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Giving It Up for Gas: Five Ways We’re Cutting Back

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Thanks to the incessantly climbing prices at the gas station, the precarious balance known as my net worth is starting to teeter a little too far in the negative direction. My well-planned and always-justified indulgences may just have to be put on indefinite hold, at least until prices even out or until my pay catches up with the inflation. (Optimism, anyone?)

Turns out, I’m not the only one making sacrifices in the name of the oil gods. A recent study showed that over half of us are feeling the pressure to find other things to give up in the name of gas. Eighty-nine percent of survey takers admitted they’re still driving to work, meaning public transportation or carpooling just isn’t a viable option for many. When simple math tells us that more spending in one area means spending less somewhere else, where is that 89 percent scaling back?

“They’re cutting out the fat,” said Tanya Flynn of in a KCBS interview on the study’s findings, referring to the widespread willingness to forego things like happy hours, movie nights, and fancy restaurants.

At this point, all any of us can do is brush up on our miles per gallon basics and check out what everyone else is giving up to get some money-saving ideas.

Bye-Bye, Restaurants
Meals out are the main area in which people have reported cutting back—35 percent say paying more at the tank means less eating out on the town. Bummer? Sort of. But there are some delicious (and cheap) alternatives to that too-long wait for a table for four. Try an outdoor potluck or grill up a new take on dinner. If it’s ambience you’re after, throw together a picnic, complete with cocktails, corn on the cob, and apple pie.

Farewell, Fancy Markets
My grocery store shock (butter is how much now?) has put me in cutback and coupon-clipping mode. I’m not alone—27 percent of survey-takers are also cutting back on the fancy organics and pre-made gourmet counters.

“I’m not willing to give up on food quality. Period.” says Alexandra James, a junior development executive at a Hollywood-based production company. “Instead, I started really cutting back on the products I buy but don’t use, which was actually a lot.”

Cutting back doesn’t have to mean sacrificing quality … or quantity. Shopping the peripheral aisles of the supermarket can uncover plenty of healthy foods available for less than one dollar per serving, including kale, eggs, and potatoes.

So Long, Shopping and Vacations
Thirty-one percent of respondents reported sacrificing recreation and entertainment. “I always spend way too much money at those big, fancy bookstores on books I end up reading only once,” says Dayna Davis, a public relations assistant from Colorado. “But I’ve forced myself to start going to the library instead, and I’ve ended up saving a lot of money—and avoided piling up more books I don’t need.”

The best thing about entertainment is that we can be entertained sans spending. By using the recession as an opportunity, we can destroy the connection between spending and fun once and for all. Like getting our money’s worth out of cable we’re already paying for, for example. There are loads of free movies and access to episodes of popular shows in most cable packages. Bonding with family, or just having some fun together, doesn’t require going out and buying something. Break out the board games, playing cards, or head to a nearby park with the dogs.

And those lost vacations (sniff) that 21 percent of survery takers opted out of this year? Don’t underestimate the new recession cliché: the Staycation. Take those already-requested days off work anyway and pretend be a tourist in your own city—chances are you’ve never done the things that most people come there to do. Try a local ghost tour, museums (most have free admission days), or browse CitySearch to see what the latest hot spots are.

Hello, Priorities
Make like a dieter and cut the fat. I’ve saved a surprising amount of money just by eliminating a few little indulgences. (Trendy skirts and organic almond butter, I’ll think of you often.) Twenty-four percent of survey-respondents view clothing as an unnecessary expense; for 11 percent it’s extra cable services and magazines and 9 percent have simply opted not to attend events where bringing a gift is necessary. (Hey, no one said this was a guide to being generous.)

For most, kids and family activities have not fallen into the disposable category, at least not so far. Jeff Firestone, a Bay Area photographer, has seen this at the children’s dance school photo shoots he does every year. “Parents are still consistently buying pictures of their kids,” he says. “There hasn’t been less spending on photos this year—making and keeping memories for the family still seems to be high on everyone’s lists.” Try some gas-free day-trips to keep things fun with the fam for summer days and take advantage of free community perks, like pools and the YMCA.

It’s easy to cut back on fancy clothes and overpriced gifts when we look at the bigger picture—what’s a skirt compared to giving the kids (or ourselves) an appreciation for music, art, or baseball? Whether you drive a Prius or a Rover, there’s no shaking the doubled and tripled prices at the pumps, but one thing remains true—creativity is never too expensive.


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