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‘Be prepared for months of these high prices’: How to save money as gas prices smash records – USA TODAY

  • High gas prices got you down? The Russian invasion of Ukraine is raising the cost of gasoline.
  • How long will gas prices be this high? Consumer advocates say it could be months.
  • Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart offer gas savings with membership programs.

Got sticker shock at the gas pump? You’re not alone.

The national average price for a regular gallon of gas topped an eye-popping $4 a gallon for the first time in more than a decade as fuel costs soar over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

According to data from popular fuel-saving app GasBuddy, the US national average set a new all-time record Monday: $4.104 a gallon, wiping out 2008’s record of $4.103 a gallon.

In a sign of the times, the GasBuddy app, overwhelmed by traffic from bargain-hunting drivers, was inaccessible off and on Monday. 

“The higher prices this time will likely stay around far longer,” GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis Patrick De Haan tweeted.

Americans will be paying stratospheric prices at the pump for the foreseeable future, according to Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.

“Consumers need to hunker down and be prepared for months of these high prices,” Gillis told USA TODAY.

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Here are some easy tips on how to save money at the gas pump.

Find the cheapest gas near you with GasBuddy, AAA apps

Gas prices can vary as much as 10 cents to 15 cents a gallon even within a few blocks or miles. Use apps such as GasBuddy, Gas Guru and the AAA Mobile App to find the lowest gas prices wherever you are. You can also check Waze.

“There are clear price differences within most people’s driving range to find the least expensive gas in your neighborhood,” Gillis said.

Fill up at Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart and Kroger’s 

Wholesale club stores Costco and Sam’s Club and grocery stores such as Kroger’s offer discounted gas. Typically, you need to buy a membership or enroll in a discount program. Using the Walmart app, Walmart+ members get a 5 cents a gallon discount and access to member prices at Sam’s Club.

Pay in cash at the pump

You can save 5 to 10 cents a gallon when you pay in cash. That can add up over time, averaging about $1 in savings each time you fill up a 12-gallon tank, according to GasBuddy. But beware of gas stations that charge a surcharge for using a credit card because they may charge higher prices.

Martin Bruinsma, 65, takes pictures of gas prices in Los Angeles. The price of regular gasoline broke $4 per gallon on average across the U.S. on Sunday for the first time since 2008.

Get points, cash back from credit cards

GasBuddy says most people prefer to pay with a credit card. Less than 6% of drivers pay with cash when they fill up their tanks, a GasBuddy study found. Gas cards and gas rewards credit cards provide much larger discounts than cash.

Check to see if your credit card has any deals on gas purchases. Some will give you double points or cash back. For example, you can get 3% cash back at gas stations with the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. One of the best is the Sam’s Club Mastercard will give you 5% cash back on gas, up to $6,000.

You can compare credit cards with the best gas perks at Bankrate. One caveat: credit cards that offer discounts for gas purchases might not be the best option if you don’t pay off the balance each month. 

Sign up for gas loyalty programs

Sign up for loyalty programs and gas cards, GasBuddy recommends. Nearly all gas stations have a loyalty program. You can often link those rewards accounts to a gas card. 7-Eleven has a program that gives you a discount of 11 cents a gallon for the first seven fill-ups on all fuel grades.

Best time of day and week to buy gas

According to GasBuddy, the best day to save money at the pump is Monday which has the lowest average gas prices in most of the country. The most expensive days in most states? Thursday followed by Wednesday.

“Though there is variation in daily gas prices across different states, the consensus is that filling up at the beginning or end of the work week, on Monday or Friday, is the best way to save money. Following Monday, Sunday is the cheapest day to fill-up,” Gas Buddy’s De Haan said. 

Gas prices at Love's gas station off of Interstate 10 in Long Beach, Mississippi neared $4 a gallon on Monday.

GasBuddy estimates you can save $50 to $100 a year by filling up on the cheapest days of the week. You can check the GasBuddy site for the cheapest and most expensive days of the week for your state.

Theoretically you might save a little extra by filling your tank in the morning or evening. (Gasoline is denser when temperatures are cooler). But GasBuddy says the savings would probably be “marginal.”

Earn free gas cards

You can earn free gas gift cards by taking surveys for apps like Swagbucks and Survey Junkie, but be prepared to spend a good deal of time and to hand over a lot of personal information such as your age, job, income and shopping habits.

Improve fuel efficiency

“The way you drive can have a real impact on your fuel efficiency,” Gillis said. “It’s amazing how so many of us still drive with one foot on the brake and one foot on the gas.” 

Yet that kind of behavior behind the wheel can reduce fuel efficiency by 30%, he said. We could save $1.42 a gallon at today’s gas prices if we just cut it out.

Don’t speed. Fuel economy peaks at around 50 mph on most cars. Reducing highway speeds by 5 to 10 mph can increase fuel economy by as much as 14%, according to AAA. 

Also don’t brake hard or aggressively accelerate as all of those burn gas faster, GasBuddy says. Turn off your A/C and roll down the windows. 

Keep up with vehicle maintenance and do routine inspections, AAA says. Make sure your tires are properly inflated.

Travel light: Take anything you don’t need out of your vehicle. For every 100 pounds you carry around, you lose 1% to 2% in fuel efficiency, or 8 cents a gallon, according to Gillis.

Gas prices are seen in front of a billboard advertising HBO's Last Week Tonight in Los Angeles on Monday.

Fill your tank with regular, not premium 

If regular gas is all that’s recommended for your vehicle, then that’s all you need, AAA says. Filling up on premium doesn’t improve your fuel economy and just costs you more money.

Drive less

Plan ahead. Map your route before you leave, AAA recommends. Take the most fuel-efficient route on Google Maps. Combine errands to avoid extra trips.

Avoid rush hour and anticipate road conditions.

Shut off your engine if you will be stopped for more than a minute. According to AAA, a car engine consumes one quarter to one-half gallon of fuel per hour when idling. A warm engine only takes about 10 seconds worth of fuel to restart. 

When possible, car pool, ride a bike or take public transportation.

Contributing: Kelly Tyko, USA TODAY