You might think that carpooling to work isn't for you. But when gas prices reach record levels or when you're looking for other ways to pad your online savings account, finding ways to significantly cut your costs of daily commuting can save you a considerable amount of money. It's also great for the environment and saves you the everyday frustration of driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Carpooling, also known as ride-sharing or car-sharing, means that a group of people share one vehicle to get to work. In a typical arrangement, each member of the carpool group takes a turn driving the others on designated days. The more people in your carpool group, the more money you'll save.
If you and a coworker take turns driving the other to work each week, you've cut your gas expense for driving to work in half. You also lessen the wear and tear on your vehicle, and you can save on parking costs. You also might be able to shorten your commute time if your city has High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, which can't be used by those driving solo.
If you are in a carpool group of four people, you potentially could reduce your commuting expenses by 75 percent. In other words, if you are spending $160 per month just to get to work each day, commuting could put an extra $120 in your savings account, giving you an annual savings of almost $1,500. Struggling to start an emergency fund? That $1,500 is a nice start.
Ready to give carpooling a chance? Here's what you need to know:
Finding carpool partners
One of the advantages to carpooling is getting to socialize and network on your way in to the office.
To find a person (or three) with whom to share a ride, start with your coworkers. This is an obvious one because you're commuting to the same place every day! Many companies have a bulletin board, either in a staff room or on an Intranet site, where you can post your interest in finding carpool buddies that live near you.
Another option is to check with your neighbors, since you're starting from the same neighborhood. If you work in a business park, for example, it's possible that your neighbor down the street might work at the building next door. You can put up a query at your local community center or bring it up at the homeowner's meeting.
If all else fails, try the Internet. Do a search for carpools in your city, and see what pops up. Use common sense when contacting strangers, let alone sharing a vehicle with one.
Setting up the carpool
Once you have a partner or group, decide together on the schedule. Will you switch drivers daily or weekly? Will you carpool every day? If you think you will need your car to run errands during lunch, maybe you'll want to carpool only three or four days a week. Or perhaps you can schedule your errands for the days you'll be the driver.
Determine what time you'll meet, and whether you'll pick a central location or whether each rider will be picked up. This will mostly depend on geography and whether you have a place to park vehicles if meeting up somewhere.
Also, if one or more people in the group won't be driving, you'll need to determine how to compensate the drivers. You can pay the driver by the mile (calculate the total operational cost per mile, multiply by the number of miles in an average trip, and divide by number of people carpooling).
How to save even more
Once you've got your carpool running, you can save even more if you minimize your fuel costs. You can do this by adjusting your driving habits, brown-bagging your lunch and tracking down the cheapest gas.
According to GasBuddy.com, a site that helps users find the lowest gas prices, certain areas such as distant suburbs or less-affluent parts of town tend to have cheaper gas prices.
In affluent areas, gas station owners know that the people who live there are less sensitive to price. The stations themselves also are on higher-value land with higher taxes, a cost that gets passed to consumers.
Try not to gas up right near major highway exits, which tend to be pricier than stations located just a few blocks from the freeway.
Finally, look at prices at wholesale clubs and grocery stores, which sometimes sell gas at cost or even at a loss to attract customers into the store. Often you can get a gas credit for purchases made in the store. Some might require you to purchase a membership, which of course plays into the overall cost of the gas.
Between sharing a ride and seeking out the lowest prices, you can enjoy a considerable drop in your commuting expenses and keep more cash in your checking account. It's a great way to save money all year long.