The Great Gas Savings Hoax

By on June 4, 2013

Gas prices are, at best, unpredictable. 

What’s really aggravating is when prices vary from city to city. 

While you’re paying a high price for a gallon of regular near your home, your friends 20 miles away may be paying a good bit less (or more) for the exact same brand of gas on the same day. 

It’s maddening! 

While there’s probably some very clever conspiracy at work setting gas prices from one area to another, there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.  Nothing! 

Being reminded of that simply frustrating fact, day after day, has an effect on our psyches.  Deep down we want vengeance.  We want somebody to know that they cannot hold us hostage at the gas pump. 

Then it happens.  Gas prices go up yet again.  Can you believe it?  And like a straw breaking the camel’s back, our need to right the ship just can’t be bottled up any more. 

The fuse is lit.

We tell ourselves, “I’ll just make a road trip and get the cheaper prices.”  It satisfies that little “I’ll show them” critter that’s running inside us like a cheetah chasing a gazel on the Serengeti.

And, so it begins.  We convince ourselves that driving to get cheaper gas, regardless of the distance, is always worth it no matter how small or large the savings.

But, that’s just a big fat bowl of crazy talking!  In short, we’ve been had.  We’ve been led to water and are about to drink.  We’ve perpetrated a hoax on ourselves.

Believe it or not, it’s pretty rare that you’ll net a savings when driving even a few miles out of your way for the cheaper gas – if that’s all you’re going for.

The smart consumer will use every means available to be informed where to find the lowest prices as well as be able to estimate whether there is a net savings by driving several miles to buy cheaper gas.  

Is it really worth it to buy gas where it’s cheaper?

Key fact: Only when the price difference between towns is very large and prices are rising very fast is it worth driving just to get a lower price.

Handy Gas Savings Calculator

To estimate whether the trip is worth it use this 3-step cost savings calculator:

Step 1. Calculate the Savings: (Gas price here – lower price elsewhere) X Number of gallons you want to buy

So, for example, if gas near your home is $3.50, but the price 20 miles away is $3.40 and you want 15 gallons, the savings would be calculated like this: ($3.50 – $3.40) x 15, or $0.10 x 15 which is $1.50 difference between local prices and prices elsewhere.

Step 2. Calculate the Cost to Drive: (Round trip in miles / mpg of vehicle) X Cost per gallon of last gas purchase

If it’s a 20 mile drive one way (40 miles round trip) and your car gets 23 miles per gallon, and the gas in your tank cost $3.45 a gallon last week when you bought it, then the cost to drive to get the gas would be calculated: (40 miles to drive divided by 23 miles per gallon) x $3.45 which comes to a cost of $6.00.

Step 3. Subtract Cost to Drive from Savings. Only if Savings is larger than Cost to Drive will it pay you travel to the lower priced gas.

In our example above the Savings of $1.50 is less than the cost $6.00 to go get it and come back so it would end up costing you $4.50 more to drive to get the cheaper gas price.

For an online version see our Gas Savings Calculator page.

If it seems a bit of a let down that big savings are hard to get even when lower prices are only a few miles away, don’t lose hope.  Here are some clever ways to save on fuel.

Fuel Price Websites and Smartphone Apps

By far the easiest way to begin finding the lowest fuel prices in your area is to make use of a website such as GasBuddy, FuelMeUp, GasPriceWatch, and others.  Many of them also have free apps for your smartphone which can really help when you’re already out and about.

Using these and other sites is a great way to see the disparity between gas vendors in the same area.  If nothing else it has infotainment value!

Form an informal fuel network with friends and family

For fuel sellers like Sam’s Club, Walmart, Costco, BJ’s, very small convenience stores, fuel clubs, and other outlets that may not be sharing their pricing data with the fuel watch websites, ask a friend who lives nearby to keep you in the loop.

Better yet, collaborate with friends, family, and co-workers through email, social media, or text messaging.  You’ll have your own private fuel network.  Facebook and Twitter are great for this. 

One summer we drove to a nearby water park every Saturday to beat the heat and found that the gas prices at two stations were so much less than at the surrounding communities that I started posting an iPhone photo of the pump price to my Facebook account every week because I didn’t think people would believe just how low the prices were. 

It was an instant hit and helped a lot of people because these particular gas stations were not listed on the fuel price websites nor did they advertise.  A few months later their prices went back to “normal.” 

The lesson is that sometimes the best prices are not advertised or are only offered on a short term basis.  How do you find out about them?  Communication!

Think like a spy and use your eyes

Have you ever wondered why there are traffic jams at certain convenience store gas pumps when the store across the street from it is a ghost town and the posted gas prices are the same?

It might surprise you to learn that sometimes the price at the pump is less than the price on the big sign out front.  The locals know this because they live there.  But drivers just passing through don’t give it a second thought.  They don’t know this secret!

Keep an eye out for such anomalies and stop to check them out.  It can yield several cents per gallon in your pocket with no planning involved.  I’ve saved as much as a dime per gallon discovering such deals.  

It’s also an awesome piece of information to post on your family and friends fuel network since these nuggets are never advertised.

Getting lower prices on gas  is somewhat of an art.  But it’s not hard when you know the secrets.  Hopefully, using the tips above, you’ll be well on your way to finding better prices and knowing if they’re worth pursuing.

Do you have any fuel savings tips?  Be sure to leave a comment below and let the rest of us in on it!

About Mr. Happy Little Shopper

Mr. Happy Little Shopper (aka Mark Conger) is a Mississippi home grown and self taught computer nut and internet marketer. He's addicted to Starbucks, has a gold Starbucks card to prove it and is married to the greatest woman in the world, Mrs. Happy Little Shopper. For more information check out his LinkedIn profile.

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