Gas-Buying Strategies

How To Ease Pain at the Pump


  • Gas Price

    Gas Price

    If changing your driving habits or buying a fuel-efficient car isn't in the offing, there are other ways to take the sting out of gas prices. | March 18, 2010

Tips for saving money on gas usually involve changing your driving habits or buying a more fuel-efficient car. But not everyone is prepared to take that advice. If those aren't in the offing for you, we have some easy fuel-saving tips that can take the sting out of today's gas prices.

The lowest gas prices Does this sound familiar? You notice your fuel tank is approaching empty, so you drive by several gas stations looking for the lowest price. Unsure of where the cheapest gas is, you finally pull over and fill up your car, dismayed by the total cost. You pull away, only to discover another gas station that's charging substantially less not far away.

If you think the cost disparity only amounts to a few dollars per year, here's news: The difference between the highest and lowest gas prices in Los Angeles on a recent day was $1.22 per gallon. For a 20-gallon tank, that's a $24.40 difference for just one fill-up. But price gouging isn't limited to the big city. In the smaller city of Beverly Hills, the difference between top and bottom prices was 40 cents per gallon, and those two stations were mere blocks from each other.

How do we know the local prices? We checked GasBuddy.com. Gasbuddy.com volunteers scout out gas prices in stations throughout the country and post their findings online. Entering your ZIP code will reveal the name, address and gas prices in your area. You can look at the lowest (and highest) prices, set a time frame (past four hours, for example), and even get a map to the station.

Fill up at wholesale stores Members-only clubs and wholesale stores such as Costco, Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale Club offer gasoline at very reduced prices. According to Richard Galanti, Costco's chief financial officer, "We have 260 gas stations in the U.S., and on average, members can expect to save anywhere from a few cents to sometimes as much as 20 or 30 cents per gallon." Costco employees survey the local competition to ensure that they have the lowest prices. The downsides: Wholesale stores charge a membership fee. And at Costco, fuel can only be purchased with a debit card, Costco cash card or American Express credit card.

Cash back for gas purchases Consider getting a credit card that rewards you for your gas purchases with cash back. A new BP Visa Rewards card gives cardholders 5 percent gas rebates for fuel purchased at BP gas stations. Other credit cards, such as the Discover Card or the Citibank Driver's Edge MasterCard, give cardholders rebates on gasoline purchased at any gas station (5 percent and 6 percent, respectively). Remember, though that these substantial savings can be negated if you don't pay your entire balance each month.

Find special fuel promotions Many gasoline stations offer loyalty discount cards or weekly gasoline promotions. For example, several gas stations in Waldoboro, Maine, lower their gas prices by 10 cents every Sunday.

Larry Newbert doesn't time his gasoline purchases to coincide with Sundays, but he does take advantage of a fuel promotion offered by Maritime Farms, a Waldoboro gas station and convenience store. "I get a 5-cent-per-gallon discount at Maritime Farms on all my gasoline purchases because we heat our house with Maritime energy," said Newbert.

Meijer grocery stores in the Midwest have a different fuel rewards program. Each month, Meijer circulates a list of items you can buy that earn you "Fuel Rewards Vouchers," redeemable at Meijer-owned gas stations. For example, November's "Fuel Rewards" circular touts $2 in free gasoline for purchasing two 20-pound jugs of Tidy Cats cat litter. Not bad.

Fuel promotions are surprisingly common, but not well advertised, so expect to do a little investigating at your local gas stations. Remember, it never hurts to ask.

Prepurchase your gas What if you could "lock in" gas prices by paying for your future gas needs at current market prices? When you prepay for gas, that's exactly what can happen. For example, if you bought 300 gallons at $3.75 per gallon, then, even if gas prices rose to $4 per gallon, you'll still pay just $3.75 per gallon whenever you fill up, until your fuel bank account is exhausted. This could save you big bucks over the long haul. The only downside is the lump-sum outlay of cash, and the possibility that gas prices could actually go down, which means your fuel will actually cost more than the retail price. (For our money, though, we're betting that gas prices will only go up over time.)

Alas, the family-owned First Fuel Bank, located in St. Cloud and Monticello, Minnesota, is the only company we're aware of that currently has a prepayment plan for consumers, but we hope to see more of such programs in the future.

In the end, the best way to save money on gas is, of course, to change your driving habits, but if you can take advantage of even one of the above suggestions, you'll spend less of your hard-earned money at the pump.

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