Living where everything is within walking distance is more than a chance to get exercise, it makes good financial sense.

With the national average of gas

well over $4.00 a gallon, people are beginning to rethink their driving habits.

While passing the $2.00- and $3.00-a-gallon price marks brought out a lot of complaints, it wasn't until gas reached $4.00 a gallon that driving habits began to change. The Department of Transportation recently noted that driving recorded a 4.3% decline over last year, the largest decline ever recorded.

People are once again embracing mass transit, which is enjoying ridership that it hasn't seen in the last 50 years.

You might well believe that gas prices will continue to stay high and go even higher: While the Energy Department is predicting gas prices to stabilize and be around $4 a gallon into next year, Alexei Miller, CEO of


, the world's largest natural-gas company, believes that we will be seeing $7-a-gallon gas in the foreseeable future.

Don't Drive Less; Drive These

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There is a simple way to save money on gas: Don't use any.

While "don't use any gas" may sound like a radical idea at the moment, it may not in several years, as people make lifestyle changes to reflect a new reality that gas will no longer be cheap.

The suburbs and exurbs used to be the place to live, because with cheap gas it wasn't financially painful. As gas prices continue to rise, settling in a place where there is no need to drive begins to make a lot of financial sense.

For example, if you have a 50 mile one-way commute to work and your car gets 25 m.p.g., you are paying over $300 a month just to get to work and back. Then there is the cost of all the other driving that you do for food, entertainment and shopping. Add the cost of the car (and any interest, if you take out a loan to get it), repair, maintenance and insurance -- and the simple act of driving can reach four figures per month for many people.

If you instead live in an area where everything you needed is within walking and/or biking distance, there would be no need for the car (and you could

rent one cheaply on the occasions that you did need one)and thus no need for gas.

Even if you chose to have a car, the cost of operating it would be much less expensive than if you lived in an area that wasn't walking-friendly.

One of the easiest ways to find a place that allows you to ditch your car is a Web site called

WalkScore, which has the mission to "help people find houses and apartments in walkable neighborhoods" -- emphasizing that "living in a walkable neighborhood is good for the environment and good for your health."

It's also good for your pocketbook.

The site gives a score of between 0 and 100 to any address you put in, in an effort to determine how walkable the surrounding neighborhood is by the types of facilities, stores and entertainment which are available within walking distance. A score of 70 points or more is considered "very walkable," and an area where it's possible to get by without a car.

Finding a place that has a high Walk Score is an easy way to save money that most people never consider. Even in cases where rent or housing is more expensive, the reduction in the cost of gas and other driving expenses can mean the more expensive housing is actually saving you money. The higher gas prices rise, the more value areas that allow easy access to needs within walking distance will have.

If you plan to move in the near future, calculating the walking friendliness of the different parts of town where you are considering living should be one of the many financial calculations that you run when deciding where to live. Doing so may show that a more commute-friendly area that is centrally located, and you thought was too expensive, actually makes a lot of financial sense.

Also, the area's walkability is an investment point if you own or are planning to buy a house. Demand for housing in walkable areas is likely to increase as gas prices continue to rise, so you might see better price appreciation on your real estate there.

While there are many considerations to make when deciding where to live, rising gas prices are yet another factor to consider and calculate to make sure that you get the most for your money.

Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs