Monday, October 20, 2014

Gearing Down, Part 3: Transportation

Like clothing, transportation is something in which reducing expenses quickly may not be possible in the face of suddenly straitened financial circumstances. Unless you live in New York City or a few other large cities with excellent public transportation, you probably rely upon a personal car to get you the places you need to be.

Yes, you could consider trading down to a less expensive vehicle. However, if like most people you still owe on your car, you need to think carefully before making any decisions. During the early parts of the loan, it is very possible that you owe more than you can get for your car. That means that trying to trade down to a less expensive car would not realize any significant savings in your monthly car payment unless you've been driving a really high-end car. Even if you are driving a paid-off car, unless it's a real gas hog, you're probably not going to be money ahead to try to trade down to something smaller and more fuel-efficient.

However, there are other ways that you can reduce your transportation costs. Most immediately, rethink your driving habits. Most of us go about our daily errands without too much thought. When we need to get something, we go and do it. As a result, we may make a dozen small trips over the course of a week, picking up one or two things at each time. If we can plan out what we'll need over the course of a week and make one or two major shopping trips do, except for the sort of emergency we simply can't anticipate, we can save enough gas that we'll have money for some other bill.

On the other hand, don't skimp on the really important stuff. For instance, it may look like a short-term savings to skip routine maintenance such as oil changes and put that money somewhere else. However, while you may get away with delaying your routine maintenance for a week or two to get you to a paycheck, in the long term it's a false economy. Forcing your engine to run too long on dirty oil can do damage that will quickly negate the savings, and if you can't afford to repair or replace your vehicle, could leave you without transportation altogether.

Another sensible way to reduce your transportation costs is to rethink your leisure time activities. Obviously you don't want to cut them out altogether, because you need some form of rest and recreation for your mental health. But you don't have to spring for expensive airfare to distant places, or even gasoline for a day-long drive, to have fun. Instead of one long trip for a vacation, you might want to look at the possibility of several short day-trips to local destinations. You might be surprised at the range of activities your local area offers, including parks, museums, art galleries and concerts. Many of them don't even charge an admission fee.

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