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7 ways to slash commuting costs

Every morning, you take the same route to work. Every day it costs you $10 or more for parking, gas and tolls. And that doesn't even count expenses like insurance and maintenance.

Given the way fuel prices and tolls have risen, maybe it's time to re-evaluate your daily commute.

Changing how you get to your job can create more breathing room in your budget -- from gas savings to insurance reductions to reduced wear on the car.

"After spending $100 one week last summer on gas for my 2000 Nissan Xterra, I plunked down the money for a small used Honda scooter," says Shana Smith of Eugene, Ore.

"My gas bill went from $100 to $2.80 in one week," Smith says. "I find that I only need to fill up the Nissan Xterra about every three weeks. I don't live far from work, and the ride is beautiful. Yipppeeee!"

The used scooter cost Smith $675, and it paid for itself in a few weeks. "I ride about six miles to work one way," she says. "If the weather's crappy, I take the car. I live up in the hills, and it's not worth the risk during inclement weather."

Insurance savings
Gas is merely the beginning. People who use their cars less in their commutes may be able to save on insurance.

"I regularly walk and bike to work and class, and so does my partner," says Maria Stadtmueller of Iowa City, Iowa. "We have a car -- a Honda Civic -- but are able to get lower car insurance because we keep our mileage low. We also save wear and tear on the car and gas dollars.

"Then there's the price we all pay for oil drilling, pollution and global warming, not to mention that if I didn't get the exercise I'd have to spend money on bigger pants," Stadtmueller says.

Insurance savings are possible, but not guaranteed, says Mike Gould, an independent insurance agent with Advanced Insurance Services Inc., of North Liberty, Iowa.

Driving your car less may or may not result in a lower rate, says Gould.

"It's really a regional issue," Gould says. "Here in Iowa, the story is that some carriers will have one rate for commuting, one for carpooling and one for pleasure only. The trend is to find other factors besides annual driving distance -- like your credit profile, which is increasingly important."

The policy on annual mileage varies by company, he says, so comparison shopping matters in this case.

"More and more, I'm seeing companies look less at commuting distance and more at prior losses," he says. "With some companies, though, driving fewer miles would mean a lower price."

Consumers can call their current insurers and see what a commuting change will mean in terms of price, he says. Then, Gould suggests, they can have an independent insurance agent plug in a lower-mileage scenario to a variety of companies and see if a better price is available. A lower rate is a possibility, especially in New Jersey and other states with high insurance rates, he says.

Next: "Carpool matching services are ..."
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