Present at the pump
Christmas is still two months away, but it looks like I already got my present. Call me practical, but I asked Santa for lower gas prices this year. And he delivered early; since summer ended, fuel has dropped more than a dollar per gallon across most of the U.S.
OK, so I know it won’t last forever. In our country, cars are held way to sacred for that. Yes, demand dropped a bit during the most recent wave of financial freak-outs (as should be expected), but unless we find a substitute for oil stat, prices will work their way back up—especially once the major holiday travel season gets underway.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of the savings while they last. If you commute to work by car, sliding pump prices add up. Say you fill up your 20-gallon tank once a week. Just last month—with gas averaging about $4 a gallon (more in some places, but I’m trying to keep things simple)—you would have paid $80 a week. That’s $320 every month! This week, most gas stations were charging under $3. Do the math and you get a savings of at least $80 a month. That’s like a free tank of gas every fourth week!
It’s small enough to go unnoticed if you let it, but certainly not insignificant. Don’t let those 80 extra bucks burn a hole in your wallet! What you do with it is up to you, but make it count. For example, you can:
Park that money in your savings account. If gas prices hadn’t declined, you would have made do without it anyway, right? It’s like free money—pretend you found it on the street, if that helps. You can leave it here in your savings as emergency funds, or you can make it part of a long-term savings plan, like a retirement account or a (carefully planned) stock market investment. Better yet, use it to start paying down debt. You can contact a DebtStoppers attorney to get started with a free debt analysis. Getting out of debt will put you in a better position to save for the important stuff—like a house, your kids’ college education and retirement—with every paycheck, not just at the mercy of the oil companies.
Spend it…on others
Save yourself some stress this holiday season, and put the extra cash towards Christmas gifts for family and friends. With the economy in a downward spiral, this might not be the year to go all out—but budgeting doesn’t mean giving up style. Know what everyone wants? Scour eBay for the same stuff at discounts you can’t find in stores. If you’re a whiz in the kitchen, do your shopping at the grocery store and hand out batches of homemade cookies or invite the family over for a holiday meal. Are you artsy? Maybe stock up on some craft supplies and go the homemade route. Just because the old adage sounds clichéd, doesn’t mean it’s not true: it really is the thought that counts. This also happens to be a particularly good lesson for the kids.
Yes, by now you know you shouldn’t blow all your money on yourself. But deprivation ruins a savings plan the way it ruins a diet—by piling on too much pressure. You deserve a treat now and then. And if cheaper gas prices mean you can buy your favorite mochas once a week or get that hot new outfit you’ve been eyeing for your work’s holiday party? Then go for it—as long as it doesn’t become a habit. In moderation, splurging relieves stress and helps you stay on track. And that’s enough to put me in the holiday spirit.