Are you living to work or working to live? If you’re working to live, you’re hardly alone. With fuel prices and other market forces lined up against you, it’s easy to run your tail off and have hardly a dollar to show for it.

Sometimes you can do everything right and still sink deeper and deeper financially. That’s usually a signal that you need to break out of your routine. As novelist Ellen Glasgow puts it, “The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions.”

For an owner-operator, breaking the mold could mean finding a new carrier, getting your own authority or selling the truck to become a company driver. Or it could mean identifying all the little ruts – bad habits, neglected practices, postponed repairs – and forcing yourself to chart a path outside the ruts.

In our June cover story, Associate Editor Jill Dunn found several owner-operators who were determined to pay attention to whatever gave them the edge to succeed in this market. Ray Brewer of West Virginia says switching to synthetic oil and foam filters and using cruise control saves him $500 a year. Scott Cooper of Ohio believes his $6,500 generator set will pay for itself in 18 months. Mike Bjornson keeps his loads as aerodynamic as possible, avoids toll roads, uses an onboard generator, watches his engine readout and does a lot of cooking in his truck.

When I was traveling the West Coast on our 40th Anniversary Voice of the American Trucker Tour I met many of you doing similar things, with varying degrees of success, to make ends meet. If you’re among those whose hard work seems to turn a rut into a grave, step back and look at your operation. Swap notes with other owner-operators. Consult with your accountant. Keep up with technology. It’s amazing how your horizons expand when your vision isn’t hemmed in by a muddy groove.