There may be an energy boom going on in the U.S., but prices at the pump haven't given Americans any relief lately. With gasoline prices setting new record highs for the winter season in recent months, cash-strapped consumers are looking for every break they can find.
To help you in your search for ways to pay less for gasoline, here are five good prospects. You won't find all of them everywhere across the country, and some of them will only have a small impact on what you pay. But by combining the ideas that you can take advantage of, they can add up to real savings.
1. Warehouse-club discounts
In order to encourage customers to join their clubs, Sam's Club, Costco (NASDAQ:COST), and BJ's often have gas stations connected to their stores that offer discounted prices. In some areas, the discounts are are just a few cents, but some reports show cheaper prices of $0.10 per gallon or more.
You're only allowed to use the pumps if you have a membership card. With memberships costing $40 and up, it usually won't make sense to join solely to save on gas unless you plan to take advantage of other discounts as well.
2. Grocery-store gas rewards
Many grocery-store chains offer points that you can use to save on gasoline at local stations. SUPERVALU (NYSE:SVU), Safeway (NYSE:SWY), and several grocery retailers established their own proprietary programs as a way to encourage shoppers to spend more money generally as well as to buy certain targeted promotional products. A typical deal might involve saving $0.10 per gallon for every $100 you spend on groceries.
Clearly, if you pay more for groceries, the savings at the pump won't be worth it. But if you're shopping at a store anyway, there's no reason not to take the opportunity to save.
3. Day-of-the-week specials
Some gas stations offer discounts if you buy gas on certain days of the week. The discounts usually aren't that big, with $0.03 to $0.05 per gallon being a typical amount. Yet many people are able to time their gas purchases to take advantage of those discounts at least part of the time.
4. Credit card rewards
Many credit card companies offer a substantial discount on gas when you use their cards. With rewards of 5% not uncommon, the effective savings can be $0.20 per gallon or more based on current prices. For instance, Pentagon Federal Credit Union issues cards that offer 5% cash back on gas purchases with no annual fee.
With these cards, be sure to read the fine print. Most of the time, you have to slide your card at the pump in order to qualify; going inside to pay can disqualify you from getting the reward. Also, some cards, such as JPMorgan's Chase Freedom card and Discover Financial's (NYSE:DFS) Discover Card, only give special gas discounts during certain times of the year, with rotating categories in other areas for the remainder of the year. Finally, check to see whether your reward comes in the form of cash or points, as points can be harder to convert to cash on some rewards programs.
5. Special promotions
From time to time, companies do gas-related promotions to build business. For instance, just two weeks ago, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) announced the latest version of its Great Gas Rollback program, in which the company offers a $0.10-per-gallon discount at Wal-Mart and Murphy USA gas stations for those using Wal-Mart gift cards. The discount rises to $0.15 per gallon with a Wal-Mart-branded credit card or MoneyCard. But the promotion runs only through July 7, and it's only available in 21 states. Similar limited-time promotions from other businesses occasionally pop up in other places, so be on the lookout in your area.
Save where you can
High gas prices are hard to stomach. But with a little help, you can at least put a dent in the amount you have to spend at the pump every time you fill up.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Costco Wholesale. The Motley Fool owns shares of Costco Wholesale, JPMorgan Chase, and Supervalu. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.