When Nancy Pierpont, a resident of Greater Boston, opened the flier from a distant department store, the ad for a set of stainless steel cookware filled her with disappointment. She had just bought the same set locally and had paid several dollars more than the department store price.

She was $6 dollars poorer than need be, or so it appeared at first glance. Then she did a little calculating and found she was, in fact, ahead of the game for having shopped locally.

To get the lower-priced item she would have put 45 miles round trip on the family car. According to figures developed by the travel-cost consultants, Runzheimer & Co. of Rochester, Wis., gas and oil in the Greater Boston area would have run at 6.63 cents per mile for her compact car, or $2.98 for the journey. According to Runzheimer consultant Judith Dettinger, general maintainance would have run out at 1.21 cents per mile (55 cents). She would also have worn 25 cents worth of rubber off the car tires, always presuming they were correctly inflated and properly aligned, to bring the total cost of the journey to $3.78. At this stage her "loss" on the purchase would have been reduced to less than half the original estimation. But there was still more to account for.

Because the trip would have consumed most of her afternoon, dinner preparation would have suffered, necessitating the purchase of precooked or other take-out foods to feed her family on time. Estimated additional cost: $3. Even assuming her own time had no monetary value, she was a conservative 78 cents better off for making the local purchase.

The point is, it is getting ever more economical to shop at a convenient local store and to leave the car in the garage even when the savings from a distant store appear to be moderately significant. The need is for people to think of the costs involved before driving any distance for that advertised "special" or other bargain. The old World War II slogan, "Is this trip really necessary?" is pertinent again.

Despite the ever-increasing cost of gas and oil, the on-the-road costs remain a small fraction of the total cost of owning an automobile. Insurance, debt servicing, excise tax, registration fees, and depreciation combine in these inflated times for a whopping annual bill of $1,811 for the newer model large cars. That's $4.96 a day even if the car stays locked in the garage! So for a growing minority of urban Americans, it is even making sense to dispense with the auto altogether.

A young woman executive in Boston sold her car after a few simple calculations "showed me how much it was costing me." She is within walking distance of the office and public transportation is moderately good in the city. She also bought a bicycle for use in summer. When she needs private transportation, she uses a taxi or hires a car, which she does several times a year. Even so, her transportation costs remain "hundreds of dollars less than when I owned a car."

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