Thinking green, saving green

Friday, August 25, 2006

By Doyle Childers

Take a moment to think about how much you spent on gasoline last month. Now ask yourself: If you could have cut your pump costs by 25, 50 or even 75 percent, what would you have done with that extra money? Was it enough to take the family out to dinner? Perhaps pay for 18 holes at your favorite golf course? Or maybe you have a more practical mindset, like using the extra money to pay off credit cards, make a few home improvements or begin saving for your kids' college tuition.

Though each of us has different financial priorities, we all share one thing in common: A large portion of our monthly budget is being spent at the gas pump. Taking a few simple steps to reduce your gas consumption can quickly add up to big savings, which means extra green in your wallet.

In the past two years, consumers have watched as gas prices have steadily increased to where we found ourselves this summer, at more or less $3 a gallon. Watching this increase has left many motorists feeling angry and powerless. The increase is particularly hard on those who commute long distances to work.

It's true that individually there is little we can do about the cost of gasoline -- short of stifling world demand, quieting world trouble spots or perfecting hydrogen power -- but each of us does have the ability to dampen the impact these gas prices have on us.

For example, did you know that conservative driving habits, regular attention to tire pressure and clean air filters and removing unnecessary material from the back of the vehicle can reduce gas usage by 25 percent? Or that adding just one more person on the daily ride to work can cut costs by 50 percent instantly? Adding more people to the carpool can increase savings to 66 or 75 percent.

For a person making a 60-mile round trip every day -- assuming current gas prices and 25 miles per gallon -- sharing the ride and costs with just one other commuter person can save $1,000 a year. Filling the back seat with two more riders can increase those savings to more than $1,600 a year. Those commuting from the suburbs of St. Louis or Kansas City to the downtown areas can also enjoy significant savings.

The main reason more people don't carpool is because of the perceived inconvenience. Commuters don't want to be troubled with coordinating their schedules with those of their fellow commuters. However, once people actually try carpooling, they find out just the opposite.

If you ask most regular carpoolers about their experiences, they'll typically tell you two things: The inconvenience was less than expected, and the benefits -- beyond the money saved -- were greater.

In addition to the money saved on gas, carpoolers save even more from the decreased wear and tear on their vehicles. They also benefit from the reduced stress of having to drive every day and from the knowledge that they have contributed to helping the environment by reducing traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.

Many programs are available to help commuters find fellow carpoolers. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources administers a Mid-Missouri Rideshare program through the Missouri Energy Center. For more information, contact Mid-Missouri Rideshare at (573) 522-RIDE (7433). In St. Louis, contact RideFinders at (800) VIP-RIDE (800-847-7433), and in Kansas City, contact the RideShare program at (816) 842-RIDE (7433).

There are a variety of ways to save at the pump. Find one or more that works for you and start saving today. Green thinking can lead to green savings.

Doyle Childers is the director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in Jefferson City, Mo.

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