Gas prices are going up — here are some simple ways to save at the pump

Yep, prices at the pump are going up, but these everyday behaviors are also costing you money. Here's a better way to save.
by Herb Weisbaum /  / Updated 
Image: U.S. Gas Prices Expected To Rise To Highest Levels Since 2014
A new AAA survey found that most people say they will change their driving habits or lifestyle to offset higher gas prices. One in four would start making changes at $2.75 a gallon, while 40 percent say $3 is their tipping point. Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Get the Better newsletter.

The cost of a fill-up keeps going up and that’s putting a squeeze on some family budgets. A simple way to reduce the pain at the pump is to shop around for the best price, something most motorists don’t do, according to a recent survey.

Drivers are prone to overpay by at least 20 cents per gallon “due to factors such as laziness and procrastination,” according to a report from GasBuddy, a website and app that helps consumers find the best gas prices.

“Motorists need to get outside of their comfort zone and shop around for the lowest price. It certainly can save you hundreds of dollars a year,” said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis.

GasBuddy found several things drivers do that cost them money:

  • Bad Habits: Nearly 80 percent of the respondents said they regularly fill-up at one gas station and 38 percent say they use that station because it’s convenient, not because it has the best price.
  • Choosing an Easy Route: Respondents said location is the main reason they choose a station, not price. Sixteen percent said their decision was based on how easy it is to get in and out.
  • Running on Empty: Few people (19 percent) fill up when they see a station with a good price. Most (65 percent) wait until they have a quarter of a tank left or the gas light comes on.

“You may be forced into a situation where you have to pull into the next gas station and unless you're just really lucky that day it's probably not the cheapest price,” DeHaan said. “By planning ahead and avoiding those situations where you have far fewer options when you're on E, you can plan ahead and find the cheaper station.”

A GasBuddy survey reveals money wasting habits at the gas pump
A GasBuddy survey reveals money wasting habits at the gas pumpGasBuddy

GasBuddy’s research found that shopping for the lowest price, especially in major metro areas such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., can result in savings of $60 of more per month.

Shopping for the lowest price can result in savings of $60 of more per month.

Other Ways to Save on Gas

There are various ways to pay less than the pump price and it really doesn’t take a lot of work.

  • Some gas stations advertise a sizeable discount, typically 10 cents a gallon, when you pay with cash.
  • Gasoline credit cards typically offer a discount, as high as 6 cents a gallon on every purchase, according to lowcards.com. Some of these cards offer significant sign-up bonuses. For example: With the highly rated Shell Drive for Five credit card, you’ll get 25 cents off every gallon of Shell fuel for the first two months. After that, it’s a 5 cent per gallon discount.At some stations on the West Coast, GasBuddy noted, you’ll get the cash price when you use the oil company’s credit card.
  • Supermarket loyalty programs are a great way to pay less than the posted price. These programs typically let you earn discounts of up to a dollar a gallon.
  • Some major gasoline companies have their own loyalty programs. With BP Driver Rewards you get 10 cents off per gallon for every $100 spent. Shell Fuel Rewards gives discounts on every fill-up, plus you can earn an additional 5 to 10 cent discount for every $50 spent on certain purchases.
  • GasBuddy’s surveys show that wholesale clubs, like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale, have some of the lowest gasoline prices around. Even if there’s a membership fee, they can quickly pay for themselves if that station is significantly cheaper than the competition, DeHaan said.

Prices Keep Going Up

Gasoline prices have been creeping up the past few weeks. The national average for regular gasoline is about $2.80 a gallon, the highest in three years, according to AAA. It’s 18 cents a gallon higher than a month ago and 52 cents more than a year ago.

“Spring spikes are causing sticker shock and it’s not over just yet,” said AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano. “We expect gas prices to peak around the Memorial Day holiday and stabilize through the summer. AAA does not expect the national gas price to be reminiscent of 2011-2014, when motorists were paying on average $3.47 a gallon.”

A variety of factors are driving up prices, including “high crude oil prices, unrest in the Middle East, surging consumer demand and the switchover to summer blend,” Casselano told NBC News BETTER.

A new AAA survey found that most people say they will change their driving habits or lifestyle to offset higher gas prices. One in four would start making changes at $2.75 a gallon, while 40 percent say $3 is their tipping point. Changes include: combining errands or trips (79 percent), driving less (73 percent), reducing shopping or dining out (61 percent), delaying major purchases (50 percent) and driving more fuel-efficient vehicles (46 percent).

The Way You Drive

How you drive can have “a huge impact” on fuel economy, according to Mike Quincy at Consumer Reports Autos. Going too fast and driving abruptly — those jack rabbit starts — cause significant fuel economy losses,” he said.

The magazine’s on-road tests done in 2014, found that fuel economy dropped 4-8 mpg when going from 55 to 65 miles per hour. Moving from 65 to 75 miles an hour cut another 5-7 mpg.

“Overall, speeding up from 55 mph to 75 is like moving from a compact to a large SUV,” the editors wrote.

Carrying things on the roof increases aerodynamic drag which can reduce mileage 5 to 15 mpg, Consumer Reports tests showed.

Finally, don’t waste money pumping premium when your vehicle doesn’t need it. Even if the owner’s manual says that “premium fuel is recommended,” most vehicles will run just fine on regular gasoline," Quincy said. If the manufacturer says premium fuel is required, use premium.

GET MORE SIMPLE MONEY HACKS THAT'LL HELP YOU SAVE

Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Get the Better newsletter.
MORE FROM better