On the way to pick up my daughter from her first day of school, I passed a gas station where regular was going for $2.77 a gallon. I made a mental note to get some gas there because that price seemed downright cheap.
But on my return trip home, I passed that same brand-name station -- just a half-hour later.
The price of regular gas: $2.89 a gallon.
A day later, the same station was charging $3.07 a gallon.
The nationwide average price of self-serve regular gasoline had already been setting record highs since the beginning of August, according to AAA. I understand that serious issues with the flow of fuel from the Gulf Coast because of Hurricane Katrina are cutting into the nation's refining capacity, but these nationwide hikes are still painful.
Within days after Katrina, gas prices had risen to just under $6 a gallon at some stations in the South.
What can you do to find some gas savings?
First, don't resort to long-term borrowing to buy your gas.
The overall increase in average annual gas prices from 2003 to 2004 (from $1.55 to $1.83 per gallon) led to a significant increase in the use of credit cards at the pump, with 54 percent of all gasoline customers paying with plastic in 2004, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores.
The huge increase in gasoline prices this year has accelerated that trend, and the NACS estimates that 70 percent of all motor fuels purchases are now paid with plastic.
I know the high price of gas may be draining your bank account. However, if you can't pay that charge off by the time your credit card statement comes due, you need to park your car, take public transportation, carpool or cut down on your driving. If you don't, your gas could end up costing a lot more than $4 a gallon.
For example, let's say you charge $70 a week of gas on your credit card, which carries an 18 percent interest rate. At the end of the month you've charged $280. But if you make only the minimum 3 percent payment on that debt (because money is tight -- that's why you charged the gas in the first place), it would take you 37 months to be rid of the debt. In that time, you will pay $85.88 in interest, according to a credit card calculator I used at www.bankrate.com.
If you can't or won't reduce your gasoline consumption, then at least heed the advice of auto experts -- slow your roll. In other words, stop flooring the gas pedal.
Edmunds.com, the auto consumer site, found that you can save quite a bit of money by braking easy. If you slowed your 0-to-60 time down to 20 seconds from a normal city driving pace of 10 seconds to 15 seconds, you'll feel the savings immediately, according to Edmunds. You could see an improvement in the number of miles you get to the gallon by as much as 35 percent.
Here are some other ways to save on gas:
* Save yourself some money and time riding around looking for the cheapest gas by going to www.gaspricewatch.com to compare prices in your area. You can search for the best gas deals by your Zip code, street, city or state. You can even sort prices by the grade of gasoline.
* Stop speeding. The faster you drive, the more gas you use. Each 5 mph over 60 is equivalent to paying an extra 15 cents per gallon for gas, according to the Alliance to Save Energy.
* Share a ride. There is a growing trend called car-sharing. It's a concept that could work for a lot of consumers, saving them thousands of dollars each year. Steve Case, the co-founder of America Online, believes this will take off. His Washington-based investment firm, Revolution LLC, acquired the controlling interest in Flexcar, one of the pioneer companies in car-sharing. Even Lee Iacocca is catching a ride on this trend. He will become a senior adviser, investor and director of Flexcar.
Car-sharing is like time-sharing. But instead of buying a week's use of a vacation condominium, you share a car with other members. Unlike a time-share, you don't have ownership rights but you do avoid insurance, parking, cleaning and maintenance costs that come with owning a car. With Flexcar, members reserve a vehicle over the Internet or phone for rates that range from $7 to $10 an hour and $35 to $90 per day. Membership costs $40 a year.
Here's one of the best parts of car-sharing: The fee includes the cost of gas.
For more information on Flexcar, which operates 450 cars in more than 30 cities, go to www.flexcar.com. Also check out Zipcar at www.zipcar.com, another major car-sharing company that has 700 vehicles in 21 cities. In July, Zipcar secured $10 million in funding to expand its service.
Look, folks, the point of this exercise is to get you to become proactive about consuming less gas. Goodness knows, griping about prices at the pump isn't working.
* On the air:
Join Michelle Singletary at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday on "Insight" with Yakenda McGahee on WHUR, 96.3 FM.
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