{July 2, 2011}   Road Trip on a Budget

Today I drove to Chicago with some friends of mine for the 4th of July weekend. As always, my travels are always that much sweeter when I can save some money. So here is how I tried to find savings along the way.

First, I like to get an oil change before I go on road trips. I also was due for some new front brakes. I keep track of all my scheduled maintenance pretty diligently so I knew that this expense was coming. So I started looking for deals a couple weeks in advance. A local shop had a brake special for $99, plus you got a discount on your oil change. Thus, I had them done together. A procedure that was quoted at almost $600 at a major retail repair shop came in at a little less than $300. Plus, the oil change included an inspection which gave me peace of my as I hit the road. The trick is to do your research and know a least a little about what they plan to do to your car before you go in. This is especially important as a woman. Too many car repair shops still try to get over on you as a female.

For instance, the major retailer tried to explain their price by saying I needed new brakes and pads. For the purposes of replacing these items it’s all the same. They try to make it seem as if they are doing more to justify their extremely marked up prices. Most car repair shops mark up parts at the very least by 200%. I’m blessed to have a brother-in-law who used to be a mechanic so I can run my car concerns by him before making a decision. If you are not as fortunate you can get estimates at This is a free resource. The nice thing about is that the estimates are customized to your area. They also break down the price of any maintenance or repair by parts and labor as well as the estimated total. That way when you call around for quotes you can get an idea of whether the mechanic is giving you a fair price. The drawback is that they give estimate ranges and sometimes I think they are little too broad. This can lead individuals to believe that a price though high is still fair because it falls within Repair Pal’s price range. In general I tend to find that the average price is closer to the lower end of the price ranges that have been quoted on the site, but it does give me an idea of the type of numbers I should be hearing from mechanics.

Next, of course I needed gas. I saved my grocery store fuel perks for just this moment. Gas stations raise prices right before a holiday weekend. In my area it went up thirty cents overnight. I tend to only fill up on Tuesdays and Wednesdays anyways. In my area gas prices rise on Sunday through Monday evening because people typically fill up on Sunday evening in preparation for the work week. The prices drop Tuesday through Wednesday, sometimes Thursday afternoons, and then rise again before the start of the weekend. Thus, for this trip, I filled up a couple days early with my fuel points. Then when I got ready to leave Friday I just needed to top off. When I topped off my gas tank I only spent $10 at 3.65 a gallon, plus I went to a station where I have a loyalty card so I automatically receive .03 off each gallon.

After being on the road for awhile my friends and I stopped to eat. We found a local restaurant by referring to a food channel website and finding one of their recommended restaurants that was inexpensive. When I travel I like to get the feel for the area, so I try not eat or shop at chain retailers. The Internet and smart phones make it extremely easy to find unique local spots. We had a delicious sit down meal at well reviewed restaurant for an average of $10 a meal and all of us had food leftover. Plus, we had a neat experience at a local treasure.

Afterwards we stopped for coffee. This is the only thing I typically insist on a chain restaurant. I’m originally from Seattle so I bleed the green and white of Starbucks, but as much as I love them I still love discounts. Thus, I have a loyalty card which allows me to receive free soy and flavoring on my drinks. This doesn’t really help you if you are a straight black coffee type of person, but you can get free refills with their gold card. If you are traveling keep your receipt, most Starbucks will honor your free refills even though you didn’t buy the coffee there. Also, many Starbucks give you a discount if you have your drink made in a reusable mug. If you are like me and you know you will stop at a Starbucks at least once while on the road be prepared with a mug. If you stop for coffee more than once ask the barrista to wash out your mug before refilling it. I’ve never been told no. The trick to a prepaid loyalty card is to always put the bare minimum on the card. See they want you to put more than you would use in one trip so that you have to keep coming back. I put the minimum because I receive all of my discounts even of the amount on my card doesn’t cover the full amount of my order. I think the card is worth it for me because I like complicated drinks. It’s not uncommon for me to save $1.50 off of my drink because so many of my extras are free.

Finally, an additional way to save some money is to carpool with friends. See I was planning on traveling to Chicago anyways when some of my friends asked if they could ride along. They helped with gas, which saved me money on a trip I was taking anyways. Plus, they are going back to our hometown sooner than I am, so they bought a one-way ticket back on a party bus. A party bus is simply a bus system that connects several major cities in a certain region. They are cheaper than a normal commercial bus because they offer fewer locations and departure times. They are, of course, much cheaper than a plane. So overall, we all saved money because even when they helped with gas it was cheaper than a round trip on the bus or anyone of us driving by ourselves. Win – win for everyone.

This is just day one of the weekend. Let’s see what deals tomorrow brings.


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