household owning Hummers and big-ass soccer-mom SUV's are officially over -- it was never morally acceptable to drive a car that got only 3 miles to the gallon in a world of shrinking unrenewable resources, but it was at least more affordable before gas prices went through the roof -- but nowadays, folks are realizing that they just can't sustain those huge honking gas guzzlers, and are trading them in for something a bit more economical -- you don't have to go so far as to get a moped, hybrid, or a Smartcar, although these are a great money-saving option at 30 or 40 miles to the gallon! -- but even just switching to a smaller and more fuel-efficient compact car will drastically cut your gas bill)
  • consolidate your trips (as we've become a more affluent society, we've also become more mobile, not always a good thing -- how many times a week do you "run errands?" -- a trip to the grocery store because you're out of milk, a run to the library to return your overdue books, another trip to the grocery store for eggs, a trek to Blockbuster for a movie rental, a detour to the mall after work so you can return that sweater that didn't fit, and a third trip to the grocery store for bread -- back when a "going to town" happened only once a week, you had no choice but to plan ahead and take care of all your errands at once -- but thanks to the automobile, we've lost this valuable time- and money-saving skill -- it's so EASY to make a quick trip across town any time the urge strikes, but it also costs more and eats up more of your day than consolidating trips -- just taking a second to make out a shopping list, collect up all the items that need returned, and plan all your errands for the same day will cut down on the number of fill-ups you need and the hit your wallet will take while you're out and about)
  • maintain your vehicle (poor mileage will cost you more at the pump than any sort of gas shortage -- yet while everyone bitches about the oil companies, few Americans understand how much control they have over their vehicle's performance -- simply inflating your tires to the proper level as listed on your sidewalls, using the correct grade of gas as suggested by your vehicle manufacturer, and changing your oil and filters regularly will give your fuel efficiency an immediate boost -- and don't skip the regularly-scheduled maintenance, even if your car seems to be doing fine -- the trick to getting the most bang for your gasoline buck is not waiting until your fuel pump is clogged or your transmission is sick to keep your car in shape -- oh, and studies show that the air drag which occurs when going faster than 55 mph drastically reduces fuel efficiency, so slow down to the speed limit if you want to save some change)

  • avoid parking fees and tolls (in the same way that there's always a little more toothpaste left in the tube if you just squeeze hard enough, there's always a way around parking fees and tolls, if you're willing to go a bit out of your way -- I understand that most people who aren't as cheap as me might not be prepared to walk 2 miles to avoid paying for parking, and you do have to balance out the gas costs before going 10 miles out of your way to avoid a toll -- but if you can focus on something other than convenience, you can save a lot of money -- and contrary to popular belief, there's always another way -- I can tell you from personal experience, it is possible to get through downtown Chicago without paying a toll, you just have to study the maps before heading out! -- and even in areas where people swear there is NO free parking, there is -- parking karma is one of my superpowers, so I'll share a couple of my secrets -- in D.C., the metered spots near Judiciary Square are both plentiful and free on the weekends and after 6PM when all the government workers go home -- and in Key West, park either on US-1 or a residential street near the south end of the island and walk back up to Duval -- don't say I never did nothin' fer ya!) 
  • cut back on insurance costs (even if you love your insurance company, it pays to shop around every couple of years and compare rates -- carriers are always instituting specials and discounts, and you never know when you might be able to reduce your premiums -- also, take a hard look at your policy -- a lot of what we pay for is either unnecessary or may duplicate other coverage you have elsewhere -- you can drop collision and comprehensive coverage if you have an older vehicle that isn't worth much, especially if you won't get a large enough payment to buy a new car when you total it -- if you have health insurance and AAA, you can probably let go of the roadside assistance and medical payments -- see if your state allows you to lose the "uninsured motorist" coverage, as your insurance should take care of you regardless if you are hit by someone without insurance -- and a simple increase in your deductible can drop your rates by as much as half)

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posted on: 7/5/2011 11:30:00 AM by Ramona Creel
category: General Organizing Tips

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Simplify Your Life

by Ramona Creel

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About Ramona:

I have been a Professional Organizer for more than 10 years, I am a NAPO Golden Circle member, and I was the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. I have worked one-on-one with scores of clients and have trained dozens of newbie organizers as they got started in the industry. I provide both hands-on and virtual coaching to help clients improve their organizing skills and simplify their lives. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.RamonaCreel.com, and I challenge you to find one new idea that you can put into practice in your life, to help you become better organized, starting TODAY! I am passionate about coaching folks toward a more balanced, productive, and enjoyable life -- and I firmly believe that if I can do it, so can you!

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