Saving Money on Gas Isn’t Always Worth It

There’s an ARCO gas station right by my office that has the lowest advertised prices in the area. It’s always at least 2-3 cents cheaper than the next best place and a solid 7-9 cents lower than what I can find close to home.

The funny thing is that even with the great price, the ARCO station is not my first choice when I fill up at.

Why?

It starts with the 45 cent charge for using a debit card. That sucks and adds another 3-4 cents per gallon each time I fill up.

So why not just pay in cash and get the best rate? Because remembering to take cash out of the ATM each week just to have a bunch of change in my car does not appeal to me!

Even when paying with cash, I still think the smart move is to avoid the station. I’ll use an example to show you why:

At the ARCO station, gas is $3.69 (and 9/10ths of a cent, everyone seems to forget that that means the price is much closer to $3.70 than $3.69) while the 76 station 3 blocks away sells gas for $3.71 (and 9/10ths).

Paying with cash for 12 gallons at the ARCO station costs $44.39 while the debit transaction at the station costs $44.84, a true rate of $3.736, so about 3.5 cents more per gallon.

At the 76 station, 12 gallons cost $44.63, which is better than the cost of using a debit card to pay at the ARCO station.

But there’s one more advantages to going with the 76 station: you can use your credit card, which for me means 1% rewards (and maybe more for you!).

When factoring in the rebate I’ll get, the price drops to $44.18 for a true price of $3.68, even cheaper than the cash price at ARCO!

There are two lessons to be learned here:

1. We’re talking about very small amounts of money. It’s about 15 cents, so maybe a dollar a month at most. Not really a budget buster in my book. Don’t sweat it, choose the station that’s most convenient.

2. Be aware that things aren’t always the way they seem. Sure, cheap gas is great, but guess what? Advertisements aren’t always so cut and dry. The “cheapest” gas wasn’t really so, and when you add in the hassle, it’s actually a much worse deal!

Readers, do you always go with the cheapest option for gas? Would you pay in cash to save 20 cents or is the hassle not worth the savings?

9 Responses to Saving Money on Gas Isn’t Always Worth It

  1. Noah says:

    I usually always choose Arco because it’s 10-15 cents cheaper. I also mostly use a debit card because trying to keep track of cash isn’t worth the dollar or two it saves per month. I’ll occasionally use cash, but only if I have it on me.

  2. Eric J. Nisall says:

    I don’t bother shopping for gas. The minimal savings may already be lost by going out of your way driving the extra distance for the savings. I happen to have cheaper gas by my office compared to my home so I just fill up when I’m on lunch and get the best of both worlds: savings and convenience.

  3. krantcents says:

    I usually buy my gas at Costco. They are usually 5-10 cents below the market and I receive a 3% rebate on top of it. I time my purchase every two weeks when I may shop there.

  4. I typically use my Amex card when I charge gas since I get 5% cash back. However, if I see another gas station that beats that 5% I go for it.

    But, I’m not particular to the idea of driving around for the best gas prices. That can take too much time and energy.

    Here are a couple of tips to save on gas in other ways:
    1. Ensure that your tire pressure is correct. If they’re low, your car is dragging and using more fuel.
    2. Inspect your air filter. A dirty air filter makes it harder for your car to suck in air, draining more energy.

    Happy Driving!

  5. Lisa says:

    Don’t ever use your debit card at the gas station. Most put a hold on $150 until they get the actual amount & it can make your bank account overdraw.

  6. Market Maker says:

    @Noah,

    I typically go where it is cheapest as well. There is this one place by my house that is always $0.10 cheaper than the others but it is one of those lesser brand name places. I’m not worried about it because I’ve got a cheap car! :-)

  7. I don’t shop around too much. I use my credit cards to get rewards, but like you said, it’s not worth paying cash to save a few cents (or less) on the dollar. With that said, I usually go to a place that charges the same price for credit as cash. It is slightly more expensive than the other gas stations’ cash prices, but cheaper than the credit prices. Plus, I use my rotating rewards credit cards when I get 5% back on gas.

  8. Since I pay for my gas in cash, I would prefer to fill up at the nearest gas station, even if it is a little bit pricier than the cheapest in town. I would rather go to a gas station, have my tank filled, and go about my business than go to the cheapest gas station and wait in line with the others.

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