Your Complacency Might Be Costing You Money at the Pump. Here’s Why

filling gas at a gas station

I didn’t get my first car until my sophomore year in college.

That was in 2009, smack dab in the middle of record-setting highs for gas prices, according to data collected by GasBuddy.

When I bought my silver 2004 Hyundai Elantra — his name was Prince as in Charming, not the other Prince — gas prices hovered around $2.60.

But that didn’t last long. Over the next three years in Tallahassee, they spiked close to $4 for months on end.

So, saying I have a high threshold for pain at the pump is pretty accurate. Expensive gas was all I knew for my first few years as a car owner.

This is also how I know I’m exactly the “consumer” this new study from GasBuddy is talking about when it says consumers are paying more than they need to for a gallon of gas, even though gas prices have dropped significantly in recent years.

Consumers are More Likely to Overpay When Gas Prices are Low

As the average price of a gallon of gas drops, the pricing gap between individual gas stations will widen and consumers will be more likely to pay top dollar even when cheaper options are easy to find, according to the study.

That’s likely because consumers are less likely to search for the lowest possible price when overall prices seem to be down.

But that’s a mistake that could cost you serious cash, especially if you live in a larger metropolitan area.

“As gas prices are seeing an unseasonable drop for this time of year, GasBuddy looked at the current price spread in the largest U.S metro markets,” the company said. “The report found that gas price variation is greatest in Washington D.C., where a whopping $1.21 per gallon is separating the most expensive and least expensive stations.”

That means if I lived in Washington D.C. and ended up at the most expensive station to fill the 14-gallon tank in my new car — Prince II — I’d be spending an extra $17 at the pump every time I filled up.

And the only real reason for that would be because I was too lazy or complacent to go in search of cheaper gas, according to GasBuddy.

“We’re in a relative period of tranquility and affordability at the pump, and so the data suggests Americans are at particular risk right now of overspending on gasoline,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy. “And we expect that trend to continue for some time.”

Every Little Bit Counts

While a $1.21 difference might send you in search of another station, no matter how low prices dropped, smaller differences can be slowly bleeding you dry a few cents at a time.

I know — I was an accidental victim of this just a few days ago.

As soon as I started up my car, my gas light blinked on and I headed to the nearest gas station to fill up for $2.19 a gallon. About five minutes later, I passed as gas for $2.05 and felt cheated.

But it’s all my fault. If I had one of these apps, I would have known that savings were just up the road.

Your Turn: Now that gas prices are relatively low, are you still shopping around for the best deal or just opting for the closest location?

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a Staff Writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s still upset about that $2 she wasted by not stopping at the cheaper gas station a few days ago.

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