Unpacking the Shopping Trips

Earlier this week I posted our September food budget and alluded to an analysis of transportation costs, “tomorrow” meaning something more like “as soon as I can sit down to make it happen” than its usual, literal connotation. I’ve got an hour until I need to leave to (finally!) go shopping for the week, so this is the time.

In September, we made four visits to WinCo, spending an average of $75 per visit. The round-trip distance is 16 miles; let’s assume, for clarity’s sake, that I made all the trips by car. We’ve been getting 16 miles per gallon in The Little Red Pig Wagon, so that’s easy: $3 per trip. NEXT!

Not so fast. Operating a car is more than just buying gas. There are other costs associated with vehicle ownership: registration and title fees; maintenance; insurance and, in some areas, personal property tax; repairs; and, for many people, the car payment itself. The IRS uses a figure of 50 cents per mile for business travel deduction; is that reasonable for us as well? Let’s have a look.

Based on my recent driving, we are on the low end of car use: 400 miles in the last month, for an annual total of 4,800 miles. But what I’m after is the cost per mile for this vehicle, so here are the numbers, rounded up slightly for convenience:

Gas:           .19 ($3 per gallon/16 miles per gallon)
Title/reg: .02 ($120/4800 miles)
Maint:       .01 ($20 oil change/3000 miles)
Insurance .12  ($50 per month/400 miles)
Repair:      .10 ($500 per year/4800 miles)
Total:    .44 per mile

The IRS number seems plausible, trading higher fuel mileage for a car payment, but I’ll work with my actual cost of 44 cents per mile. That 16-mile round trip really costs $7.04, doesn’t it? It’s a good thing I’m stocking up while I’m out there. As it happens, I could make the trip by bicycle. I have a good, used road bike and a sturdy trailer; I could probably make the trip in just under an hour; so, that would be $3.52 per hour back in my pocket for getting exercise and keeping 20 lbs. of CO2 out of the atmosphere. I’ll have to try that when I have the time, which is sadly not today.

The trips to Safeway are not so easy to decipher. We made 11 visits there last month, averaging $16 per visit. I’ll often stop there while I’m out doing other things, so I don’t often make a straight round-trip from here to there. If I did, it would cost…3 x 0.44 = $1.32. Eleven such trips would run $14.52 for a month; that’s enough to notice, isn’t it?

There’s more to this story, of course, but I’ve got to go, so I’ll pick it up again another time. Have a good weekend!

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About poorlocavore

Welcome to one family's journey towards a smaller food-mile footprint on a small food budget. How do our choices affect the environment, and what influences our choices? Read on and find out what I'm learning.
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2 Responses to Unpacking the Shopping Trips

  1. Paul says:

    I saw mention of your blog over at the Simple Living forums. We’ve been biking our groceries since we sold our car six and a half years ago. We became carfree largely to set a good example for our children and to live the life we professed to believe in.

    I’ll look in on your blog. I’m making another push to get our food budget down, but the cost of local organic food is always a difficult point. For our family of four, I’d like to keep it down to around $500 a month. Normally, we spend between $600 to $800. I’m a beekeeper, and I sell honey at the farmer’s market, so when there’s a good honey flow on, I can trade honey for other local foods. But since I operate my beekeeping business by bicycle, I’m small-scale, so I don’t have much to work with.

    I’ve caved in this month and have gone back to buying whatever is least expensive, but that goes against my values to a certain degree.

    • poorlocavore says:

      Hi Paul,
      Nice to have you here! Carfree is a place we dream of, but can’t get to right now. I could definitely bike the groceries within the limits of where we shop right now, and there’s a great MUP between here and there. Although sometimes Dear Wife and I make a “Date” of it, and the time I have to bike it is during the day when everyone’s gone, so…

      The cost of local/organic is indeed one of the tricky areas. Hopefully I can find a way.

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