Watch my frugal friends wince. I drive a truck. I drive a good old ‘Merican pickup truck with a cap on the back, 4WD, and a tow kit. Surprise. It turns out to be quite frugal. Not as frugal as my friends who bicycle almost everywhere, but I can confidently state that my fuel mileage is better than most Americans. My truck’s fuel mileage isn’t very good. But mine is. Frugal can mean many things. Seemingly unfrugal choices can still fit into a frugal lifestyle.
My truck is a 2000 Chevy Silverado. My Dad passed it along to me. Before that I had Jeep (not Grand) Cherokees since 1987. Drive them right and I’d get 28 mpg. (Set it into 4WD on some particularly gnarly roads to trailheads and watch the instantaneous fuel mileage drop to 1 mpg. That was a bit spooky when I had less than a quarter tank left and miles of ruts and gravel to travel. See my hiking books for more stories.) The Silverado weighs more, is larger, is equipped for a contractor, and unsurprisingly gets much worse mileage. Unfortunately, I’ve been so busy that I hadn’t taken the time to work through the exact numbers – until now.
Let’s skip the suspense and dive into useful data.
After looking at a year of data, I now know that the truck gets 15.6 mpg. I suspect that’s more like 18 mpg on the highway, but that’s not much consolation. Flip that number into something more useful for frugal folk and it works out to $0.18 per mile. The local theater is ten miles away, so going out to a movie costs $3.60. Good thing the local theater only charges $7 for the movie and $1 for the small popcorn. It’s good to live in a small town. Beware of spoilers from your friends in the big city. The cost of gas is one reason I turn down lunches. “Meet me for lunch. I’ll pay.” Sounds great, but I’m still trying to pay previous taxes, haven’t found enough to save for this year’s taxes, and know I can make lunch at home for less than the cost of gas. Even the time spent in travel costs because it isn’t billable, as even the least profitable of my jobs are.
Sounds like a good reason to ride the bicycle, which I do whenever I have the time, don’t have to also carry my computer, and can arrive a bit perspired. (Looking forward to a coworks where I can store a computer and a change of clothes. It could happen, again.)
With those numbers and that situation, it doesn’t look good for the truck.
The truck isn’t very frugal (though it is very useful.)
Let’s take those same numbers and look at them a different way.
Miles driven in a year = 3,922. Gallons of gas burned and turned into work, heat, and pollution = 289. Total cost of fuel in a year = $783.
Miles driven per month = 327. I know people who drive that in two or three days.
Gallons of gas per month = 24. That’s less that one tankful, but then, this truck has a big tank. At least I only have to go to the pump about once per month.
Cost per month = $64. That’s still about $2 per day, but that’s less than some people spend on one meal.
I’m more frugal than the truck.
I’m not trying to fly a banner, sound the trumpets, or build a pedestal. I have several friends who ride farther and get much more done on their bicycles, have to remember to trickle charge their hybrids because they’re driven so rarely, and have mastered mass transit. They’re the ones that deserve the accolades.
My fuel costs are low without being extreme. I don’t drive much, but I wouldn’t drive much more if my finances were much better, except for more frequent trips into the mountains. My situation has encouraged greater frugality, but I present it here as an example of another approach to frugality. I doubt that I could trade the truck for something more reliable and just as capable, even another truck. The truck isn’t the issue. How the truck is used, is.
Frugality isn’t about using less. Frugality is about making the best use of the resources available. Make your things fit your lifestyle. Live your life, not the lifestyle of your things.
That’s a generalization, of course. Sorry to dilute the message there, but reality is important. Part of the reason I live the way I do is because of my house, my computers, my clothes, and of course my truck. We aren’t totally independent. It is more important for me to realize that, while my truck isn’t frugal, I can be.