You're glad to have a job, but paying to drive yourself there and back home can eat up a big chunk of your paycheck. Use the tips below to get the best prices when you fuel up your car, and bring home a little bit more of that paycheck. (For more, see What Determines Gas Prices?)
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- Plan your Purchase
The worst thing that can happen is you're driving along when suddenly you notice the big red "E" glaring at you from the dashboard. It's a gas emergency now, and you're doomed to using the closest gas station you can find.
- Fill up in Early Morning or Late Night
Most gas stations change prices during the day; if you go late at night or early in the morning, you're likely to get the prices before they're changed. And these days, since price changes usually mean price increases, you want to get there before the sign changes.
- Check Prices Online
Websites such as GasBuddy.com and FuelMeUp.com provide up-to-date prices for the gas stations in your state or region. If you follow Tip #1 and plan your purchase, you can take a few minutes to look over one of the sites, compare prices, and plan your route for a gas stop at the station with the best prices. Do this for a month or two and you'll likely notice trends: which station consistently offers lower prices and when prices seem to increase.
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- Get an App for Your Smartphone
GasBuddy.com has an application available for smartphones (which is free), and there are other options for phone apps out there too. Check out GasBook ($0.99), Cheap Gas! (free), Fuel Finder ($2.99), Cheap Gas Finder (free) and My Gas Wars ($0.99). They all have different features and options; some are more complicated than others, or offer more up-to-date information, or more options for searching various areas. Get what suits your purposes and use it when you're out before your tank hits empty. (For more, check out Money-Saving Smartphone Apps.)
- Stay Away From the Highway
If your commute takes you down a major highway or Interstate, you might be in the habit of stopping in at that mega fueling station every time you fill up. They're close, convenient and they have better coffee. But watch out; you might be paying more than you have to just because of the gas station's location. Stations close to highways and Interstates are hoping to catch not just commuters but travelers and truckers, and let them pay a bit extra for the convenient right-off-the-highway location.
- Join the Club
Do some research online first; if you don't find a consistently cheaper station in your area, spend a little money on a club membership to Sam's or Costco, which comes with the benefit of discounts on fuel purchases. Plus you can get a pallet of toilet paper while you're there. Do your homework first, though; club stations, even with the discounts, aren't always cheaper and you do have to pay to join. If you see consistently lower prices, and you don't have to drive (much) out of your way to get there, it might be the right move. (For a related reading, see The Dark Side Of Bulk Buying.)
- Check Your Credit Card's Rebates
Some major credit cards offers points, dollars back or rebates for money spent at particular gas stations. Do read the fine print, as some of these credit card companies will limit the amount of rewards or rebates you can earn, and you might be spending a little more to get a nonexistent rebate after you've hit the limit. But if you can purchase at one of the cheapest stations in your area and earn points or dollars while you're doing so, you've got a great deal going. (For more, read 5 New Ways Credit Card Companies Are Wooing New Card Holders.)
The Bottom Line
Finding cheaper gas prices is about one common truth: information is power. If you don't know there's a cheaper station two miles away, you'll have no problem with paying more. So start paying a little bit more attention and you'll be able to pay a little bit less for the fuel. (For more, see Getting A Grip On The Cost Of Gas.)