Let's get to the heart of the matter: Higher gas prices stink, but it looks as though they're here to stay. As if the higher cost isn't bad enough, there's the complete feeling of powerlessness that accompanies it -- waking up each day not knowing what the sign at your local gas station will read or when your wife will cut DirecTV from the budget so you can afford that expensive driving habit.
Take heart: While we can't control the price of a gallon of gas (nor can oil company execs, if you believe them), there are numerous ways we can control our expenses. Here's how to save money on the ever-rising price of fuel:
1. Change your behavior.
- Invest in a great local map. Plan your route each day, minimize stops, and maximize your efficiency on the road.
- Telecommute. Now may be just the time to propose to your boss that you work from home one day or more a week. Cite the studies about increased productivity among employees who get to work in their jammies.
- Carpool, use mass transit, or walk/bike/ride a scooter, for all the obvious reasons.
- Adjust your work times so you avoid rush hour. Idling and stop-and-go driving consume more gas.
2. Be a savvy shopper.
- Get a gas credit card. Check out sites like Credit-Land.com to compare discounts, rebates, and cash-back offers before plunking down the plastic.
- Search for better prices close to home. Let your fingers do the clicking at GasBuddy.com, FuelFinder.com, or GasPriceWatch.com. Check your locale and find the best deals without wasting gas driving around to look for them.
- Join Costco or Wal-Mart's Sam's Club, after confirming that your local store has a gas station. Where else can you get good prices on gas, moon bounces, and a giant container of fresh mozzarella balls?
3. Operate your vehicle wisely.
- Obey the speed limit.
- Use the cruise control.
- Avoid stop-and-go driving.
- Maintain your vehicle in tip-top shape, including keeping up with oil changes.
- Use regular-octane gas.
- Ditch the junk in your trunk. Dragging around that heavy load is increasing the burden on your wallet.
- Keep your tires properly inflated.
4. Go for the long term.
- Get in line for a hybrid. According to edmunds.com, a hybrid, on average, costs $2,500 to $3,000 more than a comparable gas-only vehicle. While that hardly sounds like a savings, when you factor in possible tax deductions from the federal and state governments, greater fuel efficiency, and the benefit of (in some states) getting to use the HOV lane, you may offset the higher sticker price. Plus, you get to feel sanctimonious. Toyota (NYSE: TM ) , Honda (NYSE: HMC ) , and General Motors (NYSE: GM ) are among the automakers innovating to build a better hybrid.
- Pressure lawmakers. Put the heat on your congressperson to search for viable fuel alternatives, to enforce current fuel efficiency standards, and to push for even higher standards in the future.
- Decrease the distance between home and work, either by moving or changing jobs. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures!
- If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Start doing your investment research on integrated oil companies such as ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) , BP (NYSE: BP ) , or Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) . They can all point to solid long-term returns and reasonable valuations today.
- But if you think ethanol is the Next Big Thing, check out producers such as Archer-Daniels-Midland (NYSE: ADM ) and MGP Ingredients (Nasdaq: MGPI ) . With a price-to-earnings ratio close to 50, MGP is not a cheap stock. But if fuel prices stay high, ethanol could see some serious growth.
A few smart investment decisions can go a long way toward helping you afford your bills today and your retirement tomorrow. If you'd like to learn more Foolish money-saving and investing tips, take a free sneak peek at Motley Fool GreenLight, our brand-spanking-new money management service. We'll help you save money, and it won't cost you a dime.
Fool contributorElizabeth Brokampdoes not own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. Costco is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick, and Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy is priceless.