Valdosta Daily Times

July 1, 2013

BUDGET DIARY: Life is a highway ...

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

SAVANNAH — If you've been keeping tabs on me with Facebook and Twitter, you will see that the house did fall through and we are officially no longer very official as we are out of the contract. I cried, ate two bags of Funyuns and a handful of Hershey bars, and now I'm okay with it.

I give some credit to Paula Deen for helping see me through this difficult time. I thought my life was pretty bad until her mess unfolded. Then I realized, hey, I'm not her, so now I'm golden and back to my delusion of complete and utter awesomeness.

Things are in forward motion and we began moving into our new apartment on Wilmington Island on Saturday. I must say, being ten minutes from the beach and 10 minutes from downtown Savannah has helped soften the blow of losing the house. So now that I've got you up to speed on the chaos of my life, let's get down to the real reason why you're here ... My budget genius.

Through keen observation, eavesdropping and playing on Facebook when I'm supposed to be working, I have noticed that a lot of people are going on road trips this summer. A lot of times, road trips are somewhat spontaneous and because you may not have a single destination for a week-long vacation, so some make the assumption that it will be, well, cheaper than a regular vacation. This is not always the case, especially if you decide to road trip it without a plan. So, my dear budgeteers, here are my tips and tricks to help you hit the road this summer without a major budget road rash.

1. Gas Buddy

With this free smart phone app, you will be able to review all the gas prices in your area. Say you’re on the road, you need to fill up, but you don't know the area and thus don't know the cheapest station. Just open Gas Buddy and search by city, zip or postal code. A list will pop up of all the surrounding gas stations and their distance from you, as well as their gas prices. A couple of cents here and there might not sound like a big deal, but on a road trip, every penny and every gallon of gas counts.

I actually used this app when I drove to New Orleans last year and it was incredibly helpful and user friendly. They've even made some great updates since then. To ensure absolute accuracy, they enable you to report gas prices at the stations you visit. When you do this, you get points and rewards. Honestly, this app could easily turn into your trip's biggest money saving tool.

Aside from the gas app, there are things you can actually do to help you conserve gas on your trip:

- Crack a window and turn off the air conditioner if you're cruising through a town or are in stop and go traffic. Cracking a window while you're on the highway is actually causing more drag, and thus is hurting your gas mileage.

- Ease off the pedal before stop signs and stop lights so that you coast to a stop as opposed to stopping abruptly when you hit the break. The less you have to break, the better your fuel economy is.

- Inflate your tires close to max. You can improve your gas mileage rate up to 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure, according to fueleconomy.gov.

- Try to make as many right turns as possible. I learned this one from Myth Busters, and FedEx does it as well. When city driving, reducing the time you wait idling for traffic to clear saves gas. A lot of left turns means you’re doing a lot of waiting, so even if it means going a few hundred yards out of your way, you are still saving gas if it means you’re making a right turn.



2. Don't feel the guilty burn of snack attack on your wallet.

Snacks are like the number one budget killer on a road trip. Buying a bag of chips at a gas station is the equivalent of going to a drug store to buy your groceries. You're going to spend more and there's just no way around it. Instead, make a pit stop at a grocery store before you hit the open road. Buy full-size bags of chips so you aren’t stuck paying the same price for a lunch pack bag, get a full case of soda for near the same cost of one bottle, and be sure to rack up on energy drinks and chewing gum because they are going to be more than double at a gas station because these stores know you need it on a long drive.



3. Plan your meals wisely.

When you've been driving all day, hitting up a drive-thru seems like an easy, quick and cheap solution. However, on a road trip, those “cheap” solutions add up and before you know it you've spent $100 on cheeseburgers. Instead, pack some good food yourself that can be easily made at a pit stop or in the car. I'm a big fan of peanut butter and jelly. It’s super cheap, super easy and quite frankly, just delicious. It doesn't make a mess in the car and it's really filling.

There will be moments where you feel like you need a hot meal and pb&j is just not gonna do it (as Dana Carvey parodying Bush would say). While you feel like you may save more money at some of these chain restaurants, the little mom and pop restaurants are the way to go. Often they have lunch and dinner specials, and even cater to roadies such as you who are looking for an early bird deal.

When trying to find places to eat, the smart phone app UrbanSpoon is really a great resource. It allows you to look at the most popular restaurants in your area, or search by cuisine type or my favorite, price! They even have a section called “what's open?” where you can view all the open restaurants in your location. It really helps take your road trip to the next level.



4. Take your car to the doctor.

Unless you are being completely and utterly spontaneous, it is always a good idea to take your car to get checked out before a road trip (this is not implying that spontaneity isn’t a good idea). Sure, you will spend money getting your oil checked and changed, and etc., but in the end, it's a lot cheaper to find out your car has a problem while you’re still at home as opposed to finding out that problem 300 miles outside of Albuquerque.



5. Lodging.

Some of you are about to cringe at this, but if you can do it, camping really is the cheapest way to catch some z's on a road trip. Generally speaking, tent sites with no amenities run anywhere from free to $10 per night. State parks can run anywhere from $5 to $30 a night depending on what the site offers. Sure, you could get a hotel for $30 per night, but I'm willing to bet the open wilderness would probably be cleaner. Just consider it all a part of the adventure.



Well, my lovely budgeteers, that's all I have for you this week. Don't forget to keep up with my moving shenanigans on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BrittanyDenneyMcClure and follow me on Twitter @BudgetBrittany. Safe travels!