10 Ways to End Boring Errands

Last Updated Mar 24, 2011 7:52 PM EDT

Gas prices are at $3.49 per gallon this week here in Allentown, Pennsylvania. That gives me pause every time I turn the key in the ignition.

But the rising cost of driving is just one motivation for staying out of the car. The environmental cost of my miles is another. And the real reason? I don't like it. Especially when I'm going out for errands, and my destination is some place like Target. Ugh.

I'm trying to declare an end to errands. Transportation experts and environmentalists say "trip-chaining" is the way to go. That means setting up all my stops and doing them in one outing. Sounds great, but have you ever tried to drag a four-year-old with you to the post office, dry cleaner, pharmacy and grocery store? You might be saving the planet, but you'll be too insane by the time you get home to enjoy it.

So my resolution is to cut the number of stops. I made a list of all the places we go in a week. Some I don't mind -- taking myself to the gym these dark mornings or driving my kids to their swimming lessons. Others, like the grocery store, are unavoidable, but I'm trying to shop so I only have to go once per week. But getting to the mall for a last-minute birthday party gift? That has to end.

We live on a hill and don't have public transportation nearby, so my daughter's suggestion that I drag her and her brother to the grocery store in a wagon isn't too feasible. I called the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes energy efficiency. I figured those folks would have some tips for getting me out of my car -- even if they are motivated by preserving the earth and I'm motivated by that ungodly stink that's coming from decomposing apple slices my son slid behind his car seat. They put out an e-mail to their employees, who came back with a bunch of great tips for putting an end to errands. Here we go:


No more post office. Buy a postal scale, calculate your postage at USPS.com, and schedule pick-ups online. Beauty.
Forget dry-clean only. "I don't ever wear clothes that have be drycleaned, because I work at home," says Maria Ellingson, an ASE director in Toledo. And her husband? "He's a college professor," she told me. 'Nuff said. Wrinkle-free shirts for my hubbie, too.

Shop for birthdays and holidays ahead of time. Ellingson's kids are two and five, which pretty much guarantees they'll be celebrating a lot of three- and six-year-old parties this year. She buys great gifts for those ages online and pulls them out of a closet as needed. "You feel good about your presents, because you're not rushing out and thinking, 'This thing is stupid, but it's $15, and I'll just buy it,'" she says.

Militant Carpooling. So it might require an extra e-mail or phone call to get it set up, but I know three families who have girls on my daughter's softball team and there's no reason all the parents have to schlep each kid to practice.

Paper towels on demand. No more trips to Wal-Mart or Target, when I've got Drugstore.com, Soap.com or Amazon Subscribe & Save. (Or Diapers.com for the families with that population.) Really, I should be able to make a list of things like shampoo and order enough ahead of time to keep us stocked. This is not rocket science. Same for mail-order prescriptions.

Check deposits by mail. Yes, thank you to the employers who occasionally remember to pay me. And the uncle who still sends me, at 37, a check on my birthday every year. Love it. But there's no reason I have to drive those deposits to the bank. I can put a stamp on them.

Divide warehouse store purchases. One family goes to Costco or Sam's and splits the 25-pound bag of potatoes with the other.

Know your neighbors. Recycling center, school pick-ups, you name it. The more, the merrier.

Community supported agriculture. Organic, farm-fresh produce delivered to spots near the house. Worth getting in the car for the farm share, and it lessens the need for frequent grocery store visits.

Big picture choices. Live close to the place you work. Or telecommute. Take public transportation. Buy a more fuel efficient vehicle. Or go down to one car, like Ellingson's family.

It's a work in progress. I'd rather have the extra money in my pocket, but more than that, I'd like to spend less time on Saturday mornings driving around parking lots of big box retailers. I'm checking my odometer today and again in 30 days. Wish me luck.

Have any tips for eliminating errands or making them less painful? Please sign in and share below.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Rusty Haskell, CC 2.0
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