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8 Easy Ways to Ease the Pain at the Pump

Gas prices are fickle creatures, tied to the international markets and the whims of your local service station owner.

But when you have a long commute, there’s no getting around it: you need to fill up at the pump, no matter what the price.

If you’re on a budget, spending less on transportation is one of the best ways you can keep money in your wallet – and it’s easier than you might think to save big.

Here are our favorite things you can do to avoid pumping extra cash directly into your gas tank.

1. There’s An App For That

Want to find the best deal on gas in your neighborhood? Comparison shop with apps like GasBuddy or Waze, which help you stay on top of the price changes at gas stations close to your location.

“This is important because even though gas prices are currently low, there are always going to be price differences from one station to the next, even within the same neighborhood,” personal finance expert Lynnette Khalfani-Cox told Time. “And these price differences could be substantial.”

GasBuddy works by crowdsourcing information from its users, which means your wallet will benefit from fellow app users who’ve scouted ahead. After you log your own data a few times, you’re even eligible to win a gift card toward your gas purchases.

Like GasBuddy, Waze crowdsources data on gas prices, traffic, and more. Need to make sure your usual route is clear before you head off to work? Waze will give you a heads up on accidents – and keep money in your pockets while you’re at the pump.

2. Don’t Mind If I Discount

Sometimes it pays to be a member.

If you’re a regular shopper at big chain grocery stores like Stop & Shop, Safeway, and Kroger, you could be entitled to major discounts at store-owned pumps when you use your rewards card.

These pumps usually offer cheaper prices than the service station down the road, and your purchase can count towards more rewards at your favorite grocery chain.

If racking up credit card points is more your style, look for rewards cards that offer cash back – not just gas discounts, says personal finance expert Sreekar Jasthi.

“10% of Americans in our survey reported having at least one gas card, but most of them would be better off using other credit cards that offer cash back rewards of 2% or higher,” Jasthi writes at NerdWallet.com

When you crunch the numbers, the cash back credit cards give you more mileage at the pump than cards geared specifically for fuel rewards, Jasthi explains. Go figure!

3. Plan Ahead

Ever notice how gas prices surge on the weekends or during holidays? Yeah, that’s on purpose.

“Gas prices rise on Thursdays in anticipation of weekend travel,” Chris Faulkner, the CEO of Breitling Oil and Gas told Forbes.

By planning ahead for your weekly purchase, you can avoid getting gouged at the pump. Pay attention to how often you need to fill up during your weekly commute – then pick a day mid-week to head to the service station.

Just do it early in the morning, recommended Faulkner. “10 a.m. is when most station owners make their price change for the day,” he revealed.

Want to up your game? Carpooling can also save you big money in the long run, though it takes some extra time to coordinate with coworkers or family members.

Some companies even offer financial incentives to employees who carpool to work using rideshare apps.

In January, Lyft announced a new partnership with Zenefits and WageWorks “to let riders use their pre-tax dollars to pay for carpooling rides to and from work,” according to Fortune.

You could save up to 40% on your commute – and eliminate wear and tear on your own vehicle in the process.

4. Speed No More

Listen up, speed demons: your desire to beat traffic actually costs more. And no, we’re not just talking about the increased chance of a traffic ticket here.

Once your car hits speeds above 60 mph, you start burning loads of extra fuel, says Jack Pokrzywa, the manager of ground vehicle standards at SAE International.

"The aerodynamic drag created by a vehicle moving through the air increases exponentially [over 60 mph]," Pokrzywa explained to U.S. News & World Report.

According to the same piece, cars work most efficiently between 50 and 60 mph – which means taking your foot off the gas pedal is better for everyone on the road, and your wallet, too.

5. Set It and Forget It

Setting your cruise control as you roll down the highway is one of the best perks of driving an automatic.

The good news? This strategy actually saves you a bundle on gas – and peace of mind.

“When you drive without cruise control, you tend to slow down, speed up, slow down, speed up,” explained Tom Magliozzi, car mechanic and co-host of the popular radio talk show “Car Talk.”

“And each time you have to haul that 3,500-pound hunk of steel back up to speed, you use more gasoline than you would have used if you had just kept it cruising steadily,” Magliozzi added.

On long stretches of highway and in low-volume traffic, set your cruise control to minimize the amount of sudden acceleration and deceleration while driving.

Staying at a constant rate of speed will help you fly under the radar – and stretch out the contents of your tank.

6. Under Pressure

When your car is running in tip-top shape, you get much better gas mileage. That includes keeping your tires full of air.

“The Energy Department estimates that properly inflated tires can increase fuel efficiency by more than 3 percent,” reports Ann Carrns at The New York Times.

“Yet research shows...that passenger-car tires are typically 5 to 15 p.s.i. below the commonly-recommended level of 30 to 35 p.s.i. Under-inflated tires add resistance, making your engine work harder to push the car along the road and burning more fuel,” Carrns adds.

Your best bet? Learn how to read a tire gauge and examine your tire pressure once a month to get better gas mileage.

Pay special attention to your tires during the winter months, too, when cold temps and temperature fluctuations will accelerate how quickly you lose air.

Many gas stations, including Sheetz and Hess, offer free air – so take advantage of the extra (extra) savings.

7. Climate Control

Blasting your A/C on a hot summer day may be satisfying, but it’s costing you a bundle in gas, especially if you’re just driving around town.

“Below 55 mph, open the windows and leave the A/C off,” writes Mike Allen at Popular Mechanics. “But at 60 mph or higher, keeping them closed and the air conditioning running will burn less fuel.”

That’s because your car won’t experience significant drag until it hits 60 mph – when an open window might cost you as much as 1 mpg in fuel efficiency, according to testing conducted by the magazine.

At highway speeds, it pays to keep the A/C on and eliminate extra drag on your vehicle.

8. Re-Think Your Road Trip

The route you take can have a big impact on how much gas you use during a long haul. That’s why personal finance expert Sabah Karimi suggests using your smartphone to avoid gas-guzzling pitfalls during your trip.

“Smartphone apps like Waze provide real-time data and take accidents, road closures or other travel delays into account, so you aren’t wasting gas idling or following detours that take you too far out of the way,” Karimi writes at U.S. News & World Report.

Experts also suggest paying special attention to how much stuff you load into and on top of your car. According to research conducted by the EPA, extra weight can drag down your gas mileage by 1%-2%.

As consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch put it, “The less you pack, the lighter your load, the more you save.”

Thanks to long commutes and the American love affair with the road trip, we spend plenty of time on the road and in our cars.

If you’re not on top of car maintenance or using helpful apps to get ahead of the curve, you could be losing out on big bucks every time you start up your engine.

The next time the needle on your fuel tank reads E, whip out this handy guide so you know how to get the best deal.

Do you have a fuel-saving strategy? Tell us how you save money at the pump in the comments below:

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