- Tune it up: Simple maintenance—keeping tires properly inflated, using the recommended grade of gasoline, and replacing clogged air filters—can easily increase fuel efficiency by 10 percent or more, according to some fuel-economy sites like www.fueleconomy.gov. A tune-up will likely save you even more in gas: Just fixing a faulty oxygen sensor, for example, could improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent! Now you could buy gallons of eggnog with that kind of savings.
- Slow it down: According to www.fueleconomy.gov, for every five miles per hour you drive over the rate of 60 miles per hour, you're essentially paying almost 25 cents more for each gallon of gas. That's how dramatically gas mileage decreases beyond standard speed limits of 55-60 mph. That's also not factoring in the cost of the speeding tickets you're more likely to get at high speeds. To the same end, aggressive driving—rapid acceleration, fast cornering, and sudden breaking—can lower your gas mileage by as much as a third. To help break yourself of those bad driving habits, try keeping a cup of cold water—filled to the brim—in the cup holder on your dashboard. Your goal is to drive so smoothly that you never spill a drop. (If that doesn't work, pop a Perry Como Christmas album in the CD player. That always calms me down.)
- Rent it: Depending on the condition and fuel efficiency of your family car, you may want to consider renting a car to use for your holiday travels. Most rentals now come with unlimited miles, so if you plan to drive very far in a short period of time, it may pay to leave your car parked at home and pick up a more fuel-efficient rental instead. Also remember to check with your insurance agent, because often, personal auto-insurance policies also cover rental cars.
- Bring it with you: The old-fashioned ice chest has become the fashionable travel accessory of the new economy. When you drive on your holiday travels, it's easy to pack one along and save some big bucks. Also, by shopping carefully for sodas, snack foods, and sandwich-making supplies before leaving home, you can probably save 80 percent of what you'd spend at vending machines and other roadside stops. Plus, the fastest food of all is just an arm's length away in the ice chest.
- Hop aboard a Chinatown bus: Traveling the Eastern Seaboard? Even if you have your own set of wheels, you can't beat the so-called "Chinatown buses." (For info, Google "Chinatown bus"—with the quotation marks around the phrase.) These independently operated bus lines run between the Chinatown areas of major cities, including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The buses are even sprouting up on the West Coast and Midwest. Comfortable with air conditioning, restrooms, and even wireless service, the buses are clean, on time, fast (most are nonstop), fun, and dirt cheap—sometimes as little as $35 round-trip from Washington, D.C., to New York City.
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.