Budgeting Fuel & Travel
Each day of the series offers new tips, ideas and a challenge to start the year with a solid financial plan.
Setting a gas budget is really tricky—you can’t control the prices, and it’s often hard to predict exactly how much you will drive each month. The problem comes when we don’t even bother to try! Since you can’t control it, you’ll just pay whatever, whenever you need it—without a thought to how it affects your monthly budget.
If you have access to bank & credit card statements for the last year, spend some time figuring out how much you’ve been spending on gas. Some months will be higher than others (we spend a lot on gas during the holidays), but it can give you a baseline to work with. You can set your monthly budget on the high end to account for extra travel (visiting Mom?) or increased fuel costs (hello, $3.09/gallon!).
Another thing you can do, is merge your gas & vacation budget under the travel heading. This way, if gas prices go up a bit, you aren’t stuck trying to figure out how to pay for it. You’ll just have a little less money to spend on additional travel. On the other hand, if you improve your fuel efficiency, travel a bit less than usual or work from home for awhile, you’ll have more money leftover when vacation time rolls around.
You can also implement a few minor changes in your daily habits, to improve fuel efficiency and reduce driving time. Instead of going here & there at random throughout the week, set an errand day & do everything in one chunk. Pickup stamps at the grocery, to eliminate a trip to the post office. Stop at the bank on your way to library. Pickup dry cleaning, and return DVD rentals next door.
Pay attention to trends at your local gas stations, too. You may begin to notice a pattern for lower gasoline—if there is a day of the week that is typically lower than others, make that your errand day. Fill up on gas while it’s at its lowest, and watch for savings through coupons, discount programs & rewards. A little awareness of when & how often you’re at the pump can help keep your budget in line.
I’m not a financial planner or a budget expert. I’ll just be walking you through the steps I take each time my budget needs an adjustment. In fact, I’ll be participating myself!