I was shopping with a girlfriend who at the end of our jaunt checked the time and said “I hope I didn’t get a parking ticket!”
“How much money did you put in the meter,” I asked.
I tried to hide my scowl. I hoped for her sake that she didn’t get a ticket, but I was exasperated that she had not forked over one or two extra quarters for peace of mind.
We reached her car. Phew, no ticket. I hugged my friend goodbye and walked onto my car, where the patient meter read 45 minutes. At a dollar an hour, I had put in $.75 extra.
My friend had gotten away with paying less for parking and I couldn’t help but wonder if my $.75 a waste – or a wise investment? Is it always financially savvy to overfeed the meter? Or is it wiser to save my coins and risk getting a ticket?
I did one calculation to figure it out.
1. Say you park at a meter once a week and put in an extra 45 minutes – $.75 on many Los Angeles meters – each time. That means you are putting in an extra $39 a year ($.75 x 52 weeks). If a parking tickets costs $40, that means you can overfeed the meter for an entire year and still come up ahead (by $1).
But how often do you get caught for under feeding? I guesstimate that the meter maid catches me about one in 10 times I underfeed. If I underfed a meter once a week for a year, I would save that $39 in extra quarters but end up with five parking tickets, one every 10 weeks. (If you think you get caught more often or less often by the meter maid, then change how many tickets per year you would receive.) At $40 each my tickets would total $200, a net loss of $161.
Clearly, it makes a lot of sense to generously overpay the meter.
Run this calculation for your hometown meter and ticket prices using this formula:
the cost of putting an extra 45 minutes in the meter x 52 weeks = yearly cost of over feeding the meter
the cost of five parking tickets in your hometown – yearly cost of over feeding = how much you can save by over feeding
UPDATE: Reader Mira says:
In Long Beach, tickets are $44!! It takes A LOT of extra coins pumped in to get to that amount! (Like 660!! 440 nickels + 220 dimes!) Don’t chance it. I find I don’t need to add 45 extra minutes, even 12 or 15 extra minutes gives a nice cushion — depends on what you’re doing that day.