Budgeting, Part 2: Variable Expenses: Gas

Ok, I’ve gotten off track from my close examination of my family budget. In Part 1, I went over monthly fixed expenses. I’m glad to say I cut $6/month in fixed expenses already. Now I’d like to move on to variable expenses. First, gas. Although prices are dropping right now, they still represent a significant part of most people’s budgets. In April, we spent $117 on gas for two cars (and we were gone for a week). We currently just go to the Shell station near our place and get regular gas when we need it. Is it really worth the extra effort to do anything else?

My main tool to save money on gas: I use my Citi Platinum Select MasterCard. It gives me 5% cash back on all gas purchases, which ends up being about 13 cents a gallon. For me, that’s about $100 a year savings on gas!

Other than that, I gathered the usual tips for saving money on gas, let’s see if they help:

1) Buy cheaper gas. Websites like GasBuddy.com and GasPriceWatch.com list gas prices of local gas stations, so you can find the cheapest place. For some reason, Arco is just always dirt cheap where I live. I don’t get it. But I still don’t use Arco, as they charge extra for credit cards, which negates their price advantage. I am also soooo waiting for my local Costco to get gas. That would be sweet.

One thing is for sure: Don’t buy premium gas unless your car’s manual says you need it. This has to be one of the best ad campaigns ever, calling hi-octane gas “premium”.

2) Drive differently. Simple stuff really. The more you drive, the more gas you burn. The higher RPM your engine revs, the more gas it burns. Drive less, and watch that tachometer. I already minimize my driving and have no NASCAR delusions like others, so not much savings to be had here.

3) Improve your gas mileage by optimizing your car.

– Make sure your engine is tuned properly according to your car manual. If it’s spurting out crap, check it? I just passed my smog test too, so I’m happy.
– Check & replace air filters. Mental note to check on this. I don’t think I’ve done this in a while for my older car. Supposedly this can improve mileage by up to 10%!
– Keep tires properly inflated. Mental note to check on this too. Hint: Even if the place charges 25 cents for “Air”, fill up first, and then ask the guy in the booth. Every time I’ve asked they’ve turned it on for free.
– Remove excess weight. Pretty obvious. My trunk is pretty empty, but seriously some of my friends need to clean out the New Kids on the Block cassetts from their trunks…

Of course I’ve left out a bunch, like buying fuel-efficient cars, carpooling, etc. For a good resource, check out http://www.fueleconomy.gov/ and run through the items yourself. For me, I think checking my air filter and tire pressure is a cost-effective idea. Otherwise, I’m not sure I can do that much more to save money on gas.


  1. Hah! ‘Remove excess weight’

    I drove around for about a week recently with three 50 pound bags of sandbox sand in my trunk. I have no idea what effect this had on my mileage, but an extra 150 pounds can’t help


  2. yup an extra 150 lb of weight will add to it. you’ll be surprise how much mpg you can save by reducing excessive weight.. especially in small econo cars with weaker engines.

    anyhow, some further tips on air filter.. you may want to consider re-useable and washable filter such as K&N filter. http://www.knfilters.com

    multi-layered cotton, improves performance and mpg. I got about 3-5 more MPG from my Honda Civic. thats an improve from the original 31-35 mpg. there wasnt really any performance increase from an OEM replacement filter though.

    they usually run for around $20-50 bux, depending on the car. but ur OEM paper filter usually cost around 20-30 anyway, which u’ll have to replace every er.. around 30k miles? depends on car and driving condition.

    so one u can use forever, improves mpg, and the other you have to toss. the OEM paper filter usually filters much better though (also more restrictive)

    keeping tires properly inflated is VERY important.. and its always something EVERYONE does NOT do. your tire press measured in PSI will drop about 1 everyday for each month. check your manual or the sticker on the side of your door for correct PSI rating for your tires. (dont go with whats printed on the tires, those are max psi pressure)

    besides being unsafe (especially if you drive an SUV/truck/van and constantly haul a large load), improper inflated tires wear out faster (costing u more money down the road).. they also wear down other components faster. ie: at times ur shocks/struts..

    i’ll suggest everyone to invest in an okay tire gague so you can check on ur tire pressure regularly.

    you should check tires when they’re “cold.” Best way is to do it when the last time u drove was 3 hours ago. Tires thats been spinning and contacting the road heats up, thus increasing pressure within – giving incorrect measurements.

    another thing u can do is keep up regular mainteance on the car. you should check alignment of the wheels every now and then.. at least once a year or so. bad alignment causes plenty of problem, besides the annoying sway to one side or the other. One thing that ends up costing a lot is killing the life of your tires.

    when you buy tires, make sure u choose one that fits what you need. choosing good tires makes big difference between tread life, performance, mpg, handling.. driving comfort.. the list goes on. tires are another IMPORTANT part thats often been neglected.

    you can have a 80K sport car, but without good contact, your car wont do squat. The same appliess for a gas saver car. so shop wisely and check out http://www.tirerack.com they have good user reviews on tires.. so you know how long these tires will usually last.

    if ur tires dont last as long as they should, its time to find out why.

    anyways Im rambling on.. there’s hundred of things u can do.. a car, like our body.. requires lots of attention and care. they’re also one of our largest expenses but again like our body, we often neglect them.

  3. William Frantz says:

    I just tried doing the math to justify my motorcycle based on fuel economy and it doesn’t even come close. Gas in SoCal is pricy. My bike gets 40 MPG compared to 22 in my car. However, I still need a car from time to time so I can’t eliminate that expense. My short commute means I save maybe $1/workday in gas which doesn’t even cover the cost of insuring my bike. Of course if you commute 30 miles to work, the numbers are much more compelling.

    I will justify it anyway because I don’t have to sit in traffic jams which saves me time and frustration. I also ride a lot more than just back/forth to work. Occasionally I make some 140 mile trip that saves me $6. I also avoid most parking fees and wear/tear on my car. It’s clear however that the real savings would come from replacing a car with a bike.

    I frequently question if my wife and I need two cars or can we live with one car and a bike. Right now I think we need two cars, but if her office were closer to mine things might be different. I could probably live with just the bike and we’d carpool during inclimate weather.

  4. umm…what is the DEFINITION of variable expenses?!?!?!?!?!

  5. It’s important to have your air filters clean. Sometimes the excess of dust and other kind of particles may obstruct the air duct and you will spend more fuel. If you don’t want to replace it, you can use a small compressed air bottle to clean your air filter.

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