No, you're not imagining things. The price of gas did indeed surge when you weren't looking. And just in time for Labor Day journeys, too. Great.

According to a CNN report on Sunday, the previous two weeks saw the fastest increase in the 50 years that the Lundberg Survey has recorded the price of gas across the nation. The increase was 15.53 cents, leaving the national average at $1.72. By Monday, the average was $1.75.

Blamed are several factors, such as the BlackoutisGiganticus that struck much of the nation on August 14, temporarily shutting down several refineries, as well as a burst pipeline in Arizona. These reasons are clearly short-term ones, and demand for gas tends to drop as the summer winds down, so many analysts expect the price of gas to begin heading south in the weeks ahead.

But others blame the oil companies, for propping up prices (free registration required) in order to boost profits. (And speaking of oil companies, ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) dodged a bullet yesterday, as a federal appeals court blocked a $4 billion judgment against the company related to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.)

You don't have to remain purely a victim of rising gas costs. Inform yourself and you may be able to save a bit of money -- as you enjoy lower blood pressure at the gas pump. Find low prices at stations near you, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy's guide to gas prices.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Don't buy fancier gas than you have to. See what gas your vehicle's manual recommends. Most cars don't require premium gas.

  • Don't neglect maintenance. Underinflated or misaligned tires or an out-of-tune engine can cost you one or more miles per gallon, too.

  • Lighten your load. If your trunk is full of anvils you rarely need, you're wasting money. According to the Automobile Club of America, an extra hundred pounds lugged by your car costs you one mile per gallon.

Drive safely, now!