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Who Spends the Most on Their Cars?

Americans spend more on their cars than they do on groceries, or on travel, entertainment, clothes, shoes, and hobbies combined, says a new study. The average U.S. household spent $5,477 (roughly 14.5 percent of its budget) on gas and auto expenses last year, says the research from Bundle, a financial research firm and website backed by Citi, Microsoft, and Morningstar. That's $2,208 on gas and $3,269 on car-related expenses like repairs, parking, and tolls.

There's wide variance in those numbers from one locale to another, and generally, the wealthier the city or state, the more its inhabitants spend on driving. No duh. (Except for New York City, where the average household spends a mere $2,482. But that's another no duh: Everyone there takes taxis and trains or walks.) There were a few outliers: Wisconsinites and Vermonters tend to be moderate spenders but were above average on auto expenses, says Bundle. And households in California, where it seems like everyone sits in traffic all the time, is only slightly above average with spending of $5,797. In Austin, which is the biggest spending city in America across the board, households spend a whopping $10,128 on driving expenses.

Maybe it's a southwestern thing. Here are the cities with the biggest car-related expenses:

  • Austin: $10,128
  • Scottsdale: $9,782
  • Plano: $8,983
  • Chandler: $8,029
  • San Jose: $7,439
  • Phoenix: $7,297
  • Durham: $7,180
  • Irvine: $7,174
  • Dallas: $6,919
  • Mesa: $6,844
Ouch. But big spending means big opportunities for saving, right? Here are some ways to trim those car and gas expenses so you have some money left to spend once you get where you're going:
  • Buy a car that's cheap to own. That's not necessarily the cheapest one to buy, and it's not necessarily a hybrid, either. Some inexpensive cars burn through gas, others cost more to insure. A small, non-hybrid, fuel-efficient car is probably the cheapest to own over time, says Edmunds.com, which offers a cost to own calculator so you can see how much your car is costing you. For a look at the least expensive cars to own, check out this list from Forbes.com.
  • Save on insurance. Get every discount coming to you, says MoneyWatch's own car blogger, Jerry Edgeron. He lists deals for good students, alumni association members, teachers, safe drivers, and folks who buy several insurance policies from the same company.
  • Cut your gasoline expenses. You can use GasBuddy.com to find the least expensive gas near you, and you can drive in a way that optimizes the gas you buy. That means staying under 60 miles per hour: Every 5 miles an hour you go over that speed will cost you an extra 24 cents per gallon.
  • Drive less. Set a half-mile or 1-mile rule and walk if your errand is within that circle; telecommute; or use public transportation. Consider downsizing from three cars to two for your family, or even from two to one. You can use a Zipcar membership rental for the occasional trip; there's a savings calculator on Zipcar's site to help you decide when owning a car is cheaper than renting. Or carpool. You'll save money on commuting and make new friends. And on the way to work, you can share tips on all the entertainment, clothes, shoes, and hobbies you can now afford.
Photo by Richardmasoner on Flickr.
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