Gas prices have been on the rise for months, weighing on wallets all across the country.
It’s not your imagination: Your gas budget is getting hit with a one-two punch. First came the pandemic-related supply issues that contributed to record-setting 7.9% inflation, including a 38% surge in gas prices over the past year, according to government data. On top of that, the war between Russia and Ukraine has further increased the price of oil, and when oil prices go up, gas prices follow.
As a result, the average price of a gallon of gas hit an all-time high in March, breaking the previous record set in 2008 during the Great Recession.
While you may not be able to entirely escape soaring gas prices, there are several strategies you can implement in your everyday routine to help you save money.
Table of contents:
- Pay with cash instead of a card
- Use a gas rewards card (if you have to use a card)
- Join a grocery store rewards program
- Fill up on these days of the week
- Find the best price with a gas app
- Drive patiently
- Spend less time idling
- Plan out your routes
- Know when to use cruise control
- Reduce AC use
- Park in the right spot
- Remove excess vehicle weight
- Check your tires routinely
- Keep your engine in good shape
14 easy ways to save money on gas
From driving strategies to vehicle upkeep and more, here are several easy ways to save money on gas. (Don’t worry. None of them involve buying a new car, which is good because those prices are also astronomical right now.)
1. Pay with cash instead of a card
Next time you’re checking the big gas station billboards for prices, look closely. The lowest price you see is likely a cash-only price. In some cases, you might not even see any mention of a cash-only price at all, as the discount is implied. You may only find out after swiping your card and noticing you paid several cents higher than the price on the sign.
The difference between cash and credit card prices for gas typically ranges 5 to 10 cents per gallon, but in some cases, it can be much more. The reason gas stations often charge more for card purchases is because they get charged fees by banks and credit card providers for each transaction. When you pay cash, the gas station avoids these fees, and they pass along some of the savings to you with a discount.
Debit purchases, even though they represent real “cash” in your bank account, may also incur a transaction fee. Policies vary by gas station, so check with your local clerk if you’re unsure about using your debit card.
2. Use a gas rewards card
Cash back on gas is one of the best credit card rewards.
For example, with the Chase Freedom Flex card, you can earn 5% cash back at the gas pump (for your first year or up to $6,000 spent, whichever is first). Similarly, the American Express’s Blue Cash Preferred card offers unlimited 3% cash back on gas purchases. Many other programs fall within that 3% to 5% cash back range, sometimes on a revolving basis.
Always check the fine print and do the math to see if the rewards program is truly worth it in your individual case. As mentioned above, many gas stations set higher prices for credit card purchases. Likewise, the rewards credit card itself may have an annual fee. And there’s always the risk of accruing interest on your credit card balance if you don’t pay it off on time.
When used responsibly, this strategy could save you a few dollars per tank, so it’s worth considering — especially if you don’t always have cash on hand.
3. Join a grocery store rewards program
Check to see if your local grocery store has a gas rewards program.
Several major grocery chains partner with gas stations to offer members a nice discount at the pump, frequently 10 cents or more off per gallon. For example, Kroger, Safeway, Stop & Shop and many other grocers offer gas discounts if you spend a certain amount of money at their store after signing up for the rewards program.
The programs often work similarly: For every $50 to $100 spent at the grocery store, you might earn a fuel discount of 5 cents to 10 cents at a partner gas station.
If you're already spending that much at a grocer that offers a rewards program, this strategy could be a no-brainer. But be mindful of going out of your way to join a rewards program from a far away or more expensive grocer just to earn a gas discount.
4. Fill up on the cheapest days of the week
It should come as no surprise that gas prices fluctuate day to day, but pricing trends show that a couple days in particular each week tend to be cheaper than others.
Monday and Friday are the two cheapest days, according to GasBuddy, a tech company that tracks the real-time prices of gas at more than 150,000 stations across the country.
Historically, Monday has been the cheapest day over the past several years, but Friday, which has traditionally been a more expensive day, is closing the gap.
Keep in mind, though, that these recommendations are based on national data trends from prior years. With prices as volatile as they have been lately, these days might not always be the cheapest in your area on any given week. Use your best judgment.
5. Find the best price with a gas app
Instead of driving around town to look for the cheapest gas (all while wasting time and burning fuel), you should consider using a gas app to compare prices.
GasBuddy is one of the most popular apps that’s fully dedicated to comparing nearby gas prices. But you can also scope out how much gas stations are charging with some navigation apps as well. For example, with both Google Maps and Waze, you can select a gas station as your destination and filter them by price.
6. Drive patiently
Abiding by the speed limit, accelerating slowly and coasting more are not only safer ways to drive. They’re extremely cost-efficient driving habits as well.
So the next time you approach a red light, don’t accelerate and brake hard right at the line. Lay off the gas pedal and coast your way to a halt. When it turns green, resist the urge to gun it.
According to FuelEconomy.gov, these safe-driving methods can boost your fuel efficiency by up to 40% depending on the speed and how frequently you stop and go. At highway speeds, your fuel efficiency jumps 15% to 30%, whereas in stop-and-go traffic, it ranges widely between 10% to 40%.
Assuming that fuel prices are about $4 in your area, that translates to a whopping savings rate of 40 cents to $1.60 per gallon.
7. Spend less time idling
The federal government says idling can drain a quarter-gallon to a half-gallon of gas per hour.
If you’re in an exceptionally long line or waiting for someone to hop in, cutting your engine is the fuel-efficient move to make.
Depending on your engine size and your AC or heater habits, choosing to turn off your engine instead of idling could save you up to 4 cents per minute, according to federal government estimates.
8. Plan out your routes
When it comes to driving, proper planning can really pay off. Consider this strategy a catch-all for figuring out when, where and how you’re going to drive.
Important questions to consider when planning out your trips include:
- Is there a more fuel-efficient route I can take to get to my destination?
- If I have to use my car, can I combine my trips or errands?
- Can I plan to carpool with my coworker(s) on certain days?
- Can I commute by bike or public transportation on certain days?
- Will my employer let me work from home some or all of the time?
- If I have to commute to work, can I drive during non-rush hour times?
If you answered yes to even one of these questions, creating a plan around it and sticking to it can have a major impact on the amount of gas you use.
According to the U.S Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, combining trips could double your fuel economy when compared to taking multiple short drives because your car gets better gas mileage when it is warmed up.
Likewise, carpooling can cut your weekly fuel costs in half by saving on gas expenses all while reducing wear-and-tear on your vehicle, the agencies say.
9. Know when to use cruise control
Cruise control can boost your fuel savings when used properly, but it’s not always a sure-fire gas saver.
If you have long commutes or road trips with relatively uninterrupted miles of driving, cruise control can save gas. You can simply choose the speed that is most fuel efficient for your car while on the highway to reduce the urge to drive at inconsistent speeds that drain your gas quicker.
It should go without saying that cruise control is not an effective method in stop-and-go situations, especially off the freeway.
10. Reduce AC use
Warm weather is a blessing and a curse when it comes to saving on gas.
One one hand, the heat can help your engine warm up quicker, thus improving fuel economy. Adding to that, the federal government also says warm air causes “less aerodynamic drag” than cold air.
On the other hand, using air-conditioning in hot weather can reduce fuel efficiency by 25%, especially during short trips. This is one of the single biggest contributors to gas guzzling.
The double whammy: Driving with your windows down might also waste gas because it increases your vehicle's wind resistance.
So what should you do? Here are some tips from the feds:
- When turning on your car, don’t idle with the air conditioner blasting to cool it off. Most AC systems cool faster while driving.
- Try to use your AC only while driving at highway speeds. When driving slower, roll the windows down.
- Optimize your temperature and fan settings instead of defaulting to the max.
11. Park in the right spot
Even your parking habits can affect how much you ultimately spend on gas.
For folks in hot and cold environments, where you store your car plays into your vehicle’s fuel efficiency.
Driving with a cold engine can reduce your gas mileage between 15% and 24%, according to fuel-efficiency tests. Parking your car in a garage, as opposed to right on the street during cold weather, can keep your engine temperatures higher.
In hot environments, parking in the shade can reduce how hot your cabin gets and help you resist the urge to blast the AC.
And no matter the environment: When you’re arriving at your destination, grab the first parking space you see. Don’t circle the grocery store looking for the perfect parking spot. According to a report from Inrix, a transportation analytics company, Americans spend 17 hours per year on average searching for parking. That’s a lot of wasted gas.
12. Remove excess vehicle weight
A rule of thumb: the heavier your vehicle, the more gas it guzzles. That also goes for what you’re storing or hauling. If there are removable items, like sporting equipment or storage bins, you should consider taking them out of the car unless you specifically need them for your trip.
According to the federal government, your fuel efficiency drops 1% for every 100 pounds of excess weight.
This also goes for racks or storage on the top or back of your vehicle. If you leave your canoe or bike strapped to your car, not only is it weighing your vehicle down, the vehicle is also less aerodynamic.
13. Check your tires routinely
While it might seem trivial, tire pressure affects your gas mileage.
The Department of Transportation estimates that for every 1 PSI your tires are underinflated, you lose 0.2% fuel economy. That may not sound like much, but considering tire PSIs can vary widely, you could be losing notable gas mileage if you’re not paying attention to your tires.
Assuming gas prices are about $4 in your area, keeping your tires properly inflated could save you between 2 cents and 12 cents per gallon.
14. Keep your engine in good shape
Your gas mileage is heavily dependent on how well your engine is maintained.
Engine troubles affect fuel economy by an average of 4%, according to a report by the consulting firm Energy and Environmental Analysis. If that wasn’t reason enough to keep an eye on your check-engine light, more serious engine problems could affect mileage by as much as 40%.
Gas savings aside, keeping your engine in good shape will also help your vehicle last longer and avoid the need for costly repairs.
One easy maintenance tip: Ensure you’re using the correct grade of motor oil. Check your owner’s manual to see what your manufacturer recommends and start using that version if you’re not already. Based on $4 gas prices, this maintenance move alone could save you 4 cents to 7 cents a gallon.
While you’re thumbing through the manual, verify what type of fuel is recommended for your vehicle and stick to that. Most cars only need regular unleaded fuel and will not benefit from premium gas, which is typically much more expensive.
Why gas prices are rising
Initially, pandemic-related supply chain issues and rising demand were causing gas prices to soar. Then, toward the end of 2021, gas prices actually started to come down. The government even estimated that prices would dip below $3 in early 2022.
Now, the cause is less about supply chain issues and more about increased tension in the global oil markets. Since Russia, a major oil producer, invaded Ukraine in late February, oil prices have skyrocketed. The price per barrel of crude oil has hit $130 recently with some analysts forecasting that prices could rise to $150 this year.
How gas prices are determined
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that the retail price of gas consists of four main factors: crude oil costs, oil refining costs, distribution and marketing costs, and taxes.
Of the price you pay at the pump, the EIA says as much as 56% goes toward the wholesale cost of crude oil, and that key factor is what has been fluctuating so much recently.
Bottom line: Saving money on gas
Fuel prices are at record highs, but by implementing some or all of the gas-saving strategies we covered above, you will be able to reduce how much you spend on gas. The important thing to remember is that the best money-saving techniques aren’t just about finding the cheapest gas in town. What’s also important are your driving habits and how well you take care of your vehicle.