Cost of Car Ownership

The Cost of Driving – Gas

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Contrary to popular advertising, you really can save the planet by spending less of your money. Have you ever been shopping for a product, but then done a deep dive down the sustainability rabbit-hole?

A bumble bee helping pollinate our garden

Is this from sustainably sourced cork? Which leads to the least carbon emissions/deforestation or greatest support of the local economy? Cork, bamboo, or local hardwood from a sustainable managed forest? Buy local, fair trade, sustainably sourced, non gmo (ugh, this one drives me crazy!). Which one is best? I’ve been there.

How can we as the consumer have time to research all of the trends corporations are promoting? I know I don’t want to be lining the pockets of the latest tycoon chopping down all the trees in my backyard, much less stealing the farmland from a subsistence farmer.


Well, here’s a crazy approach:

Buy less stuff.

Use what you have.

Buy secondhand.

If you buy fewer items and spend less of your hard-earned money, you are overcoming the highly engineered marketing campaigns of our corporate overlords. Conveniently requiring you to spend less of your limited time devoted to serving those corporate overlords for a paycheck.

Social Engineering and Finances

Social engineering is the practice of influencing behaviors and attitudes on a large scale.

Sustainability starts with buying less
A control room to control you.

Corporations are profiting greatly from us millennials who are more willing to shell out money if it β€œhelps” our health and the environment. (I have an insider seat as the lone millennial on an industry advisory board. I get to hear Boomers and Gen-Xers brag about how they trick us, and are now selling fewer products for greater profits thanks to our bleeding hearts.)

Don’t worry, I know there are plenty of you Boomers and Gen-Xers who are also trying to do your part for the planet! It’s amazing to see my Aunt and Uncle (Baby Boomers) who have continued practicing the reuse tactics their parents learned and endured growing up in the depression. I’ve learned so much from observing and working with them.

Ad campaigns are highly engineered to draw at your heartstrings and make you spend your money. Heck, even while writing this blog I think about social engineering and how I can use my words to better relate to and engage with you (I promise to use my powers for good).

What’s the Ultimate Environmentally Friendly Practice?

Buy less stuff.

It really is that simple. Pause, and really evaluate if you need that item. Hint: you probably don’t.

You’ve survived this long without it. Also, if something wears out and stops working, even if you used it all the time, do you already have a substitute of similar quality? Don’t run to the store to solve every problem.

Today I’m going to do a deeper dive into one of my least favorite things to buy: gasoline.

Swiping My Card for Gas

It is easy to think that buying gas for your car is a necessary expense, and not something in your control. I have to say, every month when I review my spending I cringe at how much of my money goes towards gasoline. I break it out separate from car maintenance since we buy gas every month, and I want that expense to be highly visible.

Challenge Everything
This car used gas to drive to the campsite.

If you don’t acknowledge your failures, you are destined to repeat them.

We live in a suburban home that is about a 3 mile bike ride to the nearest store, 5 miles to most stores and 10 miles from our jobs. Our family and friends live anywhere from 4 to thousands of miles away. We live in Michigan = heavy snowfall/cold weather in the winter. We also live as far from a Great Lake as possible in the state = longer summer drives to enjoy the best things our state has to offer.

Inevitably, we spend money on gas.

I’m not planning on ever getting that cost down to zero for the year. And I don’t want to (or can afford to) run out and buy an expensive new electric car. But I should acknowledge and hopefully improve on my spending at the gas station. (So, readers, hold me accountable! Please πŸ™‚ )

By reviewing this, I also get to celebrate the improvements I’ve made, they may be small, but that doesn’t mean they are insubstantial. I could have easily continued (or increased) my driving habits. Challenging everything pays off.

Financial Cost of Gas

We’ve cut our gas spending by $19.32/month from 2015 – now. Gas prices have varied in my area, but have generally increased (implying these calculations will be conservative). We’ve reduced our driving intentionally to save that money. Before we get in our cars we run through a few questions: Environmental Cost of Car Ownership

Evening plans:

  • Do we really want to go where we are going? Would we rather have a night at home?
  • Can we bike?

On an errand:

  • Do we really need what we are headed out to get? Do we have a substitute in the house?
  • Are we going to spend money that we don’t want to spend?
  • Can we bike?

We’ve also cut back substantially on our weekend trips, now we question:

  • Do we really want to go there?
  • Can we conquer more than one thing with this trip?
  • Is carpooling an option?

By simply working through these questions we’ve reduced our average monthly gas spending by $19.32 or $232/year. This means we get to save $5,800 less to pull the early retirement trigger. This is small beans in terms of our spending reduction, but no less amazing.

Would you reduce your driving to save money today and need less money tomorrow?

Environmental Costs of Gas

Fortunately, this is all a fairly easy comparison since we’ve owned the same cars every year that we’ve tracked spending. I checked the stats on our two cars this morning:

Chevy Cobalt – 31 mpg average

Chevy HHR – 26 mpg average

Average Cost of Gas: $2.35/gallon

If we conservatively assume that all of the reduced driving was in the HHR (I’m an engineer, I like safety factors) we can easily figure out how many fewer miles we are driving each month:

Cost per mile = Price of gas / mpg = 2.35 / 26 = $0.0904 per mile

Then we can figure out how many miles we’ve cut on average each month:

Miles Reduced = Dollars Saved / Cost per Mile = $19.32 / $0.0904 = 214 miles/month

We now drive 2,560 miles less each year

CO2 Emissions

Looking at CO2 emission reduction related to driving is easy (aka why I started on this topic even though this barely accounts for our spending reduction).

Each gallon of gasoline burned equates to 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) (source:

Our driving less equates to:

Reduction of Gallons of Gasoline = Dollars Saved / Price of Gas = $19.32 / $2.35/gallon = 8.221 gallons less per month = 98.7 gallons of gasoline less per year

CO2 Reduction = Gallons Reduced per Year * Pounds of CO2 Produced per Gallon of Gasoline = 98.7 gallons * 20 pounds/gallon = 1,973 pounds of CO2 less

We’ve reduced our CO2 production by almost 1 ton/year, imagine if everyone did that.

Why does this even matter?

Well, climate change is real, and humans are predominately to blame for the rapid changing. But, since humans are mostly to blame, us humans can also make a big impact! So, our household is working to reduce our impact now!

By driving less we have already freed up one acre of U.S. forest to sequester other carbon dioxide! Check out this website to see the impact you’ve already made:

If you are contemplating making a lifestyle change, check out what it would equal. Every bit counts:

You don’t have to be perfect to make an impact and help protect the planet. People put value on money. What’s money worth if the planet’s environment becomes inhospitable to human life? I’m thinking future generations would gladly thank you for leaving them a smaller fortune if it means the air they are breathing doesn’t burn their lungs.

Did I go too judgy and negative? I argue no, that I should probably be shouting from the rooftops even louder, but our home isn’t perfect, and you shouldn’t expect to be either.

Today (and tomorrow, etc.): I will work to reduce my driving even more.

The best thing!?! This is still some pretty low hanging fruit we can continue to reduce. This will help us save money and reduce our environmental impact.

And, there’s more to car ownership than gas. See my post here about all the costs of car ownership we’ve incurred over the past three years πŸ™ !

What choice are you going to make to help your wallet and the planet?

10 comments on “The Cost of Driving – Gas”

  1. I’m all about wanting to drive less, but we do make some lifestyle choices that necessitate driving long distances a number of times a year to be closer to family, football games, or whatever.

    I have converted to e-bike commuting for the short distances, but that won’t be safe either in another month or two as winter sets in and the roads become ice-packed.

    You point out the cost of gas (9 cents per mile for you), but that’s just a fraction of the true cost per mile of driving. When you factor in the need for tires, brake work and other repairs, oil changes, insurance, and depreciation, you get a lot closer to the 55 cents per mile the IRS estimates it can cost you. Granted, it might be less with an HHR (I drive one, too!), but I would guess gasonile is at most 1/4 of the true cost of driving.

    Here’s to saving money and saving the planet.


    1. Reply

      I will definitely be reading your e-bike articles, we may rig up one for commuting next year for my husband. Definitely not a good winter option.

      And yes! I wrote up a post about the other costs of car ownership (maintenance, registration, insurance), and I made the link much more clear in my article now! Thanks!

  2. Cars are definitively more expensive than people think they are. All the costs really add up fast and the difference between one of those huge SUV and a compact car is tremendous!

  3. Reply

    Love your quote “If you don’t acknowledge your failures, you are destined to repeat them.”

    Completely agree on the cost of car ownership and how it can eat into our income, not to mention environmental impact. Since I work from home, I don’t drive much, it saves us quite a bit of money. Though, still there are repairs and servicing costs as are two cars are old.

    Wish car sharing service would come to our suburbs so we can ditch at least one of our cars.

    Mr. ATM

    1. Reply

      Thanks, it is a pesky expense! And I’m so ready for car sharing services, we live in suburbia, so it’s not available super close to us either!

    • RJ
    • 2017-10-16

    Great topic. I did an analysis of our driving a while ago and came up with a rough variable cost of $0.25/km for our driving. So we take that into account whenever we want to take the car out.

  4. Reply

    Progress, not perfection. If we all try to reduce our gas consumption just a bit every year, that’s a trend that will yield some good results.

    We’ve been hankering for a new vehicle (a Subaru is calling out to me) but our little Toyota Matrix gets pretty sweet gas mileage. And then there are all the environmental impacts inherent with just making a car: sometimes the greenest vehicle is the one you already own. πŸ™‚

    1. Reply

      So true, resisting getting a new car by even one year makes the biggest impact!

  5. That’s awesome that you were able to reduce your miles that much with just being more aware of your behavior.

    It has definitely been an adjustment for me going from living close to downtown and all the bike trails to more of the suburbs and having to drive everywhere.

    For me, one of my biggest changes was when I made the decision to sell my Jeep and get my little Mazda 3. I went from ~14 MPG to ~38 MPG, granted my insurance went up a little too. While the monthly costs didn’t change dramatically with insurance and whatnot factored in, I do feel better about less pollution on the environment.

    Also I have the Costco visa that I get 4% back on gas and only use Costco gas which around where I live adds up to a $0.25-$0.30/gallon savings over other gas stations.

    1. Reply

      Wow that Mazda 3 gets great gas mileage! We are about to get a Costco near us, and I’m debating if we’ll use a membership enough to buy one. Those gas savings may tip the scales to get one!

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