Nearly seven in 10 Americans say the high cost of fuel is causing financial hardship for their families, a new USA TODAY/Gallup has found. More than half say they have made major changes to compensate for the higher prices, ranging from shorter trips to cutting back on vacation travel, USA Today reported.
For 21 percent, the impact is so dramatic they say their standard of living is jeopardized, the newspaper said.
What can you do to help put gas money back in your wallet?
Let Mellody Hobson help!
Hobson, the president of Ariel Investments and "Good Morning America's" personal finance contributor, took to the road to help drivers find ways to save money at the gas pump.
She appeared on "GMA" to answer questions about what you can do to save money now.
Q: What's the easiest save to save on gas?
A: Hobson said the easier way is to improve your gas efficiency, or miles per gallon. One way to achieve that is to drive at the speed limit. The faster you drive, the more gas you use. You actually pay 24 cents for every 5 miles per hour you do in excess of 60 miles per hour, Hobson said. That works out to about $10 for every 40 miles you drive on the highway, she said. Also, constantly braking and accelerating can reduce your gas mileage by up to 33 percent, she added.
Then, there is maintenance. Doing simple things, such as keeping your engine tuned, can increase your gas efficiency by 4 percent, and repairing major problems can improve your gas efficiency by up to 40 percent.
Q: Will it help if I comparison shop at various gas stations? How can I find out where to get the best prices?
A: Gas prices can vary a few cents per gallon from gas station to gas station, so if you drive a lot then it is worth looking around, but make sure you are not driving long distances and burning gas in an attempt to save a couple of pennies, Hobson said. Also, do not wait until your gas tank is close to empty to fill up, because that won't allow you to comparison shop.
Hobson said she liked a few comparison shopping tools, including AAA's TripTik. You can either access the tool for free on the Internet or download the free app for your smartphone. The app helps you to search for prices while you are on the road. It tracks prices at more than 130,000 gas stations – and you don't have to be a member of AAA to use the app, Hobson said.
Gasbuddy.com is another great website and app, she added. It relies upon its 5 million users to report prices at various gas stations in your area. You can tell how current each price report is because reports are time-stamped, she added.
Q: Is there a different in the types of gas sold at stations?
A: That is one of life's great mysteries, Hobson said. While you might pay $3.84 for a gallon of regular gas, premium gas will cost you about 27 cents more right now – meaning that with every fill-up, you could be spending $5 more, she said.
If your car owner's manual says "premium gas recommended," remember that this is just a recommendation, not a requirement; premium gas will be just fine, Hobson added.
In general, your car won't feel a difference if you use a lower grade of gas, but your wallet will, she said. However, if you have a high-performance car where the owner's manual says premium gas is required, then you should use only premium, she added. Using a lower grade of gas in these kinds of cars will lead to more engine wear and tear, and that could end up costing you more in the long run than any savings you gained from using the more economical fuel, she said.
Q: One of the best ways to save on gas is to not have a car at all. But there are times you may need a car. You say - why not share a car instead of buying one?
A: We are indeed a car culture. Americans spend an average of 18.5 hours per week in their cars, but pay insurance, parking and gas for 168 hours per week of car ownership, Hobson said. That means that the majority of times for which people have paid to use their cars, those vehicles are sitting idle, she said.
That's where car sharing services such as zipcar come in, she added. The companies allow people in their service area to pay for only the times that they actually need to use the car. For example, if you have access to public transportation and really only need a car for a few hours per week, you could be paying a small hourly amount – starting at around $6.98 – that includes gas, maintenance and insurance, she said. Compare this to the estimated $5,500 that the average car owner ends up spending annually and that's a serious savings with just a little bit of planning, she said.
Also, you don't have to go to the airport to get the car. Cars are usually located conveniently around the city, so you are always near one, she added.
Be aware, though, that these services do generally charge an annual membership -- but most are priced reasonable around the $50 mark, she noted.
Don't use your car as a storage locker. By removing the weight of unnecessary items from your car, you could increase your fuel economy by up to 2 percent.
Keep your tires inflated at the suggested level. Properly inflating your tires can increase your gas mileage up to 3 percent. You can find the proper inflation level on a sticker on your door or glove box, or in the car's owner manual.
Using public transportation not only helps the environment, but it can also save you on your taxes. Many companies allow you to set aside pre-tax money towards public transportation costs. This could mean a nice tax savings for you at the end of the year. Ask your Human Resources department if your company provides this benefit.
- Mellody Hobson