Parking is one of those under-the-radar items on the budget radar, something many consumers don’t think much about until they’re suddenly facing a hefty price tag. And, boy, it can be hefty. According to the International Parking Institute, Americans spend at least $25 billion to $30 billion a year to find a place to temporarily keep their car. Say what you will about how expensive a house is, but at least it stays put.
And if you think the price of parking is too steep, you aren’t alone. “Parking vendors are charging outrageous amounts these days, hosing drivers, taking advantage of situations that allow them to gouge and get away with it … They just keep upping and upping,” says Don Klosterman, who owns a marketing firm in Los Angeles, a city notorious for high parking costs.
So if you’re fed up with the high price of parking, make sure you keep sight of these cost-savings strategies.
Don’t park in a hurry.
Research your parking space, and if you don’t have time to do that, at least force yourself to park carefully. It’s harder than it sounds. Parking is a mundane exercise, when it comes down to it. If you’re going to a meeting or taking your kids downtown to a museum, you’re thinking about why you came here. And you didn’t come here to park your car.
So it’s understandable that you might rush or glance at the signage, especially if you’re in congested traffic, but that can be a costly mistake.
Lidia Shong, who lives in San Francisco, says that because of her job at aboutLife.com, a website that provides free online financial planning services, saving money has become a way of life for her. She generally never pays full price for anything.
But she says that last year, when family was visiting from overseas, she took them to the Fisherman’s Wharf and thought she was paying $25 for parking, a price she figured she could live with. Three hours later, as she prepared to leave, she realized the price was $25 per hour.
“Seventy-five dollars for three hours of parking,” Shong says, adding that she “drove off the parking lot feeling like I was driving off a cliff.”
Utilize the apps.
There are numerous parking apps available, and if you are parking a lot but aren’t using one, you’re probably missing out. But which one should you use? As the expression goes, your mileage may vary. So try a few and see which ones you like.
For instance, Magda Walczak, a Chicago resident, uses SpotHero religiously. “It’s an app that lets me find spots in garages and lots,” she says. “I save at least 50 percent over what it would cost if I just drive up to the garage, but usually it’s an even better savings.”
It’s also an app that isn’t in every city; it can be used in 12 cities, including Minneapolis, New York City, Denver and Philadelphia.
Reilly Starr, a public relations manager, puts her situation this way: “I’m a New Yorker with a car – how stupid.”
But her apps can make her look like a parking genius. Starr particularly likes a New York City-based app, Valet Anywhere, in which you can have someone pick up your car and park it in a garage for you.
“It’s brilliant,” Starr says, adding that it’s useful for long-term parking.
“For short-term parking, I use Best Parking. It’s a great app for daily street and garage parking options,” Starr says.
Sandi Webster, a Brooklyn resident and a co-founder of Consultants 2 Go, headquartered in Newark, New Jersey, is always looking for a place to house her car. For long-term parking, she also likes BestParking.com. For short-term parking, she uses an app called Parkmobile.
“You will never have to run out to feed coins into a meter again,” she says.
Fearful of one day, once again, spending $75 for three hours of parking, Shong now uses parking apps religiously. She is a fan of ParkMe.com, which bills itself as the largest and most accurate parking database in the world. It covers 84,000 locations in 64 countries, according to the website.
“I use ParkMe to find parking garages and compare prices before I arrive,” Shong says.
If she wants to find open street parking, Shong likes to use the parking app Parker (theparkerapp.com). “Open street parking … is a lot cheaper than a parking garage, and if you combine it with a payment app, you don’t have to keep feeding the meter. You can do it straight from your phone,” she says.
ParkWhiz.com, with an easy-to-use interface, is also worth checking out. It’s available in over 100 cities throughout the country.
Use parking coupons.
There are coupons for almost everything, including airport parking. Michael Monahan, who works in public relations and lives in Chicago, gets his airport parking coupons at CouponCabin.com.
“So, for example, I’m going to Florida for Thanksgiving week,” Monahan says. “Aboutairportparking.com says I can book at Airport Parking Express for $11.75 per day. My 10-day trip would have cost me $111.75, but by going through CouponCabin first, I’ll get nearly $30 cash back a few days after my return.”
Which isn’t to say that CouponCabin is the only game in town. RetailMeNot.com also has airport parking coupons. Coupons.com does, too, as does Groupon. Type “airport parking” into a search engine along with “coupons.” If you travel a lot and always pay full price for airport parking, you will quickly start feeling like a chump.
Don’t park your car.
Well, don’t park it where you ideally want to. Remember, nobody is forcing you to drive into an overpriced lot. Nick Porfilio is the CEO of Saveful.com, a website that offers coupons and deals on retail and services, and he also lives in San Francisco.
“I used to pay more than $250 per month for a parking space, which was more than my actual car payment,” Porfilio says.
He ended up parking his car in a part of the city that had free street parking and was about a 15-minute bus ride away, or five minutes by taxi.
“Even paying for a bus or taxi, it was still significantly cheaper than paying $250 for the spot,” Porfilio says.
Webster tried the same strategy one month, before she discovered the joy of parking apps. She found that you might not just save money, but you may gain other benefits by not parking your car.
“I decided to take the subway for a month,” she says. “Not only was my bill drastically reduced, I lost 5 pounds walking to the train station and then running up and down the subway steps.”
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