Gas money.
The inevitable question for carpools, shared rides, and mooching roommates. Do you give your friend who picked you up for the movie a couple of bucks for gas? Do you hand your sister $5 for driving you out to the family reunion? Is it even appropriate? Will they be offended if you offer?

As a person who doesn't have a vehicle, I often have to ask others for rides. When I go out for drinks with friends, I almost always get a ride. When I am headed somewhere, I often get picked up or dropped off somewhere. I am lucky to have such generous friends who are willing and able to give me a lift, so I try to give them gas money when they are inconvenienced.
The other day when my wife and I suddenly had to hop into our friend's car and beg to get a ride home, I started to wonder whether gas money is always required, or if it should be reserved for certain situations. I know some people who would never even offer gas money as they feel as though they don't have the responsibility to. After all, it is not as if they are the one driving the car, and with the benefit of the car comes the cost of transportation. Is that right though? Should you offer gas money, or shouldn't you?

When is Gas Money Appropriate?

If you are wondering if giving the driver gas money is appropriate, I think that there are a few questions that you have to ask yourself. First, how much time, distance, and effort is the driver going through, in order to give you a ride? It is easy to simply figure out how far the driver is going, and tell yourself that it is really only a couple of kilometers away. Surely they don't want compensation for such a small distance. But what you should also consider is how much time this might cost the driver. Even if it is only a few blocks, traffic might dictate just how long it takes for them to drive you. A short distance drive isn't always a short drive. In addition, are they leaving their family to give you a ride? Is it on their only day off? Are they borrowing someone else's vehicle just to get you where you need to go?
Ask yourself

  • Do they have to go out of their way?
  • Are they already going in that direction?
  • Have they already given you a ride recently?

All in all, gas money is appropriate when you feel like it would be appreciated. Whether they are driving you a long way (like on a road trip), or if they went out of their way to help you (drove to get you, and then drove you right back to where they were), or if this is the third ride in two days that you're getting, gas money shows that you appreciate the time, money, and effort that they have invested in you. Likewise, if you know that offering gas money would be insulting, because your relationship with that person is beyond minor financial inconveniences (they are your father, your spouse, your child, etc), then offering gas money might not be appreciated, and might even damage the relationship.
I believe that offering gas money is more about the thought than the amount. Half the time, when you offer, your friend may refuse, saying that it wasn't that big of a deal. But even if they regularly decline, I would suggest that you still offer.
If you are refusing to offer gas money just in order to save your money, then you probably should reconsider your transportation options. Most people are willing to give you a ride or two, but those rides will dry up if you aren't willing to contribute financially. Don't let your friends drive you more than two or three times without at least offering gas money. Who knows? They might need the money even more than you do.
What do you think? Do you ask for rides? Do you offer gas money? Do you give rides to your friends? Do you ask for gas money?

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About Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.