Friday, July 10, 2009

$20 Per Gallon--Christopher Steiner (essay and giveaway)

As I mentioned, we took a road trip to California. Because I love irony, in between filling up the tank along our route I've been reading Christopher Steiner's $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better. Fascinating read. I've got a couple copies to give away to folks who comment on this topic between now and August 1.Have you cut down on your gasoline usage since prices went up last summer? How would another dollar hike in gas prices impact your lifestyle?

As my answer to this question, I'm reprinting an article I wrote on my personal blog at the beginning of the summer of 2008. Since that article was written, we traded in our minivan and old station wagon for a single car that gets better gas mileage and seats 7. We rode our bikes and bused almost everywhere last summer and fall. We fell off the wagon when it got cold and rainy, and haven't quite managed to scramble all the way back on yet.

Okay, oil dudes. It's on.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I really like our local gas station franchise. The guys who've been running it for the past six or so years are a couple of all-around nice guys, and it's always a pleasure to spend a minute or two chatting when waiting to pay for gas. When the price goes up, they roll their eyes and commiserate. When it goes down...well, when it used to go down....they were glad for the relief, too. They also have nearly the best price in town and they're very nearby.

The gas guys also sell sunflower seeds, trail mix, pop, and ice cream bars. I think we'll try to buy lots of those things from them this summer, to make up for all the gas we won't be buying.

I like our local mass transit system pretty well, too, but I don't use it much. Unless we're going to be downtown all day, it's more expensive to take the bus or train than it is to pay for the gas and parking. Add to that the extra time it takes, and the hassle if you miss the bus, and it's hard to get motivated to pay $6-$9 for a round trip bus ride.

Until now.

No, I'm not talking about going car-free, though I applaud those who are. That'd be too drastic for us, and for our extended family who rely on us for the occasional ride. I'm just talking about putting the cars in their proper place for the summer: in the driveway, ready for when we need them.

With oil companies responding to global warming and international conflict by raising their prices to outrageous new heights, it's not just about saving a dollar here and a dollar there. It's teaching my kids that you don't have to be dependent on a car in order to get from point A to point B. Giving them the gift of confidence that mass transit and their bikes can get them where they want to go--that'll save more money in gas during their early adolescence than I'll ever pay in bus fares now.

It's about investing my money in something I can feel good about instead of something that gives me a sick feeling at the pit of my stomach.

I'm not setting myself an ultimatum or a specific goal. I put gas in the wagon on June 12, and in the van a little before that. How long can I go without giving the oil dudes another payment? It's as simple as that.

Giveaway sponsored by Hachette Book Group and open to U.S. and Canada residents who can provide a street mailing address.


  1. We had petroleum price hiked last week. God! we have also been thinking about cutting down on our car/bike usage :)
    You hae done a good job by getting a new car with better mileage :)
    Please do not enter me :)

  2. Much as I don't want to pay exhorbitant prices for gasoline, Steiner is right. Whenever prices start to skyrocket, we all scramble to try to find ways to cut back on gas consumption. After the gas crises in the mid-1970's, when solar power, electric cars, and higher-mileage vehicles first really made an impression, prices went down and research and development for all of those things almost disappeared entirely. Just think where we'd be now if prices had never come down!

  3. I would love to be included in your giveaway.

  4. Don't include me in the drawing, but I do want to answer your questions :).

    My hubby is self-employed and two of his accounts are located approx 350-400 miles away, and he visits each of those accounts once a month -- not during the same visit each month -- so he's doing an 800-mile roundtrip twice a month. So, regardless of gas prices, he's driving easily 1600+ business miles a month. That hurt our checkbook pretty good when gas prices were $3.00 and up per gallon. It doesn't feel especially great at current gas prices, but it's all relative, ya know?!! (Oh, we've tried, in the past, having him combine those two trips into one trip, but it equates to him being gone two weeks at a stretch, and, for us, it's not worth the gas savings for him to be gone away from home so long each trip.) He did trade in his pickup several years ago in exchange for a Toyota Corolla, which gets fantastic gas mileage on the highway.

    On the flip side, since we homeschool, kiddo and I can combine all our errands into one trip during the week, and those are all located within a 10 mile radius of our home, so minimal driving is involved. The kids he spends most of his time with are within a minute's drive from us, so personally we just do not do much driving. I fill up my 10+ year-old car every couple months.

    I don't foresee us bicycling in the near future -- it's too stinkin' dangerous to do that around here. We're in pickup and SUV country, and being in a small family car can be plenty intimidating at times -- being on a bike, on streets that are not bike-friendly and don't have sidewalks, surrounded by drivers who, as a whole, are not watching out for bicyclers . . . I'm not ready to risk my, or my child's, life to save a little gas just yet!! If we could get to our usual haunts by bicycle without fear of heatstroke in the summer or being ran over by vehicles year-round, I'd definitely give bicycling strong consideration!

  5. Lit and Life, I agree completely. Having cheap fuel is nice, but at what cost?

    Glenda, I probably wouldn't bike much where you are, either. But if you're only filling up once every couple of months you're doing better than I am even with biking and having good public transportation available. Though we rarely drive more than 10 miles at a stretch either, our combined activities definitely lead us to spend more than one day per week using the car!

  6. I have totally cut back on my car trips since the price of gas went up. It's gone back down again, but I've just gotten out of the habit of running around so much. I live in a town that is rather spread out -- in in the north, and all the "stuff" (stores & restaurants) is mainly in the west. Still, I don't miss fighting all the traffic to get to it. I'm not only saving gas, my wallet is also getting a break!

    lahlstedt (at) gmail (dot) com

  7. The tragedy of this eventual reality is that if we'd kept gas prices high since the late 1970's, (like the Europeans), we would not have invested quite so many trillions in all the wrong infrastructure: exurbia, interstates, airports, etc. We also would have less of a problem with global warming and fewer oil wars. Better late than never, if it's not too late.

  8. I would love to read this. This is something that really concerns me.

  9. I have definitely cut down on gas use. I try to drive less, bike more, and take public transportation when it's possible. This affects everyone on a much deeper level than the general public realizes.

  10. Fortunately, I take a bus to my classes, so gas prices don't concern me too much right now. But I know once I get out of grad school and may have to drive further to work, it's going to be more a problem.

    I'd really like to read this book!

  11. It is really interesting to see everyone's comments. We don't have a car so it is all public transportation for us which helped a lot last summer. What did hurt was the rise in food and other goods from transportation costs. We cut down on eating out and unnecessary expenses to cope. Please enter me. janemarieprice [at] gmail [dot] com

  12. For me personally, I am not a fan of running errrands anyway - but when I do I pretty much circle the town - get it all done at once and no back tracking. I usually only make one trip to town a day - but on days I am not working outside our home office (like today) I may not go at all.

    On the flip side of that, we own an Excavating Company and all of our equipment and to run the trucks and get to the job sites takes a lot of pass and it is a monthly bill that would make you sick if you seen our fat gas station account bill.

    journey through books @ gmail dot com

  13. I unfortunately no longer live in a very pedestrian friendly area or one with very good public transit. We have to drive to get places. I could conceivably take public transit to work, but it would take about twice as long, and it is already a fairly long commute. In order to do my part to conserve gas I've been changing my driving habits (going just a TINY bit slower than everyone else, so I am not accelerating and deccelerating, and using my cruise control for starters) and have been strategizing and grouping errands in such a way that I drive as little as possible. I'd really enjoy reading this, I think.

  14. Hi - It is amazing how easily you can (re)organise your life to reduce trips, reduce the number of cars etc. We had one car for many years when we had two kids and we both worked - we just just had to plan ahead to see who was doing what where and how we were going to make it happen. And it worked for us!

  15. Sign me up for the giveaway too.

  16. What a great promotion. Count me in!


  17. Best reason I have for riding my bicycle to work.


    sunangelgalaxy AT msn dot com

  18. This would be an informative book to read. Please enter my name. Thanks.
    wandanamgreb (at) gmail (dot) com

  19. Here is the problem where I live: There are no sidewalks. There are few buses and none that go to where I live or where I work. There are not enough people in this city to get mass transit. Houses are no where near stores or businesses. It's practically segregated.

    The only way to get anywhere is by car. And I hate it.

    Even when I lived in Charlotte there were issues. There were buses but the schedules only accommodated those going downtown and back. The only railway built so far runs along one street (a long street, but unless you live or work along it, it does no good and you can drive the length in 15 minutes). There were more sidewalks, though, which I liked.

    I don't like where I am living now and do not intend to stay forever. I'd much rather live where I did not have to depend on a car, but for now, it's all I can do. And with the minimum wage I get paid at my part-time job, gasoline getting more expensive will be a huge problem.

    I'd love to read this book and discover what he has to say on the issue. Thanks for the giveaway, Ali.