3 Surprisingly Costly Mistakes We Make at Gas Stations

Woman holding coffee while pumping gas
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Nobody enjoys the expense of filling up an empty gas tank. But you can easily make the situation much worse with a few simple — and common — money mistakes.

Some of these under-the-radar missteps are especially harmful to your budget, especially if you make them repeatedly. And we’ve probably all made at least one of them at least a few times over, likely without realizing just how much it can cost us.

Following are some of the costliest money mistakes you can make at a gas station.

1. Grabbing a drink

We cite stopping at convenience stores as a major money waster in “7 Ways You Throw Away Money Every Day.” And grabbing water or caffeine at the gas station is really no different.

Say you grab a 16-ounce bottle of water for $1. Surely a convenience purchase is harmless when it’s only a buck, right? Not exactly.

You just paid $8 a gallon — far more than you would ever pay for gasoline — for something that flows freely from your home faucet. That’s not the kind of mistake that most folks can afford to repeat if they hope to retire comfortably.

So, invest in a reusable water bottle or an insulated tumbler already, and never pay for water again.

Then, start adding all those dollars you save to a high-paying savings account or a retirement account.

2. Paying for gas with a debit card

Every time you use a debit card at a gas pump, you effectively increase your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft.

Criminals like to attach skimmers — illegal card readers that steal your card numbers — to gas pump payment terminals because they generally are not manned by employees. We detail this in “9 Things You Should Never Put on a Debit Card.”

If you pay with cash, that’s not an issue. If you pay with a credit card, it’s not much of an issue because credit card transactions are covered by a federal law that limits your responsibility for unauthorized charges to $50.

Your debit card, however, does not enjoy such protections. You have to report such losses in a timely manner to ensure you get most of your money back.

If a criminal steals your debit card numbers from a gas pump skimmer and uses it to ring up hundreds or thousands of dollars in purchases before you realize it, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever see that money again.

In addition, debit card fraud typically allows the thief to tap directly into your checking account. If someone steals all the money from your account — even just temporarily — will you have enough money stashed away in an emergency fund to cover bills while you wait for the stolen money to be recovered?

3. Buying premium gas

If your car requires high-octane gasoline, you should shell out for it. But if premium gas is merely recommended, you’re better off saving your money, AAA says.

Many drivers are not doing either of these things, though. According to a 2018 AAA report, Americans collectively waste $2.1 billion per year on high-octane gas when it isn’t required or even recommended for their cars.

To learn more about whether regular, premium or Top Tier gas is best for your car, check out “This Is the No. 1 Mistake Drivers Make When Filling Up.”

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