Low-Tech Ways to Fight High Fuel Prices


My family's Honda(HMC) Odyssey sucked up $52 in gasoline in a single day, as crude oil prices hit new records this week. The time has certainly come to lower my family's dependency on foreign oil.

I think a few small measures at my home -- and yours -- can go a long way toward reducing our reliance on black gold.

Relax. You don't need to run out and buy a new energy-efficient hybrid vehicle just yet. My most recent contribution to the cause, in fact, was rather low-tech.

I walked my dog.

That's right. Instead of driving a three-mile round trip to buy five pounds of dog food, Riley, my lovable mutt, and I hoofed it to a local pet shop and carried it back home.

Obviously, my family won't get rich from the savings we incur by walking three miles instead of driving. But collectively, as a nation, it seems we could make a significant dent in our gasoline consumption by walking to and from just one errand per week, whether from home, or during the lunch hour while at work.

Yes, I know. It sounds like a hassle.

Walking means an errand may require one hour of your time, instead of 15 minutes. But you may find that modifying your driving habits, even on a limited basis, has innumerable side benefits.

I'm as busy as anyone, but I actually enjoyed jumping off the treadmill of my chaotic work and family existence, just for a short while. I listened to a woodpecker, saw a few ducks and probably burned about 200 calories -- all in addition to shortening my "to do" list. And at the end of the week, my hour-long walk will hardly seem to matter in terms of the time it detracted from whatever else I may accomplish -- or don't.

But making a commitment to consume less gasoline can be challenging if it seems that you're going it alone. When gas prices eclipsed $3 per gallon in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina ravaged offshore oilrigs in the Gulf of Mexico, I was motivated to conserve. The price concerned me, but not as much as the notion of maintaining the country's status quo and depending on energy from a limited resource.

That fall, I hitched a trailer to my bicycle and regularly peddled my then three-year-old daughter to her preschool. I was struck, however, to be among a small crowd of about three other families with the same idea. A nonstop brigade of SUVs rode in and out of the parking lot, reminding me that weaning our country from oil is no easy task. Eventually, I abandoned the cause due to safety concerns.

Moving from New Jersey, the nation's most densely populated state, to a small town in Bucks County, Pa., also reminded me of the artificial needs that increase our driving dependence.

I lived in a retail hotbed for 15 years, where I regularly drove past giants such as Target(TGT), Wal-Mart (WMT) and Home Depot(HD).

In fact, I could choose to shop at one of three Wal-Mart stores in a 15-mile radius. Knowing that stores were always nearby heightened my nagging compulsion to run errands as often as possible. I made a lot of special trips, using my gas, to replenish everything from cleaning supplies to socks for my three kids, just to keep the chores from piling up.

But since my newly adopted town in Washington Crossing, Pa., is devoid of big-box retailers and strip malls, I find myself driving around a whole lot less. I assumed that living further away from shopping would require using more gas.

But surprisingly, the frequency of my shopping trips -- and driving -- dwindled significantly. We don't need too many items that can't wait for the weekend. And if we ultimately decide we'd rather stay home on a Saturday, we just go without.

Driving less, it seems, saves a lot more than gas. You may find, as my family does, that you'll spend less cash overall and exercise a little more.

Who knows? You may also save your sanity.

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