Frugal NationFrugal Nation

New gauge: How much is that in gas?

Counting in lattes is passé. Calculating your savings in the gallons of gasoline you can now afford will get you further down the road.

By Donna_Freedman May 15, 2012 5:51AM
Image: Filling fuel tank (© Corbis)The phrase "latte factor" sets my teeth on edge. Its premise is that cutting one fancy brew a week saves you $250 or so per year.

But the assumption is that everyone reading the advice can afford multiple lattes per week, which is why it irks me.

Suppose it were called it the "free gasoline factor"?

Now that I have your attention, let me share a Frugal Cool reader's recent epiphany: He now views all purchases through the filter of "What's that in gas dollars?"


Where you live determines what you pay for fuel, of course. The national average price is about $3.75 a gallon. The reader, who comments as "Jestjack," assumes a cost of $4 per gallon. Thus his recent purchase of $2 cargo shorts from a thrift store equaled half a gallon of gas.

"I will probably wear these about 75 times, maybe more, in the next couple of years working on rentals," he says.

Around the same time, a doughnut shop offered coupons for free iced coffee. Without a coupon he'd have paid $2.


Actually, he wouldn't have. Viewed through the fuel-cost filter, $2 for a cold drink just doesn't sound smart, Jestjack says.

Rethink the way you spend

I'm with him. It's not that you should never be allowed to have a treat. It's that you need to take care of business first.

As fuel prices rise, the extra money has to come from somewhere. Unless your salary is rising too, that means rethinking the way you spend. 

Hence the "free gas for a month" factor: a budgetary tweak here and there and you've bought yourself a few tanks of gas. Maybe more than a few.

Your mileage may vary, as it were, since frugality means different things to different people. But certain measures don't require much effort or pain. For example:

Start slowly. Let's say you pack your lunch three times a week for a savings of $30. Assume you spend $10 of that on sandwich makings. You've given yourself a $1,040 annual raise by "finding" money you used to fritter away.


In gas-dollar terms, that’s 274 gallons of free fuel.

And yes, it is free, because this is money you wouldn't otherwise have. It would have been piddled away on small, forgettable things. Like iced coffee.

Readers: What are some of the relatively simple ways you trim expenses?

More from MSN Money:

May 16, 2012 11:14AM
I use the Winn DIxie Fuel Perks reward card.  $.05 off per $50 spent, plus bonus cents off on featured items.  If the price is right and the item is something I usually buy, I get the featured item.  Right now I have $1.10 off my next 20 gallon purchase.
Jul 20, 2012 9:42PM

Ebay and Craigslist.


It's a bargain hunters dream! It's rare that don't find exactly what I need for pennies on the dollar, and usually beat the sales tax too! I prefer Ebay though, it's much safer. I've never been burned by a bad deal, they do a great job of regulating their business.


Craigslist is not regulated, so be very careful, especially meeting a stranger with money in your pocket.


BTW, I'm 56, and have never in my adult life had to buy a new lawnmower. All my push mower have been freebies that someone threw out that only needed minor repairs. I bought one used hydrostatic rider for $100. I used it for 20 years. 

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.