Americans spend a lot of money on transportation. In fact, for the average household, transportation costs make up the second-biggest spending category in their budget. Only housing and housing-related costs take a bigger bite out of the average budget. We spend more on getting around than we spend on food! Transportation costs include buying, maintaining, insuring, and fueling our vehicles. And while we all know that the cost of everything is going up, many of us are especially feeling the pinch at the pump. Public transportation is a great and typically more affordable option, but the reality is that many Americans live in places that make maintaining a car a necessity. Luckily, there are simple tips we can all use to lower how much money we spend on transportation.
Lower Your Insurance Bill
Almost every state requires drivers to carry liability insurance on their vehicles. Additionally, many lenders require comprehensive insurance as a condition of an auto loan. Auto insurance is a big part of transportation expenses for car owners. According to a report released in 2022, the average policy costs $1,655 per year. Many different factors determine how much you pay for coverage. For example, 46 states allow insurance companies to consider credit scores when it comes to charging for insurance. This can make a big difference in how much you pay. For example, a person with poor credit pays an average of around $3,900 for car insurance annually, while someone with excellent credit pays around $1,500 per year. While no one can dramatically change their credit score quickly, there are things you can do to lower your insurance costs.
- The best way to save money on car insurance is to shop around. All insurers use factors like where you live, your age, the car you drive, your driving history, and (in the vast majority of states) your credit score when pricing your insurance coverage. However, companies place different amounts of importance on these factors. One company might discount heavily for your good driving record and sensible vehicle, while another one values your location and age as more important factors. The same driver seeking the same coverage can end up with very different quotes, which can represent a savings of hundreds of dollars each year. It’s important, though, to make sure that you are getting quotes for the same coverage with the same limits, deductibles, and add-ons.
- Consider your insurance needs. If your car is paid off, older, and not very valuable, it might not be worth it to carry comprehensive and collision insurance. What’s the difference? Collision insurance covers damage caused to your car if you are in an accident that’s your fault, while comprehensive coverage pays out in situations like theft or storm damage. With older cars, sometimes, the payout is very little compared to how much you spend on comprehensive and collision coverage.
- Look for discounts. Many insurance companies offer discounts if you allow them to track your driving for a certain amount of time. Other discounts are tied to military status, belonging to certain associations, or even good grades. You might even get a discount based on your job: Check with human resources at your company to see if there are any discounts available through your employer.
Maintain Your Car
Proper maintenance goes a long way toward keeping your car running smoothly. Staying on top of oil changes helps prolong the life of the car’s engine and avoid costly repairs. Maintenance also slows major declines in resale value. Important maintenance tasks include:
- Cleaning and tightening battery terminals. This helps delay needing to replace the battery.
- Keep your tires properly inflated. Tires that are low on air reduce your gas mileage, and driving with low air pressure in your tires also increases how fast they wear out and makes them more likely to blow out. It’s also important to rotate your tires every 6,000 miles so that they wear evenly.
- Delaying maintenance can end up costing you more money. For example, people can damage their rotors by delaying replacing their brake pads. This delay can end up costing hundreds of dollars more when the rotors must be replaced early. Taking out a loan may be a better option than delaying needed maintenance.
Use an App to Find the Best Gas Prices
Anyone who has filled up their gas tank or watched the news this year knows that gas prices are on the rise. During March, gas topped $4 a gallon across the United States, and people in many places are paying even more. One way to save at the pump is to use an app that helps you find the best price near you. Often, gas prices can vary wildly, especially if you cross county or state lines. Different locales charge varying taxes on gas, and those taxes can add up at the pump. Additionally, some stations just tend to charge less than others.
- GasBuddy: This is one of the oldest apps designed to help people find cheap gas near where they are or along the route they will be driving, and the company also offers a fully functional website for those without a smartphone. The prices on GasBuddy are sourced from other users, so it’s a good idea to add prices yourself as you see them to help keep the app functioning.
- Gas Guru: Instead of relying on users to share gas prices, Gas Guru uses data provided by the Oil Price Information Service as an information source.
- Waze: If you’re not interested in downloading yet another app, you can also use one that you probably already have. The popular navigation app Waze can also keep you up to date on gasoline prices in the area where you are driving.
It used to be quite common to share rides with neighbors, friends, and family members. People living in the suburbs who work in the same place as their neighbors or whose kids go to the same schools or after-school events will find it easiest to carpool. Instead of everyone driving to work alone or taking their own child to school or soccer practice, try teaming up with some neighbors to share the cost of gas. Not only is it good for your wallet, but it’s also good for the environment! If you don’t know anyone to ride with, it’s also possible to find carpooling partners on websites like iRideshare.
Change Your Driving Habits
Saving money often requires us to reevaluate our habits. During times when gas is cheap, it’s easy to not worry about driving as economically as possible, but once you make a few changes in your routines, you’ll also be able to save wear and tear on your car, helping you to save money no matter what the prices at the pump may be.
- Group errands together. Instead of coming home from work, changing your clothes, and heading back out to a grocery store you passed on your way home, stop as you pass it. If you’re already home and need to go buy something, think about whether you can hit a few other places on the way or in the same area while you’re out. Maybe you can drop off the dry cleaning or go to the bank while you’re picking up a gallon of milk.
- Avoid speeding, hard braking, and rapid acceleration. Not only do all of these actions eat up substantial amounts of fuel, but they also increase the likelihood that you’ll get into an accident.
- Buy the recommended grade of gasoline. Many people opt for a higher grade, believing that it will help their car last longer, but that’s not true of the vast majority of cars built after 2000. Only use the higher-octane (and more expensive) gas if your owner’s manual specifically suggests that your car needs it for optimal performance.