2015 is going to hold a few shocks for households. Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene has already raised the prospect of taxation increases and there are likely to be other squeezes from consumer price inflation and interest rates.
One of the good pieces of news is international petroleum pricing, which has dropped by a wide margin in the past three months. Predicting where it might go is difficult - even the oil-producing nations seem not to know, but if the price continues to slide and the Rand / US dollar exchange rate holds steady, prices at the pumps could drop out of the teens by February.
But let's not bank on it - fuel prices are fickle and the exchange rate is volatile, and we've seen in the past how quickly a turnaround can happen in either direction. Trimming your motoring budget in 2015 will take a bit more than betting on the fuel price, but it's possible, and here's how.
The first priority is your choice of vehicle. If you're buying a different car in the hope of saving fuel, do some calculations. If you travel the average of 25 000 kilometres a year, a car which uses seven litres per 100 kilometres will cost you around R91 000 in fuel over the typical four-year financing period. A car which uses six litres per 100 kilometres will use R78 000 of fuel over the same period at today's prices. But if the more economical car costs R50 000 extra, you're still R37 000 worse off over four years. The fuel price would have to nearly double over the financing period just for you to break even, which is unlikely if one examines the history of the fuel price in the past two decades.
So maybe you are better off overall with the less economical vehicle, especially if you are buying up to a larger model. Of course, if you are spending extra money for other reasons like comfort, safety and technology, those arguments fall away, but with many motorists looking to change vehicles for reasons of economy alone, it's worth taking a long-term look at your fuel costs versus the difference in purchase price.
Servicing is one area that motorists often neglect when money is short, particularly if their vehicle doesn't have a service or maintenance plan. But the hard-wearing maxim of spending a little to save a lot definitely still applies. A wheel alignment check may cost you around R300, but if it allows you to get an extra 10 000km from your tyres, you've made your money back a few times over. Proper wheel alignment also makes your car more pleasant to drive and ensures it will deliver top braking and steering performance if you're faced with an emergency.
Some of the simplest money-savers cost nothing at all, like checking your tyres. It takes no more than five minutes to check that your vehicle's tyres are correctly inflated, and if you perform this simple check every ten days or so, you not only extend the life of your tyres and ensure safe roadholding, you also reduce your fuel consumption. Under-inflated tyres have increased rolling resistance, meaning you use more fuel to maintain the same speed than you would with correctly-inflated tyres.
Planning your journeys more carefully can also save you fuel. Many South Africans make separate journeys for chores like collecting the kids from school, filling up with fuel and shopping. Next time you turn the key, ask yourself whether you could combine several short journeys into a single round trip. Every kilometre you don't have to drive saves you about 90 cents in fuel in a medium-sized car. Driving just ten kilometres less a week will save you around R40 a month, or nearly R500 a year.
Your driving style can have an even bigger impact. While it's nearly impossible for the everyday driver to save 40 to 50 percent on fuel as one sees on the economy contests, a ten to 20 percent saving is well within your grasp. If you avoid using full power regularly and change to higher gears earlier, you are already on your way to substantial savings. Look further ahead in traffic to anticipate traffic lights changing to green to prevent unnecessary stops. An AA study done in the 1980s showed that stopping four times per kilometre in a 60km/h zone can double your fuel consumption. Just think: a ten percent drop in your fuel bill could save you over R2200 a year! The best way to monitor your fuel consumption is to keep a logbook. Many drivers already do this for tax purposes, and it's also an early warning system - if your car's fuel consumption shows an unexplained rise with the same driving patterns, there may be a mechanical problem which you can address before it costs you too much in fuel.
If you take a serious look at ways to cut your motoring costs, the amount of money you could be saving may come as a pleasant surprise. And with all the potential cost-of-living clouds on the horizon, 2015 will be a good year to unlock those savings.