Nothing can compare with the freedom of hitting the open road for a summer vacation. If you’re planning a road trip soon, you may have already begun budgeting for hotel stays, food costs, and souvenirs. But don’t forget to plan ahead when it comes to fueling up. Gas prices have dropped substantially over the last five years, but that doesn’t mean they’re affordable nationwide. Plus, saving money on fuel costs can put more money back into your pocket for souvenirs and other travel expenses. While you can’t eliminate the cost of fuel entirely, you can cut your gas budget way down using these five simple tips.
#1 – Add it Up
You might be tempted to ballpark your gas estimate for the trip, but this can be a mistake. Instead, use a real number to budget for fuel. Take the total mileage of your trip, add about 10 percent to that total, and divide this number by your car’s average fuel efficiency or miles per gallon. Then, take that number and multiply it by the national average for gas prices at the time of your trip. This figure will give you enough wiggle room to fuel up without breaking your budget.
#2 – Map Out the Route
Getting lost can be part of the fun on a road trip. Unfortunately, it can also eat into your gas budget. Plan ahead by mapping out your route using a GPS, packing snacks and beverages in the car so that you don’t have to stop as often, and fueling up in the early morning or when it’s cooler out. While you’re planning, make sure to leave enough space in the car for your stuff. Rooftop storage devices force you to use more fuel.
#3 – Use Your Phone
Put your smart devices to good use by downloading an apps to help you save on gas. You might not think that it matters, but gas stations can vary significantly in pricing, especially when you’re near a major city or metropolitan area. Check your apps before you fill up to make sure there’s not a better deal a few miles down the road. Your smartphone offers other benefits as well. Use it to find affordable nearby lodging when you need a break so that you don’t waste time and fuel searching for a good hotel.
#4 – Sign Up for Perks
If you don’t have a grocery rewards card or a credit card of any kind, now’s the time to think about signing up. Just about every major grocery chain and credit card issuer now offer rewards programs that are specifically geared toward gas purchases. You can earn up to 5 percent back in some cases, but a more realistic incentive is 1 to 2 percent. Still, those pennies on the dollar can add up when you’re racking up hundreds of miles on vacation. Just be careful to pay the card off each month to avoid interest charges. Getting hit with fees will nullify any benefit you got from the card.
#5 – Save for Spontaneity
When you plan for a road trip, add a category for spontaneous adventures. Road trips don’t happen every day, so you should set aside some time and a bit of your spending money for making the most of your getaway. Allow a little extra funding toward wrong turns, side excursions, and unplanned amusements. You’ll be able to have fun even if it takes you longer to reach your final destination.
There’s nothing particularly thrilling about setting up a spreadsheet for your summer vacation, but a bit of planning goes a long way toward keeping you on track. Download gas-saving apps, pack your car efficiently and invest in a good fuel rewards card to maximize your trip.
Beth Kotz is a contributing writer to Credit.com. She specializes in covering financial advice for female entrepreneurs, college students, and recent graduates. She earned a BA in Communications and Media from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, where she continues to live and work.