Earlier this summer, our family began a concerted effort to save money on gasoline. We didn't take a vacation this year and even tried to grocery shop by bicycle whenever possible. To be honest, the bicycle grocery trips were few -- they were more of an adventure than a practical way to do my shopping. But it was nice to have the option to pick up a few things while we were out instead of driving the car.
The result of our summer conservation push was that I was able to fill up once or twice a month, putting my gasoline budget at around $100/month. Considering that it had been about three times that before prices shot through the roof, I consider the summer effort a success.
But now, we're getting into the school year. There will be different demands on our schedule and the weather has the potential to ruin the bike plan. Like today. It's pouring.
The busy first week of school proved to me that I needed an action plan -- one week, one tank of gas was not going to work for our wallet. Here's my solution:
1) Use the bus: All parents want to be as accessible to and supportive of their children as possible. As a result, many of us drive them to and from school. I am trying to cut down on my driving, though, so I have decided to let the kids ride home on the school bus. Yesterday was their first day to try it, and they loved it.
2) Make a plan: Because I still want to see my children off in the morning, I have planned my volunteer time at the beginning of the school day. It makes the most of my trip and helps the school at the same time. On the way home, I stop at the grocery store closest to the school. It is a discount chain (Save-A-Lot), so it saves a bit of green as well.
3) Bundle your errands: I am trying my best to shop only once a week (with a family of five, that's a stretch), so it pays to "bundle" errands. Aldi, another discount grocery chain, is a little farther out of town, so I save errands in that part of town for a day when I am on my way there. By doing those jobs all at once (I keep a running list, so I don't forget any), I can pack in several errands and use the car as little as possible. Aldi is out of town, so gas prices are a little lower in that neighborhood, too. So while I'm there, why not fill up and save a dime a gallon?
4) Carpool: I spoke with a friend of mine who lives 40 minutes away but works here in town. She will be carpooling for the first time in 15 years, even though several of her coworkers live close to her home. I have to say, it is such a smart decision. Yes, there will be times when you will miss the convenience of having your car waiting outside. But if you think about the money you will save by conserving gas, I'm betting the trade-off will be worth it.
If you have room in your car, it may even be worth it to run errands with a friend. Shopping with a girlfriend does not have to be a rare thing. Think about how much more fun it will be to go to Walmart and be able to chat or have your child visit with a friend while you shop. In the age of the minivan, it's a shame to waste all that extra space.
So, good luck winning the wallet battle. It's tough out there right now for those of us managing our family budgets. With a little planning and good choices, though, saving money may not be as tough as you think.