After years on the road, we’ve found that our single greatest expense isn’t food or equipment (we’re already pretty frugal there) but gasoline. Driving a one-ton truck with a slide-in camper adds up. In ideal conditions (flat straight away with no wind at a moderate pace) we can get 16 miles per gallon. Rough, steep, and rocky roads, however, are our preference and the gas veritably evaporates from the tank. So we are always looking for opportunities to save money on gas. There is no single solution because gas stations vary regionally. So we have several approaches:
Grocery Loyalty Credits
Stores such as Kroger have points programs that can be applied to their line of gas stations. Along with our regular groceries, When we are in the middle of a big project, we can buy gift cards through the grocery and have the points contribute to discounted gas. This can lead to huge savings, provided we are spending money on other things. Unfortunately, our experience has been that these points don’t rollover. So we use them or lose them. Thus, when we aren’t spending a lot of money on other things, we rely on other money-saving programs.
Clubs like Costco and Sams Club offer discounted gas at their branded stations. The discount comes with the membership to the clubs, so they require an annual flat payment. But occasional promotional programs can help negate the annual fee.
For experimental purposes, we currently have both memberships. Costco tends to be a bit more upmarket and located in upscale communities while Sams Club tends to fill in, covering more downmarket and rural communities. Between the two, you can find pretty expansive coverage across the US. But even these programs rely on a certain population density that isn’t found in many small communities scattered across the US. For that, we have another fallback.
Cash Back Programs
We also use discount programs like Upside. This is an app on our phones that will look up special discounts through participating stations. Upside has limited coverage, but where it is, we have saved up to 30 cents a gallon. (Use my link for an extra 15¢/gal bonus on your first purchase)
Where it isn’t… we’ll, then we have to just shop around or take what we can get.
Gas Station Credit Cards
Gas station chains like Philips 66 offer credit cards with discounts on their gas. This is an avenue we have yet to explore. So we can’t offer much personal experience.
Apps like Google Maps are starting to integrate price reporting for gas stations along your route. It’s far from complete, but it’s helped us anticipate better prices along our route.
Gas Station Perks
This last one has lead us to pay a little more for gas on occasion in return for discounts on other benefits we want. In our case, this is Pilot and Flying J’s rewards program where we can get free showers when we spend a given amount of money with them. Pilot and Flying J generally have competitive gas prices. And on top of that, their consistently clean bathrooms and large, RV-friendly parking lot make them preferable to smaller gas stations. So, add on the occasional free shower and this is one of our favorite gas stations while on the road.
Which to Use?
Of course, these money-saving strategies make for a lot of options to juggle. It can be easier to just pick a few for simplicities sake. Checking Upside for discounts can be impractical for solo drivers. But as the copilot while traveling, finding the ideal gas solution is part of my role. Which solution we use at any time has a lot to do with where we are and what we have at that moment. I tend to work my way down the list I provided above. If we have grocery credits, we use those. Then we check for convenient access to a club with discounts and so on.
When we are near some big city, we have lots of options. But as we get further out into the country, our options tend to narrow. So, the final variable in all this is location. If we know we are headed out into the wilderness, (or are about to head into a state with significantly higher gas prices) we are sure to take advantage of where we are to fill up our tank. Because once we are in the middle of nowhere, we’ll just have to pay whatever is asked.
Overall, we’ve saved quite a bit by minding the gas prices.
Do you have special tricks for saving money at the gas pump? Let us know in the comments!