I remember buying my first tank of gas at 16. I drove my dad’s 1996 Geo Tracker back and forth to school and practice, and that was about it. After two weeks I needed gas and filled up at the local Chevron. At 96 cents a gallon, I had a full (though small) tank for just $8.
Those were the good ole days.
A few years later 911 hit and gas prices started a constant climb. Since then, I have only seen gas prices dip below a dollar a gallon once, and that was in 2008. At the time I was commuting about 45 minutes to an office job, which made me extra thankful for a gas price recession.
Then, I started working closer and eventually from home. It wasn’t until my kids got old enough for school and extracurriculars that I thought much about gas prices again. Now I’m on the road every day, hauling them somewhere for something. And in the same way I decided my food budget needed some adjustment, I decided it was time to look into ways to save money on gas as well.
I spent a few months paying attention to when and where I filled up and how much it cost. Then, after a few tweaks here and there I managed to save approximately $100-$200 in gas, despite driving a massive SUV.
Here are a few simple changes I made to save $150/month on gas.
1. Plan Ahead
I know I’ve mentioned this before concerning other areas, but planning ahead really is the best way to save money.
When Running Errands:
Each week, I think about where I need to go. If there are any errands I need to run, I plan those out in advance. My daughter only goes to preschool certain days of the week and farther into town once a week for dance. I save anything in those parts of town for those days.
If you work outside the home, you could plan to run errands on your lunch break. I use to do all my Christmas shopping on my lunch breaks when I worked in town. Stay at home moms could work around doctors appointments and kids’ extracurriculars that send them to town.
When Going Out to Eat:
Another part of planning ahead means planning where you will eat. I say this because I personally have wasted gas and time driving around trying to decide where to eat. This drives my husband crazy, but I hate making decisions. I know I’m not alone in this, so start thinking in advance before heading out to eat. But the further you live from town, the more indecisive you can be. 😉
When Filling Up:
Most of the places we go on a regular basis are closer to town than where we live. However, my son goes to school farther out of town than our home and we travel there most often. If I don’t plan ahead, I can end up on empty when I’m by his school. That means paying around 10 cents more a gallon for gas than I would in town with more options.
I especially make sure to have at least a half-tank of gas before I visit my family. For some reason, gas in the small towns where my husband and I come from averages around 30 to 40 cents more a gallon! I don’t want to get stuck buying gas there.
2. Do discounts
These are good for people who use the same gas station on a regular basis. If you have a gas station close to home or work that has good prices, it makes sense to get a discount card with that station. The usual rewards include a free tank of gas or merchandise from inside the store.
Places like Sam’s Club that have their own gas stations through Walmart offer discounted prices with a card. You will see signs that give the regular price and then the price for using a loyalty card. The card usually shaves a few cents off a gallon.
Another reason to use a discount card is if you drive for a living. A friend of mine’s husband is a truck driver. He spends a ton of money on gas no matter where he fills up, so she looked into getting a gas card. For someone who drives all the time for work or travel, the savings could really add up. Of course, it’s best to go with a gas station that you can find on every corner like a MAPCO or Chevron.
It’s always helpful if you can share the costs of traveling with someone else. If you live close or even “on the way” to a coworker’s house, it makes sense for the two of you to trade up driving. That not only saves you both gas money but also wear and tear on your individual vehicles.
If you live close to other families with kids in the same school, start a carpooling club. This could also help if some of the parents need to go to work earlier or later than others.
Maybe you’re the only one in the community who can drive your kid to school all the time. Offer to pick up others for a small fee, which will make up for some of the money you spend driving to school. Most parents will jump at the chance to give their children an alternative to the school bus. So it’s a win for everyone!
If you’re traveling in a large group, it makes sense to ride together. Take a larger vehicle or two, or consider renting a van. Everyone can chip in on gas so that nobody pays much at all. A rented or company vehicle will also help keep down the mileage on personal vehicles.
4. Pay with Cash
Dave Ramsey is a popular financial guru who is best known for pushing the envelope when it comes to saving money (pun intended). He suggests paying for many basic needs and wants in cash. The concept is simple: Put aside an allotted amount of money for that expense each month in an envelop. Once the envelope is empty, you can’t spend any more money in that category.
It’s easier in today’s economy to pay for everything digitally, especially gas. Who wants to walk in and pre-pay rather than sliding a card at the pump? Not me. But for someone who needs to take hold of gas spending, this could be a good discipline.
There’s something about using physical cash and watching it dwindle down to dimes in your wallet. The purchase feels more “real” when the money literally changes hands. That’s why I still choose to buy clothes and most restaurant meals (those for myself and not my entire family) with cash. It keeps me in check.
An added bonus for OCD account balancers like me is that it’s impossible to pump an uneven number when paying with cash. Well, unless you pay the cashier in change. And if you do that, you really need to cut down on the driving.
Bonus advice . . .
5. Don’t Be Stupid
I used to drive around looking for the cheapest gas prices. Think about that minute . . .
Driving is what uses gas, so by driving around to save a penny a gallon I was easily spending that much money plus time searching for cheaper gas.
But if it pains you to spend more money on essentials as it used to me, then check out GasBuddy. This free app organizes nearby gas stations by price and location to help you find the best price-per-gallon at the time.