Shelling out money for a pricey necessity like gas sucks. At least with food, there’s always a dirt-cheap alternative. Can’t even afford a measly $1 breakfast taco? No problem – head to HEB and fill your basket with those three-for-a-buck José Olé frozen burritos. (I swear they’re delicious, suspiciously low price be damned.)
But when the needle of your fuel gauge begins its inevitable descent to the big red E, there’s only so low you can go. Remember the halcyon days of pumping mid-grade, patting yourself on the back for promoting the health of your engine? Well, those days are long gone, and, if you’re like me, you’ve decided you’ve gotta start getting the cheap stuff. And cheap stuff doesn’t mean buying miniscule quantities to achieve the mere appearance of affordability. (My neighborhood gas station clerks just love how I pull up daily, sheepishly ask for $3.15 on pump 11, and lay a few crumpled, sweaty bills and grime-encrusted nickels on the counter.) But take heed, citizen: Perhaps you can’t negotiate with OPEC or defy the overarching laws of supply and demand, but there are things you can do.
First, visit AustinGasPrices.com, which catalogs the lowest gas prices in town over the past 48 hours. Regularly contribute your cheap gas sightings and earn points toward free gas giveaways. Desperate penny-pinchers will check historical price charts to determine whether Austin is experiencing cyclical price patterns and fill up at the optimal time of the week or month.
Second, look at how much the suckers in California are paying for gas. You won’t actually save any money, but you’ll feel better.
Then there are the tips that the poverty-stricken know by heart, a few of which are worth repeating. Don’t drive with your windows down (it increases drag, especially on the highway), and don’t overuse the AC. Drive the speed limit, keep your tires inflated, lighten up your truckload, and accelerate and brake more softly. You’ll also want to pump when it’s cool; heat expands gas, decreasing the energy you get per dollar. (Unlike Canada, the US does not require sellers to account for variation in volume caused by temperature.)
Oh yeah, and – this is a no-brainer – don’t drive on MoPac or I-35 during rush hour. I know this is probably a favorite pastime for many of you, but idling in the bumper-to-bumper isn’t good for mileage.
If you can, sever your ties from petroleum altogether with one of Austin’s favorite ways to stay healthy: the bicycle. In the land of Lance Armstrong, there’s plenty of ways to wield the bicycle as a weapon against the specter of $3 gas.
There are a plethora of great bike shops around town staffed with energetic young people who’d be happy to help you find some wheels. Some of Austin’s homier offerings include East Side Pedal Pushers (1100 E 6th, 826-3414), which sells gussied-up used and donated bikes, and The Peddler (119 North Loop, 220-6766), which gives free estimates on bike repair.
But if you really need a bike on the cheap, don’t resort to having an associate pull something tiny, pink, tasseled, and Barbie-emblazoned from the rafters of your local Wal-Mart.
Instead, go to The Yellow Bike Project (2011 E 51st St, 457-9880 and 3101 Guadalupe, 469-9247) – a nonprofit with a mission to put bikes in the hands of those who need them. They have a small selection of used bikes for sale (averaging $80-$100), but if you expend a little elbow grease, their Earn-a-Bike program can help you get one for free. Twelve hours of volunteering is plenty for the überfriendly Project people to help you build your very own ride in one of their workshops. They offer free classes on bike maintenance in addition to their trademark service: fixing up junkyard-destined cycles into simple one-speeders, painting them yellow, and leaving them around for community use.
And to stop thinking like a cheapskate for a moment, spending more time on a bike is good for you and the environment. Just think: saved money, toned thighs, and reduced emissions. AustinBikeRoutes.com will give you customized routes if you need help figuring out the best commute. Or you could send the City of Austin a $2 check for a biking map, but that’s, like, six burritos. Totally not worth it.