How to Save Gas Money This Holiday Season

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Over the years, I’ve told you how to buy a like-new car for $5,000, how to get out of a car lease, and how to beat a traffic ticket. But when it comes to beating the high price of gasoline, well, good advice is harder to come by. In fact, most of my advice is to avoid other people’s advice.

What got me thinking about this hot topic again is the latest news about gas prices this winter. With the Federal Reserve trying to stimulate the economy, most financial experts predict those moves will also hike the cost of crude oil – which eventually trickles down to the pump. Already, the national average price of a gallon jumped from $2.792 last month to $2.854 today, according to AAA’s daily fuel report. This time last year, gas was $2.669, on average.

A typical motorist might use 50 gallons a month, so if prices are up almost 20 cents a gallon from last year, that’s $10 a month. At least they’re still below the 2008 high of $3.15, which rose to more than $4 in certain areas.

So what can you do? First and foremost, let me tell you what not to do…

  1. Avoid the gadgets: Whenever gas prices spike, so does interest in all sorts of additives and devices that purport to extend your fuel dollar. Before doing anything, read Gas Saving Devices A Scam?
  2. Don’t be cutting edge: Maybe you’ve heard that you can Run A Car On Cooking Oil, and as I’ve written about, it’s true. But that doesn’t mean you should try it yourself. No matter how high prices get, there’s no such thing as a free lunch or a free ride. Alternative fuels require lots of know-how, time and attention, so if you can’t spare both, look elsewhere for savings.
  3. Be wary of online deals: In 2008, I told you about a couple of websites that were trying to create national “buyers clubs” that would save you money at the pump by pooling the money of multiple members and “pre-purchasing” gas for them to use. I warned that, while this seemed like a decent idea, you might want to wait to kick in your membership fees of $25-$30. Well, I was right. One of those site, GasBank.com, is already out of business. The other, MyGallons.com, is still around and seems to have its supporters and detractors. Bottom line: It’s not for everyone.

Accentuating the positive

So now that you know what to avoid, what should you do? Of course, there’s all sorts of advice out there about whether to drive faster or slower and with your windows up or down. But what I’ve notice from Googling all this conflicting advice is this: You can spend a lot of time deciding what to do, and you’ll still save only a few bucks for all the time you’ve invested.

My advice is to focus first on the areas where you can save big…

  1. Make the trade: when the recession first hit and gas prices first spiked, Americans with big SUVs were stuck. No one was going to buy them, so trading down to a gas-sipping vehicle wasn’t even possible. As I’ve mentioned in Trading In Your Gas-Guzzler, the best time to make the switch is when gas prices are low – because not only are SUVs a tad more attractive to, say, a soccer mom, but that used Camry you have your sights set on is cheaper, too. So if you’re thinking about making the switch, do it now before prices go higher.
  2. Save at more than the pump: Obsessing about gas prices is the Americn way. Maintaining your ride so you save money all the time? Not so much. So let me take this opportunity to remind you about 5 Tips for Cheaper Driving.
  3. Don’t feel so bad: Here’s a reminder that no matter how high gas prices get here, you could be living in Norway – and pay more than $7 a gallon.

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