YIKES! That’s probably the best way to describe my reaction when recently filling up my gas tank. Gas prices are creeping up to around $3 per gallon. With rising food costs and winter heating bills, many families are making tough decisions about how to balance the family budget.
Below are some ways to help your family save a little money at the pump. Please add any additional tips in the comments section so that all might benefit.
Programs to save at the pump
- My favorite program for saving at the gas pump is the Shell Kroger Fuel Rewards Program. When I make purchases at Kroger, I earn points to save money at the pump. When I bring my Shell receipt into Kroger, I can double the points that I earn from shopping. This program may take you a little while to get the hang of, especially when it comes to keying in your card at the pump. However, it is well worth the effort. Just the other day I saved 30cts at the pump per gallon and have saved almost a dollar per gallon in the past. One of the best tips to build your points quickly is to buy gift cards at Kroger to use at other stores. If I know that I’ll be shopping at Walgreens or going to eat at Olive Garden, I can pick up a gift card at Kroger to use at those other places.
- Credit cards. Most major fuel centers offer their own credit cards where shoppers can earn discounts on gasoline for purchases that they make. As with any credit card, there are risks. High interest rates or annual fees might negate any discount that you receive. Read the fine print and for Pete’s sake don’t get a credit card unless you plan on paying off the entire balance every month.
- Incentives. While these won’t save you much money at the pump, you’ll get a little freebie or discount inside the fuel center store. My favorite of these is Pilot Travel Centers’ freebies. “Like” them on Facebook, and you can print coupons for freebies. In the last year, they’ve had coupons for free soft drinks, free hot beverages, and free boxes of tea bags!
Changing the way you drive
- Before you set out on your errands, analyze your route. Plan the first stop to be the one farthest away from your home, as the car has better gas mileage as it warms up. Cluster your stops so that you might be able to walk to your next destination. When it is pretty outside, I park at the library in Fountain City, run my errands there, and then walk to the bank, post office, or other nearby stores. Plan all of your errands on one day if you can so that you aren’t making multiple trips out to the stores on different days.
- Start keeping track of your gas mileage so that you are aware if your mileage starts decreasing or increasing. A decrease in your mileage might be a sign that your car isn’t running as efficiently and you might need a tune up. It could also be a sign that your tires need to be aired up—you’d be amazed at how much money you can save just by keeping your tires properly inflated.
- Carpool or use public transportation when you can.
- If you have more than one vehicle, opt for the one that has the best gas mileage, especially on longer trips.
- Drive like Miss Daisy. Lead feet cost you gasoline—drive slower. Watch ahead of you on the road. If there are cars stopping or slowing down, or if the light is red or yellow, coast to a stop. Don’t rev your engine or try to beat the person next to you when at a traffic light. Coast down hills. Try to avoid coming to a full stop at the bottom of a hill if you can.
- Empty your car. The more weight that you are toting around with you, the more gasoline you will use. I’m terrible a terrible pack rat when it comes to my car, but I try to make a clean sweep of things at least one time per month. Cleaning out all those extra bags of “stuff” helps to save a little money.
- Business and pleasure. For work I often visit clients who live in almost every part of the East TN area. Whenever I have a trip planned to a city or part of Knoxville where I don’t normally visit, I think about what else I could do while I’m in that area. When I finish with my work, I try and run that errand before going home. For instance, if I know that I’ll be in the Bearden or Turkey Creek area, I might make a run to Earth Fare to snag a freebie. If I’m going to be in the Pigeon Forge area, I might drop off my kitchen knives to be sharpened at Smokey Mountain Knife Works or I might drop by an outlet store to pick up a deal.
- Don’t run the heat or air, especially when the car is warming up. In the summer months I try to use the vent as much as I can instead of the air conditioner. In the winter months I don’t run the heat until the car engine has warmed. Be sure to bring a blanket with you from the house so that your kiddos and babies stay warm. (This is a good idea regardless of whether you turn the heat on right away or not because the “heat” really isn’t warm until the car warms up anyway). Park in the shade in the summer and in the full sunlight in the winter to help keep your car a little more comfortable.
- Don’t be idle. Running your car engine when you aren’t going anywhere wastes gasoline.
- Find a few more tips on saving gas from my past posts here, here, here and here.
Other ways to save
- Fill up on Tuesdays. I’ve always heard that Tuesdays are the best days to fill up your gas tank because prices tend to be slightly lower then. I haven’t tracked it to see if this is correct or not, but it couldn’t hurt.
- Before a major holiday, fill up. Prices start to go higher right before a major holiday—Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are probably the biggies. I try to fill up my gas tank at least a few days before the holiday or holiday weekend so that I can save a few pennies per gallon.
- When taking a long trip, fill up where it is cheapest. When we go to West Virginia, we usually try and look to see which states have gas prices the cheapest. If KY is a little less, we fill up there instead of waiting to cross the border. When I lived and worked in Memphis and was near downtown, I would cross the river bridge into West Memphis, Arkansas where gas prices were a little less expensive. Remember, though, that if you are driving many miles or going out of your way to stop at a particular fuel center, you might be spending more money on your trip than you are saving on your fill up.
- Plan a day at home each week. If you can manage it, staying at home at least one time per week will save you and your family a lot of money. Plus, I notice that my house is better kept, we go to restaurants less often, and I’m a lot less stressed when I am able to have a day spent at home each week.
- If you own a business or drive for work, look into turning in your mileage for reimbursement or for a deduction on your taxes. Ask your accountant and/or boss for details on doing this. Be sure to keep good records and your receipts. You won’t necessarily save gasoline, but you might save a little money on the gas that you use. In this same area of saving, you might ask your boss if use of a company car is ever possible.
- When you buy your next car, opt for one that uses a lot less gas. We bought a hybrid when we made our last car purchase, and it has saved us much more money than we ever thought that it would. People make fun of us a little bit because we are so crunchy, but it doesn’t bother us one bit. I’m never going to recommend that someone go into debt to buy a car. As more and more hybrids and fuel efficient cars are made, good pre-owned, reasonably priced models are available.
There are lots of hypermiling techniques that hard core drivers can use, but since some of them are on the border of dangerous, I’m not recommending them here. If you want to look into those techniques, type “hypermiling” into your search engine.
What about you? Do you have any other ways that you save money on gasoline and reduce consumption?