12 August 2011

Frugal Friday: At the gas pump

Gas prices aren't as high as they've been before, but I don't imagine them plummeting to the old nickel-a-gallon days anytime soon, either. Here are a few strategies to lengthen the amount of time between fill-ups and the sticker shock that comes with them.

1. Don't drive as much. Duh, right? If you live in an area where you can walk to work or to your everyday errands, do it! A comfy pair of walking shoes will cost about as much as a tank of gas and last a heck of a lot longer. If you can't walk to your destination, combine trips as much as possible and plan your route to prevent backtracking, traffic, and construction when possible. If you live in a place where they're available, use park & rides.

2. Use cruise control judiciously. Cruise control works best for saving gas on flat terrain. On the uphill, even and steady pressure on the accelerator is more economical than a constant velocity. On the downhill, I often put the car in neutral and let gravity take care of keeping the wheels turning. But whenever I'm on a flat road, even if it's a 35 mph zone through town, it's a good bet that the cruise control is on.

3. Take advantage of loyalty rewards programs. Some gas stations offer discounts for having their reward card. It's not a national policy, but there are many Speedway stations that offer $.06 off per gallon when you swipe your card. The one I use the most is the one at Kroger. Every $100 spent in store equals $.10 off per gallon at participating gas stations (I think that many Shell stations have partnered with Kroger on this, so you're not limited to just stores that have gas stations), up to $1.00 per gallon! Now, with all the couponing that I do, I very rarely accumulate even the minimum $100 in a month for a gas discount. However, Kroger runs special promotions offering double or even quadruple fuel points for gift card purchases. Luckily for us, Lowe's gift cards are available. $250 in Lowe's gift cards earns us $1.00 off per gallon automatically. Of course, rewards programs will vary regionally and by store, so work out for yourself how to best utilize them.

4. Check the junk in the trunk. Don't carry around a bunch of extra weight if you can help it. Every extra pound diminishes your gas mileage just a little bit more.

5. Take your time. That lead foot is costing you money. Leave a few minutes early to avoid being in a rush. Consider taking a less-traveled route that's a longer distance if it's flatter or avoids construction or traffic. Less stop-and-go is better on your mpg (and your brakes). Don't accelerate as you're approaching a red light. Shift into neutral and let the car's momentum continue naturally. Often the light will change as you approach, and you can shift back into gear without having to brake. It takes much less energy for the car to continue from a moving state than to start from a dead stop.

6. Keep your car tuned up. Tire inflation is the big one in this category, but keeping your oil changed and your air filters cleaned help your gas mileage, too.

I know there are a million strategies out there, but these are the ones that are the easiest (for me) to do with the biggest payoff. What are some of your gas-saving tips?

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