Ten years after the great recession’s historic gas prices of over $4 a gallon, the average gas price today is $2.84 per gallon. That’s a definite improvement but considering that gas prices a year ago were an average of $2.60, that upswing still costs me about $30 to fill up my gas tank. I’m on a tight budget so I’m always on the lookout for some cost-saving measures.
My gas budget is a cost that I have to pay since I need to get myself to work, grocery store, and social obligations. I used to live in a big city with a robust mass transit system that could get me around town without burning gas (though I had to pay the fare) or I could walk places I needed to go, but now I live in a town that is not walkable, is far more spread out, and has a fairly useless bus system that doesn’t take me where I need to go. Thus, I am in the car whenever I need to get around.
I’m eco-friendly. Really. I go out of my way to recycle and think about my carbon footprint but I don’t live in a bicycle friendly town so I’m not interested in going toe-to-toe with a Dodge Ram truck on my Huffy. I really value my life and limbs too much for that. I’m sure you do too.
So how can you reasonably lower your gas consumption or at least pay less for that gas? How can I avoid shelling out so much cash in gas and put a bit less CO2 into the air? Here are some tips on how to save money on gas that you can implement now, without having to get on a bicycle.
Combine Your Trips
If your shopping list includes items from the drugstore, grocery store, beauty supply store, and pet store, is it possible that you can get all that you need by going to one or two stores or maybe just going to Target? Yes, I know Target can be a trap and you may walk out with a new vacuum cleaner you didn’t expect just because it was on sale. But you can do it. Be strong. Sometimes you can’t just go to one store but planning your errands out and grouping stops close together helps save you gas from not zig-zagging all across town.
Plan out your errands over the course of a few days and you will find that those few minutes of planning and combining stores really saves you several gallons of gas as well as precious, precious time. The time that you can later spend browsing Target’s clearance racks, but I digress…
Stick to Regular
Most cars on the road are formulated to take regular gasoline. There is no need for the high-end stuff. It is not like champagne and your car doesn’t really feel the difference. Check your owner’s manual to verify and if it recommends premium gas, it will drive perfectly fine with regular gas and proper maintenance.
Of course, if you drive a luxury vehicle that requires a higher grade gasoline to perform properly (Mercedes, BMW, and the like) then you probably are not concerned about your gas costs. Unless you are like me and your husband found a used BMW at a great price within your agreed upon car budget and you now find yourself stuck with buying premium gasoline forever.
Carpooling can be a way to save money on gas if you live somewhere without a reliable mass transit system. If you work in a large office you may luck out with finding a colleague that lives near you that you could carpool with and alternate who drives to share the costs. Also, when you and your friends are all traveling to the same place for an outing, plan to have someone drive all of you and rotate who the driver is next time.
Carpooling adds in some fun social time and allows you to alternate who spends the money on gas and also saves some stress because when you aren’t driving you can just relax and sip your coffee or scroll through Facebook without worrying about getting a ticket. If you need to find someone to carpool with, check out iCarpool, a ridesharing app similar to Uber that has verified drivers that will allow you to hop in with them in exchange for a small fee, usually about $1.50.
Join the Club
Most people shop at the same handful of gas stations each week, usually whichever ones you drive past on your way to work. Pay close attention to specials those gas stations run since they might have a discount day where, for example, on Tuesdays, you can get 10 cents off per gallon at Shell. Gas stations know they have to compete for your loyalty so use that to your advantage.
Join the rewards programs at Exxon, Shell, Racetrac, Marathon, or whatever other gas stations you frequent regularly. Then shop on your local station’s discount day and combine that discount with your frequent customer card to rack up points for future savings or take off an immediate discount.
Strategically Plan Fill-Ups
Gas prices are constantly fluctuating throughout the week based on the level of demand (flashback to microeconomics class). The highest demand days are Saturday and Sunday when people are, presumably, not tethered to their desks and are out joyriding or skipping through fields or whatever theoretical people do.
Fridays and Thursdays are high price days as well since people fill up their car to get ready for the coming weekend. The best strategy to save money on gas is to fill up early in the week, let’s say Tuesday or Wednesday when demand is lowest and prices are lowest as well. Most gas station owners change their prices around 10 am so just make sure you pump prior to 10 am on Thursday when prices will go up.
Retail companies employ mystery shoppers to assess their customer service and conduct quality control audits. You can sign up with a mystery shopping provider like MaritzCX and conduct mystery shops at all kinds of retail companies and restaurants, but also gas stations.
You have to follow strict guidelines and make a specific purchase to get reimbursed but they are fairly easy and usually take less than an hour to complete and submit the report. Plus you are paid a fee for completing the shop on top of your reimbursement so it’s a great side hustle.
We all shop at grocery stores and we all put gas in our cars, so make sure that you shop at places that pair together. There are several grocery store chains which offer discounts at gas stations based on your grocery purchases.
Albertsons and Safeway shoppers get discounts at Chevron, and Winn Dixie and Bi-Lo shoppers can get discounts at Shell. Check out what fuel rewards program partners with your local grocery store and put that shopping to work.
Drive Slowly and Surely
Slow and steady wins the race right? Yeah, usually that’s not how I drive either but if you are looking for fuel economy try to emulate the turtle rather than the hare. Fast acceleration is a drain on your fuel economy and as soon as you come through an intersection you are likely heading toward another red light so why race to it?
In fact, rapid acceleration then rapid deceleration could cost you as much as $1 a gallon! Keep on an even keel and use cruise control while on the highway. That will boost your fuel economy and also save you some money on speeding tickets.
Inflate Your Tires
Underinflated tires are a strain on your car and lower your fuel economy. Keep an eye on your tires by investing in an inexpensive tire gauge you can keep in your glove box. Check the driver’s side door of your car for the sticker that lists the PSI for your car’s tires and checks periodically to ensure they are properly inflated.
Many cars have tire pressure indicators but those usually are going to alert you to a leak, not usually a slight change in pressure. Keeping your tires at the right pressure keeps your fuel economy at its peak and is an important safety measure as well.
Know When to Crank the A/C
Driving with the air conditioning on can lower your fuel economy by as much as 25%, but in many places and times of year, it is non-negotiable. So instead, use your air conditioning wisely.
When driving around town, use your air to cool your car interior down but turn it to the lowest setting once that cooler inside temperature has been reached. When driving on the highway studies have shown that using air conditioning has less of a drag effect than driving with the windows down.
Buy Discount Gas Cards
Since you by now have determined what gas stations you regularly shop at, use some of your monthly gas budgets to buy discounted gift cards for that brand gas station. You can find discounted gas cards at Cardpool or Raise. You can also score gasoline gift cards at Points.com by trading in some of the frequent flier miles or hotel points that you otherwise wouldn’t use.
Those stray frequent flier miles can finally go to some good use since you can combine miles from multiple rewards programs to reach the threshold for a gift card.
Buy A New Car
Sure, this isn’t for everyone because it’s a huge change to make but when you are looking to buy your next car keep fuel economy in mind. Getting a hybrid car might save you money on gas depending on how much you drive and current gas prices, but a Prius might take you 7 years to recoup the initial extra cost to buy a hybrid vehicle. And an electric car could take about 9 years to break even.
So instead, keep fuel economy in mind as you consider your vehicle needs. Buying a used, fuel-efficient car is likely going to get you the most bang for your buck, both on the initial investment and on recurring gas costs.
If you are currently driving a car with very poor fuel economy, run the numbers to calculate your potential gas savings of a new car and offset that against the costs associated with the new car. If it works out in your favor to save you some green, get yourself to the car dealership.
This handful of tips on how to save money on gas hopefully can lower your gas bill, saving you some green while keeping green and lowering your gas usage. Of course, you can always go the bicycle route if you choose, just remember to bring a change of clothes since nobody wants to sit next to the sweaty guy in the office.