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How to Avoid the Sting of Higher Gas Prices

The average price of regular fuel in the U.S. is $2.96 a gallon and it's estimated to rise as summer sets in. Here are a few things you can do to handle the high costs.

The arrival of summer usually spells higher gas prices, but this year has been especially brutal. Nationally, the average price of regular fuel stands at $2.96 a gallon, according to AAA – 60 cents higher than stations were selling just a year ago. In many parts of the country, drivers are shelling out substantially more than that.

What’s the big reason? The usual factors are coming into play this time of year, such as the seasonal uptick in demand and the fact that refineries are kicking out pricier summer blends. Add to that the fact that crude oil prices are higher than they’ve been in more than three years, and you have a recipe for some serious sticker shock at the pump.

The price of gas will certainly shake up the summer. So how can you keep from busting your budget despite the higher cost of fuel? Below are some tips to avoid unnecessary financial strain.

Compare gas prices in different states

Different tax laws and additive requirements can lead to big differences in gas prices when you drive from one state to the next. Passengers in Missouri, for example, pay nearly 40 cents more per gallon once they cross into Illinois. So if you’re going on a long trip this summer, know where you can fill up the tank for less.

Experts say it’s also a good idea to avoid gas stations located right off the Interstate, which tend to charge more. You could find yourself saving a few bucks by finding ones in more residential areas.

Consolidate your daily errands

Engines run more efficiently when they’re warm, so you’ll burn less gas when you combine multiple errands into one rather than taking separate trips. By consolidating errands, you also travel fewer miles to complete the same tasks.

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Consider the cost of activities

For a lot of kids, summer can be just as hectic as the school year, with a non-stop itinerary of camps, classes, and recreation activities. It’s a way to keep your children busy and – let’s face it – provides a nice respite for mom and dad. But the more each gallon of gas costs, the more you may want to question whether all that traveling to-and-fro is really worth it.

Club sports, which can have moms and dads traveling long distances for games, can put an especially big dent in your wallet. For some families, it’s an investment that’s well worth the cost. But that may not be the case for everyone.

Start a carpool

One of the best ways to cut down on your fuel costs is by splitting transportation duties with other parents at your kid’s school or even carpooling to work. If your state has high-occupancy lanes on the expressway, you might even get there a little faster.

Drive smarter

You don’t necessarily need a more efficient car to cut down on your gas bill – sometimes simply changing your driving habits can do the trick. Aggressive driving can reduce your gas mileage by 10 to 40 percent in city traffic, or 15 to 30 percent in highway conditions, according to the Department of Energy’s fueleconomy.gov website. So, if you have a lead foot, you might consider backing off a bit. For those traveling on highways or the Interstate, cruise control is a great way to reduce the amount of work your engine has to perform, resulting in less fuel consumption.

Don’t overtax your A/C

In hot conditions, the air conditioner can reduce your car’s fuel efficiency by more than 25 percent according to fueleconomy.gov. Oddly enough, the cooling unit is an even bigger drag on fuel economy for hybrids and electric models.

So creating less work for your A/C is a great way to boost your mileage. Consider parking in the shade or using a windshield-covering visor so the cabin doesn’t get too hot to begin with. It also helps to drive with the windows open for a while to release as much hot air as possible.

In general, only use your air conditioning when you have to. And when you do, resist the urge to set the dial to Arctic temperatures, no matter how good it may feel on a scorching summer day.

Be careful how you pack for trips

Going on a road trip this summer? Avoid storing extra cargo on top of your car, as the increase aerodynamic drag can decrease fuel efficiency by as much as 10 to 25 percent at expressway speeds. A better idea: use rear-mount cargo boxes, which create a lot less air resistance. On a day to day basis, storing unnecessary items in your trunk can be a money-saver, too. Every 100 pounds of weight you add to the car drops your mileage by one percent.