travel is historically cheap, but you can still save on it

car dashEveryone complains about the price of gas.  It used to be cheaper, back when a nickel would buy you a moon pie and soda pop, with enough change to spare for a comic, right?  The only thing is, travel costs you less today than just about any other time in history.  In terms of fuel efficiency, you pay less to travel by automobile today than you would were this 1960, and you were rolling around in a Bel Air and blasting some Chubby Checker.  Yes, the nominal price of gas has increased, but that is to be expected.  Here’s what I mean; travel is historically cheap.

The average fuel efficiency of a U.S. auto in 1960 was 13.4 miles per gallon.  With an average price of $0.31 per gallon, this means each mile traveled in 1960 cost an average of $0.023, in 1960s dollars, of course.  In 2014, that $0.31 would have the same purchasing power as $2.45.  So, adjusted for inflation, each mile traveled in 1960 cost about $0.18 in today’s dollars.

Today’s cost?  The average mpg for a new vehicle in 2013 was 23 mpg.  Gas averaged $3.49/gallon.  So, Americans paid about $0.15 to travel each mile, on average, in 2013.  Not only did the cost of travel decrease, but the quality of vehicles increased substantially (although I’m sure you can debate this with some “Gas is more expensive and they don’t make ‘em like they used to” kind of guy in your neighborhood).  I don’t mean that vehicles are more stylish, but the travel is smoother, you have satellite radio, rear-view cameras, seat belts, touchscreen consoles, heated seats, automatic everything, key fobs, and the like.  This is why it can be frustrating to hear individuals lamenting the cost of gas when compared to days gone by.  Not only is travel actually cheaper, but the quality of the transportation has increased dramatically.

But, the real heart of the matter is that transportation costs are something that you can control.  YOU can decide how much you want or choose to spend on travel.  It’s not something you have to spend money on.  You can walk or bike to work, or save money by taking public transportation.  You can combine trips around town.  Simply put, you can choose to drive less.  But, I’m sure for you, like it is for me, this isn’t always feasible.  I know I’m sure as hell not going to bike to work when it’s 20 degrees out, or wait for the bus and make 3 transfers just to avoid driving.  Come on now.  Maybe in the summertime I’ll bike to work.  But this winter?  Get real.  So, if you and I aren’t able to completely stop driving, we might as well save money on it.  Here are 4 realistic tips on how to do so (from the Government, no less).

  1. Drive Slower.  “Each 5 MPH over 60MPH you drive can reduce your fuel economy by 7%.”  It’s like those people who blow through barely yellow and pretty much red lights at the last minute.  Are you really in that much of a hurry?  If it isn’t a medical emergency or something like that, budget your time better.
  2. “Aggressive driving (aka “very cool, dickhead”) can lower your gas mileage by as much as 33% at highway speeds and 5% around town.”  I’ve never understood why people speed from stoplight to stoplight, or zig in and out of traffic on the highway.  What’s the point?
  3. Clean your car out.  Each 100 lbs. you drive around with can reduce your fuel efficiency anywhere from 1-2%.  This one just makes sense, although I don’t know if you actually can clear out 100 lbs.  But if that increases your efficiency by 2%, I’m sure you could find 50 lbs in your trunk and backseat that you don’t need to be driving around with.
  4. “Keeping tires inflated to the recommended pressure and using the recommended grade of motor oil can improve fuel economy by up to 5%.”  If you’re like me, you don’t change your own oil.  So, I guess just make sure they use the right kind?  But you can definitely check your tire pressure each time you stop at the gas station (which will hopefully be less now).  Or, you can pick up a tire pressure gauge for $1 at a dollar store.

If you really wanted to be a hardcore badass, you could downsize your vehicle, get a Vespa, or live with only one car.  You can also make sure to shop around for car insurance, avoid accidents, and hang onto a car for more than 5-7 years.  Even though travel is historically cheap, gas should be no more than 6-7% of your budget.  Anymore than that, and you’re choosing to spend way too much of your money on it.

Do you think gas is cheap?  How do you save money on transportation costs?



  1. Interesting history lesson! Gas isn’t the cheapest where I live (I believe it’s at least fifty cents cheaper where my parents live), but I’ve been filling up once a month since living so close to work. I would like to bike to work when it gets warmer out. My boyfriend gets horrible gas mileage, mostly because he loves to speed.
    E.M. recently posted…February Budget ReviewMy Profile

    • We’ve got some decently cheap prices here in Tennessee. My wife drives further to work than I do, and her car is our weekend driver, so she fills up about twice as much as me (so once a week). I used to be a speeder too, until I got my Jeep, which doesn’t have ABS. That will make you slow down in a hurry (pun intended).

  2. Hah, I had no idea we were actually paying less these days. Thank goodness for my fuel efficient Toyota. She’s been dragged across the country half a dozen times and stood up to some really insane conditions. I wish I’d read a few of your other tips back when I was driving her constantly.
    Mel @ brokeGIRLrich recently posted…A Day in the Life of a Cruise Ship Stage ManagerMy Profile

  3. My husband has a Prius, which really helps when we take cross-country trips. It’s especially favorable to drive the Prius when all four of us are going somewhere since flights for four can be astronomically expensive.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted…Should All Moms be Stay-at-Home Moms?My Profile

    • My folks have a Prius, which they love… although I’m sure I’m one of only a handful of people to ever run out of gas in one. But driving can really save a lot of money when you can cram your whole family into the car. I have semi-fond memories of family road trips from my youth. I think it’s something every kid should experience/suffer through.

  4. Interesting point…I never thought of the cost of gas in those terms. Unfortunately, I do have to drive a long distance to go to work. I might get a Prius as my next car as I can save on gas and I can take the HOV lane to commute to and from work.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Are We Overworked?My Profile

    • My wife has about a 30 mile round trip commute daily, so I really can’t tell her to take the bus. Best I can do is tell her to save money by driving more carefully. But I’m with you on the Prius. Her Volvo gets about 25 highway, and I can’t imagine getting twice that.

  5. Ha! “I’m sure you could find 50 lbs in your trunk and backseat that you don’t need to be driving around with.” – My answer to this is my son, as I much as he drives me nuts when he literally asks “Are we there yet?” I am not sure that he is weight I am legally allowed to remove. :-)
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted…Music Mondays – Girls Just Want to Have FunMy Profile

  6. Cars are much more efficient today than they have ever been. People need to understand that as a percentage of income this is the cheapest it will ever be. recently posted…Stop Using Your Emergency Fund As A CrutchMy Profile

    • Right on Charles. I can see it being less once electric vehicles have been perfected, mass produced, and “affordable” for the general public, but as long as people care more about what their car looks like or what it can haul (like they ever really haul), they’re going to be complaining about the cost of gas.

  7. I laughed at loud at your “aggressive driving” explanation. Very interesting that it costs so much!! I’ve been driving like a grandma lately because of the pregnancy haha.
    Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) recently posted…Don’t Be Scuured: Checking Your Credit ScoreMy Profile

  8. We have pretty good gas prices in NJ around $3.30 right now. It was close to $3 not too long ago. I save on gas by combining trips around town.
    Raquel@Practical Cents recently posted…2014 Goals: Progress ReportMy Profile

  9. Aw, you Americans. You have no right to complain. We’re paying $2.10 a litre down here.
    NZ Muse recently posted…Women’s Money Week: Kids. Who’d have ‘em?My Profile

  10. Interesting to get the perspective of history on this, especially since I was griping about paying $3.75 a gallon today to fill up. My car is 8 years old, but I’ll shoot for getting one with better gas mileage next time. I’m going to make sure my husband reads the point about aggressive driving . :)
    Kay recently posted…What Are Investment Fees Really Costing You?My Profile

  11. Number 2 is a pet peeve of mine, it just amazes that SO many people just race to the red light that they can see, or race ahead when they clearly see a bunch of brake lights coming to a stop up ahead. Are people in that much of a hurry? Or have that bad of depth perception/speed judgement? Both cases make me worry. You might save about 1-2 minutes by weaving in and out of traffic, and you certainly aren’t saving time when you race me to that red light. Is it really worth your safety and your stress to drive like that?!

    I always follow tips 3 & 4, though there isn’t much to clean out in my car. I can’t deal with cars that look like you live in them haha. Tip #1 is unfortunately impossible near me on the highway, you have to be doing at least 65mph even in the right hand land on the highway or it becomes dangerous.

    Cool little fact on the cost of travel actually coming out to be cheaper. But of course gas prices are always can always go lower for me!
    Debt Hater recently posted…Oklahoma Makes Personal Finance MandatoryMy Profile

  12. Sending 1, 2 and 3 to my boyfriend who drives way too fast and aggressively. He also used to have his car’s trunk packed with stuff (which made me crazy). Thankfully after our old car flooded during hurricane Sandy he stopped using the car as a storage unit.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted…I love my job. Do you love yours?My Profile

  13. I used to take the bus to work everyday and this saved me a ton in gas money as well as wear and tear on the car. My new job is in the suburbs and I don’t have a public transportation option so I put about 30 miles on my car everyday. Adds up!
    Liz recently posted…February {In Review}My Profile

    • I know what you mean. I used to be able to take the El when I lived in Chicago, but since we live in the Suburbs of Nashville now, my wife and I drive a combined 35 miles everyday to and from work. Like you said, it really adds up, so if we can save 10% or 20% by changing our driving habits, it’s totally worth it.

  14. Some good little tips here. I just sold my car and will certainly be downsizing to something that is a lot more fuel efficient (though I will still occasionally drive like a “very cool” guy).

    A lot of people also don’t realise that high-octane fuels such as 98 are typically more efficient from a cost perspective that those that contain ethanol. They also don’t harm engines that weren’t build for ethanol usage.
    Mr Ikonz @ Project Ikonz recently posted…Retirement financial advice – don’t ask your mateMy Profile

    • That’s a good point- to be honest, I never thought much about higher octanes and fuel efficiency. It would be interesting to see the different mpg for the different octanes, but it almost seems like the variables would be too hard to control. It would have to increase the mpg by a lot though to be worth the extra $1 or so per gallon. And no worries, I’m still working not driving like a “chill bro.”

  15. I bike or bus everywhere so I don’t have much to contribute to this conversation :)
    Dear Debt recently posted…6 Unexpected Benefits of Side HustlingMy Profile

  16. “Maybe in the summertime I’ll bike to work. But this winter? Get real.” –This made me laugh! It has been ridiculous up here in the Northeast this winter, so biking anywhere has been out of the question. My dream is to settle down somewhere that we won’t need a car, and can just bike or walk everywhere. That’s how it was when we lived in Alaska- the town was 1 mile long and 1/2 a mile wide. No car necessary!
    Lauren recently posted…The Story of My Student Loan DebtMy Profile

  17. My dad drove the same Camry for 14 years and ran it to the ground. He’s FINALLY retiring it after putting 451,000 miles on the darn thing. I’m surprised it still runs :-)
    So I’m absolutely for driving your car longer!
    My husband all has this thing he calls “the sweet spot” – its when his car tells him his mileage per gallon depending on how fast he’s driving. When there’s no one on the road, he literally goes at a turtle’s pace to get 60miles to the gallon. I always make fun of him for it, but darn it, I appreciate the men in my life who live this fuel efficiency and car-efficiency on the daily! Great post, per usual :-)
    Anneli @thefrugalweds recently posted…20-Minute Dinners: Spicy Penne with Broccoli Rabe & Caramelized LeeksMy Profile

    • Your dad sounds like a smart man… and total baller. I only hope our car will run for that long. I’m going to hold onto it until the wheels fall off. And the sweet spot? Ha! That’s an awesome term! I’m guessing your husband drives a Prius (or something similar)? The best we get in our Volvo is about 28 mpg highway, and I don’t even want to talk about the Jeep. Thankfully I only put about 5000 miles per year on it. But who said saving money isn’t sexy?

  18. I get very aggressive when I drive, terrible for the car and gas mileage, I know. Someday when I move to suburbia and those expenses become regular for me, perhaps I’ll learn to change my behavior ;)
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted…Pets Without the Price TagMy Profile

  19. I love travelling and I try to do it as often as possible and as often as my budget permits. Love these great tips on travelling for cheap.
    Tahnya Kristina recently posted…Embrace your debt says Eric of Narrow Bridge FinanceMy Profile

  20. Good to know that the cost of travel has actually decreased! :)
    Stephanie@Mrs.Debtfighter recently posted…What I Learned in FebruaryMy Profile

  21. Gas is definitely cheap in the states. We pay a lot more for the same gas than you guys do. Many Canadians that live near borders go across to the US to fill up. Gas is is a decent part of my budget but it’s cheap when you keep inflation in mind.
    Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter recently posted…Can You Afford a Pet?My Profile

  22. I’m lucky that I don’t have to drive a whole lot. I live a mile from work in sunny California, so I’m able to bike 3 days or more a week. We also downsized to one car many years ago because we literally weren’t using our second one. I feel that we’ve really been able to save on transportation. However, we’ve been talking about getting a scooter for short, local trips when a bike just isn’t quite enough.
    Little House recently posted…Second Quarter GoalsMy Profile

  23. Great list! I too have never understood those people that zoom in and out of traffic… or my personal favorite, the guys that speed up by you, only they can see that there is a car in front of them that they won’t get past, so they then just have to slam on the brakes!
    Jon @ Our Fine Adventure recently posted…Cost for Trip to OhioMy Profile


  1. […] Impersonal Finance – Travel is historically cheap, but you can still save on it […]

  2. […] discussed how road travel is historically cheap.  All of those tips are not just good for your daily driving, but will help you save money on road […]

  3. […] driving like an ass-hat.  I’ve talked about this before here.  “Each 5 MPH over 60MPH you drive can reduce your fuel economy by 7%.”  Wake up 5 minutes […]

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