Gas is one of the most unpredictable and challenging budget items to control. We’re all at the mercy of fluctuating world markets. Just when you think you have a handle on your gas expenditures, prices jump 50 cents per gallon and there goes the budget. However, there are definitely ways you can minimize how much you spend each month to fill your car’s gas tank. In 2016, our household’s average monthly gas spend for two cars was $218. In 2017 we brought it down 26% to $162 a month, despite an increase of average gas prices from $2.18 in 2016 to $2.45 last year. If prices had remained at 2016 levels our raw gains would have been more like 32%. As it was, we saved close to $700 on gas in 2017.
How did we do it? Well, buying a more efficient car was clearly the key. However, we also used a number of other strategies that really solidified our savings:
1. Buy A Gas Efficient Car
The vast majority of your potential gas expenditures are determined by the car you drive (and, of course, the distance you drive it). At the start of 2017, we planned to give our second car, a 1998 Toyota Camry, to my teenage daughter when she got her license. Our 2011 Honda Accord had shouldered most of our distance travel for 5 years. With close to 200,000 miles on the odometer, it needed to move to its rightful spot as a cart-children-to-their-local-events car. We needed a new primary vehicle. We dallied with a joint midlife crisis convertible – oh Mazda Miata I still mourn for you – but righted the delusion ship and realized we still needed four doors and a back seat for the kids.
Obviously, hybrids got into the discussion, but most were above our price range. We settled on a 2017 Mazda3. Despite being smaller than we are used to (our children are not huge fans of the back seat), we have been thrilled with our choice. The Mazda is zippy and fun to drive, and best of all, incredibly gas efficient. Our Honda Accord gets a respectable 23mpg, while the Mazda3 has gotten 34mpg over its first year of use. This alone represents a 32% decrease in gas outlay each month. That’s a game changer in any budget line.
Of course, if we could afford a Tesla, or lived in a walkable place, we would be saving even more on our gas bill. But if your budget is limited, and walking isn’t an option where you live, buying a gas efficient car is your best bet to keeping your fuel budget low.
2. Find Gas Stations with Low Prices
When you are out around town, record the current prices for regular unleaded at every station you see. A 10 cent difference from one station to the next may not seem critical, but that represents a 3%-5% difference overall. If you drive a lot, that will turn into $10-$15 pretty quickly. There are also several online search tools for identifying the best local gas prices. Our favorite, and one that passes the test for accuracy in our area, is provided by Geico. Also, check out the prices of places that may not be near your house, but that you go regularly. The gas station a quarter mile from our favorite poker room consistently has prices lower than our home town. Every time we play, we fill up.
3. Cash Price Option
Our closest gas station offers a decent base price and then takes another 10 cents off if you use cash/debit card. The combination of convenience and cash discount makes it our most frequented gas station. Entering the station to pay adds a minute to our trip, but the extra $10 to $15 a month in our bank account makes it worth it.Buy a gas efficient car, then work the edges Click To Tweet
4. Credit Card Cash Back
Be aware of your standard and rotating credit card cash back offers. Most standard cash back offers are 2%-3%, but periodically offers as high as 5% arise. Our Chase card is currently running a three month 5% off gas purchases deal. If we’re not paying cash for a discount, we’re pulling out the Chase card every time we fill up. Of course, all your gains are lost if you carry balances month-to-month, so pay that card in full!
5. Errand Efficiency
Our discount grocery store is about 15 minutes from our house; so we stock up on staples when we are already going in that direction. Another location of the same chain is right next to our primary poker venue. When one of use gets knocked out of a tournament, off we go with list hand. We work hard to organize our errand list to minimize our mileage. We figure it can’t hurt!
6. Keep Up with Your Servicing
Obviously there is a cost for servicing your car regularly. But if it keeps your car efficient – never mind giving it a longer life – it will be worth it in the end. That does not mean you have to be fanatical. We definitely space servicings beyond manufacturer recommendations. But periodic oil changes, keeping your tires optimally filled, and getting your basic 30,000 mile check-ups should help stretch your gas dollar even further.
Overall, it comes down to this: buy the most gas efficient car that works for you and then work the edges. But don’t dismiss the edges, you can slash another 15%-20% off your overall gas spending with consistent attention to the other five items above.
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