Thrift Week — Transportation

by Katy on January 22, 2010 · 21 comments

Thrift Week

Welcome to Thrift Week. Today’s topic is transportation.

There’s all kinds of conflicting information about green and thrifty transportation options. Biodiedel, hybrid, electric, even hypermiling. It’s enough to make you want to jump in front of a car, any car.

Whatever you drive, the greenest and thriftiest choice you can make is to leave your car in the garage.

I started paying closer attention to my driving habits last year, and began putting a concerted effort into batching my errands. It’s now rare for me to drive across town to a single destination. (This is a rare situation where my natural proclivity to procrastinate is an asset.) I wait until I can no longer put off the errands, and by that point I usually have four or five things to do in that particular neighborhood.

By employing this method, I end up having three or four days per week when I don’t really drive. (Except driving my ten-year-old the 1.1 miles to school, which starts at 8:00 A.M., when it’s still a little dark. He takes a school bus home, but the morning bus comes at 7:30, which I feel is simply uncivilized. The 13-year-old takes the school bus both ways.)

I choose to live in a neighborhood which is very walkable, and this makes a huge difference in how much we drive. So even when we do drive, it’s for pretty short distances. When you choose to live rurally or in the suburbs, it is usually a decision that will require you to drive significant distances. Schools may be close, but what about the grocery store, post office, library and restaurants? Will your non-urban living choice mean you’ll be starting the car up multiple times every day?

There is of course, the standard advice on how to squeeze every last bit of gas mileage from your car, such as:

  • Remove any unnecessary belongings from your car.
  • Keep the tires properly inflated.
  • Remove roof racks and bicycle racks when not needed.
  • Avoid rapid accelerating.
  • Use your cruise control.
  • Avoid idling your car.

Then there’s the advice to avoid driving such as:

  • Walk.
  • Bicycle.
  • Carpool.
  • Sell your car.

But really, the best way to drive green is to drive minimally. And this is true whether you’re driving a monster-truck or a hybrid.

My biggest gas saver? Because I live frugally, I only have to commute to work twice per week.

Want to know how walkable your neighborhood is? will give you a numeric score for your address. I got an “90,” which I feel is fair, although the neighborhood business information was somewhat out of date. (Plus it listed a porno joint as a movie theater within walking range. Umm . . . no thanks.)

What do you do to minimize gas usage? Please share your tips in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Shannon January 22, 2010 at 4:38 am

The bummer about where I live is that the most walkable neighborhoods are either terribly expensive, or located in not-so-great school districts.
What we can do is I walk the kids to school most days, we have a nice park to walk to, and I batch errands. I am still driving my 2005 Matrix which gets good mileage, and most likely my next vehicle will be a hybrid. Also now the the kids are getting older, I think we will do more bicycle riding.


Carla January 22, 2010 at 6:20 am

Both of our cars are Camrys. “Mine” gets about 30 MPG. We live 14 miles from town (shopping, church, library — almost everything) and my husband drives 20 miles one way to his job. I actively try to consolidate trips into town. For instance, my husband needs a medication refill but I am pretty sure at least one of us will go into town Saturday for errands. I’ll phone it in so it will be waiting for whichever of us goes.

Still, it all adds up to more than I’m comfortable with.


Linda January 22, 2010 at 6:29 am

I live in a rural area in Massachusetts and I need to drive everywhere. My kids get the bus at 6:35 in the morning to go to school on the other side of the next town. They have about 40 minutes on the bus. If I were to drive them, it would take me about 25 minutes one way. Since we only have late buses 2 days each week, I end up picking them up for any afterschool activities.

I batch all my errands for when I have to pick them up. This may be the library, bank, post office, etc.

I also have to drive to all my mother’s appointments with her. When I have to drive her, I also batch my shopping/errands.

I am a consultant with The Pampered Chef, so I drive to all my shows. Most of those are between 1/2 hour to 1 hour away. I also maximize my time out while I work. I can do less shows but have bigger shows/larger income. When I worked my day job, I worked an hour away 3 days each week. My job now, allows me to make more, while being out of the house less and driving less.

Rural living has advantages for my family and I. We have ample space for gardening and (if we choose) live stock. I am trying to convince my family that we should have chickens. My next door neighbor does have chickens and I buy eggs from them. We also have local producers of beef, pork and local vegetables and fruits.

Our back yard is trees, trees and more trees. It is beautiful. While I would love to be able to walk everywhere, it is just not possible. There are tradeoffs wherever you live, whether in town or rural. I love where I live and would not want to live anywhere else.


Shymom January 22, 2010 at 6:33 am

Honestly, our cars are total gas guzzlers. We have a 1991 Range Rover and a 2001 Nissan minivan. We did have a Honda that got great gas mileage but since it was a 1983 and getting a tad old we decided to sell it last year.

The good part is that we don’t use the cars much. We total 5,000 miles combined on both cars.

The Range Rover will be going away soon since my son is getting ready to learn to drive and it is just too much of a tank to set him loose in. Then we will buy a used, compact car.


Kris-ND January 22, 2010 at 9:12 am

This is an area I can get a bit prickly about, and since I don’t like confrontation, I decided not to post the indepth post I originally typed, other than saying that I am not ashamed to say I live in a rural area in a rural state. I am surrounded by family farms and ranches, and am proud to see them holding on to the land for their families AND for this country vs giving up to giant corporate farms.

Family farms and ranches are comprised of land, lots of land. A 600 acre wheat field can’t be plopped in an urban area. The distances between farms, and farm supporting towns are by necessity greater than the distances between a suburb and a city.

When we are in the feed store(yes, we buy our Great Dane’s dog food from the local feed store, because it is cheaper to buy the huge bags we need 😉 lol he is our livestock)and I see a neighbor who owns a ranch or farm that has been in his family for generations, in his ropers, Wrangler jeans, John Deere feed cap, or cowboy hat, followed by his little boy in his mini Ropers, Wranglers and cowboy hat, and know he is going to fight to keep that land in the family to pass down to that sweet boy of his, and doing that means taking great care of this precious resource….land that grows things, vs many countries who have little land that can be farmed to feed themselves, I feel a great source of pride.

When I go to the grocery store and buy pasta made from ND growers, I feel a sense of pride knowing the effort they make to get it from the field to the table, and the fight it is to compete against giant corporate farms.

So, yes, contrary to some of my family members who think us incredibly selfish to live where there isn’t a bus to ride, I am proud to live where I do. I feel like I am a tiny part(we don’t farm or ranch, but my husband’s job is tied to those that do, just by where we live) of keeping one of our countries’ greatest and most unappreciated resources alive…the family farmer.


Shannon January 22, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I say bravo to American farmers, and the folks who provide the services they need too! I would imagine that there are a ton of things country dwellers can do that urban and suburban folks can’t, like gardening and that.


Beth January 22, 2010 at 9:26 am

I know the traffic lights in my area well enough to know when I’ll be idling for more than one minute, so I actually turn off my engine when I hit a light at the right point in the cycle. There’s some debate about whether this is worth the wear and tear on the starter, but I’m willing to risk it. California has high gas taxes, and I hate the feeling of sitting there letting off fumes.


Jacquelyn January 22, 2010 at 9:29 am

Carpooling the kids to school with a couple other families has cut way back on my driving. I also try to group errands so I’m not driving across town for one thing. Unless that one thing is saving me a lot of money. 🙂


Lisa January 22, 2010 at 10:24 am

Minimal driving is the best. I walk whenever possible (and practical). All the other methods you mentioned are fine too. If I lived in the country, I would probably buy a horse (and preferably a buggy). Today’s ezine from Planet Green had a video on a 4 passenger, human powered car that can actually reach speeds of 65 MPH!!! No pedalling involved.


Jeanine January 22, 2010 at 12:03 pm


I truly appreciate your posts. Sometimes, if people don’t know that you have the best intentions in the world, you can come off sounding high-minded, condesending and dersive. No one likes to be made to feel as though they’re being talked down to.

This paragraph….

“I choose to live in a neighborhood which is very walkable, and this makes a huge difference in how much we drive. So even when we do drive, it’s for pretty short distances. When you choose to live rurally or in the suburbs, it is usually a decision that will require you to drive significant distances. Schools may be close, but what about the grocery store, post office, library and restaurants? Will your non-urban living choice mean you’ll be starting the car up multiple times every day?”

… a prime example.

Just be aware that not everyone has had the oppurtunity to chose to live where they do. Some of us take what we can get, afford, maintain, and do the best we can about the rest.


Katy January 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm


True, not everyone has a choice about where they live, but that doesn’t mean that drivability of locations should be ignored. When my husband and I were house hunting, finding a house in a central location was important to us. At the time I wasn’t really thinking about walkability as much as how much I hate to sit in traffic, and our centrally located neighborhood was within our budget. The real estate prices have risen so dramatically that we would no longer be able to afford our house if we were to buy in now.

Drivabiility is only a small part of a decision of where to live. I am aware of the positive sides of rural living, as well as the negative sides of urban living. It’s just like I’m aware that there is more to life than frugality. For example, one of my sons was upset yesterday and I spent the time I would normally be making a dinner from scratch hanging out with him. Because of this, my husband drove to Trader Joe’s and bought a pre-made frozen meal. Not frugal, but worth every penny.

I’m sorry that you read me as “high-minded, condescending and derisive,” like you I am doing my “best.”

I appreciate you taking the time to comment, I appreciate all opinions.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Jeanine January 22, 2010 at 12:05 pm

And I should have seriously spell checked that before posting.


Jacquelyn January 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Katy, I don’t feel you come across as high-minded, condescending, and derisive. That being said, different things that all of us say are going to resonate differently with different people depending on where they are in their own life journey. If I were struggling to have a home at all, I would probably bristle at your comment about where you ‘choose’ to live, but not because there is anything inherently snooty about it. You would just be in a different place in life than I am.
For example, how would our discussions on aluminum versus stainless steel personal water bottles appear to someone who lacks access to clean water at all? I would think we’d seem like a bunch of petty boors in that context. (Water bottles are fresh on my mind, since I just blogged a rant about them. :))
I think it’s all about context and who you are trying to reach, and I would venture to guess that most of your readers can relate to most of your posts. But you can’t please everyone all the time, and there really is no point in trying to.


Bridget January 22, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Jacquelyn, I agree with you.

Katy, keep up the good work!


Stacey January 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm

My husband and I are fortunate enough to live in an area of Portland where we don’t need to drive anywhere. The grocery store is four blocks away, the library is a mile, and if I ever need to go downtown or to the Lloyd Center, I can just hop on the Max for free in Fareless Square! I really don’t miss driving – walking gives me good exercise, and even riding the Max train gives me a chance to just sit and people-watch.


Happy Mum January 23, 2010 at 12:22 am

I hope this isn’t another can of worms. I think even elementary-school-age children (say, 8 years or so and up?) are old enough to walk roughly a mile to school — only takes about 15-20 minutes — either accompanied by an adult, or maybe (by age 10?) with a buddy? Maybe a “walking rota” — where like-minded parents take turns accompanying the walking children…? Perhaps it’s not so much about the petrol used — more about orientating everyone in the family (and the community) toward a “less driving” mentality.


Katy January 23, 2010 at 12:52 am

Happy Mum,
Aren’t the cans of worms what make it all so interesting?

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate

P.S. That child actually takes the bus now, I “borrowed” this column from last year’s Thrift Week . Won’t do THAT again! 😉


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl January 23, 2010 at 3:58 am

I live in a suburban neighborhood, and the only thing I can walk to is a liquor store. However, like you, Katy, I usually only get in the car twice a week (once to drive to my church, which is 5 minutes away) and once to go to Goodwill, Weis, Aldi, and my bank, which are all located near each other and are only a 10 minute drive away). I’d venture to guess that people living in rural areas also don’t end up spending oodles of time in the car….when stores are a half hour away, you probably batch your errands something fierce!

I do sometimes get annoyed with the “green” mindset that says the only responsible thing to do is to live in the city (Colin from No Impact Man says things along this line a lot). That’s all well and good to say, but some people need to live on farms and ranches, and some people need to live in the already-built houses that are not in walkable neighborhoods. Would it be smart to tear those down or leave them vacant, and build new walkable neighborhoods? It’s good to keep walkability in mind when we develop and build, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are tons of existing neighborhoods that are not walkable.


Marie-Josée January 24, 2010 at 7:13 pm

In Québec where I live, we happen to have one of the largest numbers of small rural villages in the world. All of these are linked to an incredible web of roads that need to be maintained and plowed, and those villages need to be serviced by public services. Not to mention the village schools that parents of those localities fight to keep open. This is a big strain on our public finances. I understand that our farmers need to live in the country, but most of the people living in those villages are not farmers, and are not employed by farms either. They mostly work in the larger, medium-sized towns in the surrounding areas and use their cars a great deal. Their children need to bus to school and often spend quite a lot of time on buses, especially when they enter high school. This type of lifestyle, whether rural or suburban, which I understand is a North American model, is not sustainable, and was developed due to the fact that we have had, and still have, access to cheap gas prices. I know this is a prickly subject, and many people feel that this model represents success, comfort and the American dream and way of life.

I lived in the suburbs for 17 nears, and chose to leave Montréal when my second child was born. It is a decision that both my husband and I regret deeply. Not only was this a poor choice environmentally, but also always felt quiet isolated in our community, being very green, thrifty and hippyish. We moved back to the city when the same second child entered college and I sold my car at that time. Today I walk or use the subway to work, and we moved into a housing coop downtown. We still drive to do our weekly food shopping, but walk or use the subway for most of our other outings or errands. My husband still drives his car to work (a 15 minute drive morning and evening) as his job is situated in an area of the city not well serviced by public transportation. I wish I could write that he drives in a manner that diminishes his gas use, although he does drive a manual Toyota Corolla, but it isn’t the case. He wants to get to and fro as quickly as possible. I am really looking forward to plug-in 100 % electric affordable cars. Hubby is also seeking a job which will be situated within a 30 minute public transportation commute. He feels bad about driving to work and also loathes the stress of driving.

In an ideal, and sustainable world, farms would be situated all around urban areas, reducing food transit and providing easy access to urban services to our farmers who are not getting, in my opinion, the appreciation they merit.


Diana January 25, 2010 at 12:10 am

7:30 am is uncivilized? I’ll remind myself of that when I’m rolling out the door at 7 am tomorrow. When I was a kid I had to catch the bus at 6:30 am after a .5 mile walk. At least it wasn’t up hill both ways 🙂 Thanks for posting the update for that. I’d also like to second the point that a mile only takes about 20 minutes to walk and would be more in keeping with the rest of the content for your post.

I would love to be able to take the bus! I live in a small town and at this time, am unable to move. The job market is very small, so I commute. It would be lovely if we had public transportation between cities/towns.

Thanks for all your hard work, I love getting your posts.


Katy January 25, 2010 at 8:50 am

7:30 A.M. is uncivilized in Portland, Oregon during the month of January. It’s dark and usually raining. (I start work at 7:00 A.M., and had a shift for years that started at 5 A.M. so I understand early morning.)

My son’s school, (actually it’s last year’s school as this post is a reprint from last year’s Thrift Week) is 1.1 miles from my house, not a half mile.

Also, keep in mind that I live in a city, and as much as that means I can amble over to the library, it also means a fairly gritty environment in terms of those who hang out on the streets all day. I would not let my fifth grader walk alone through all that. There is a big problem with drug dealing (specifically heroine) on the busy street he would have to cross.

I drive minimally is other areas of my life, but raising my child in a safe and loving manner trumps all else.

I did walk a mile long route to get to middle school when I was a kid, but it was through a middle class neighborhood.

Thanks for your comment, and giving me a chance to explain some of the factors that go into my driving decisions.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


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