This week, I drove through the Costco parking lot, and I noticed that the usual entrance to the Costco gas station was blocked off. Instead, gas station traffic was diverted to the area by the entrance of Costco so a longer line could form and not block other parking lot traffic. I followed the line for gas and discovered it was at least 10 cars long. What?! What is this irrationality of seeking the lowest gas price? I am a Costco member, and yes, gas there can be up to 25 to 30 cents a gallon cheaper, but I would never wait in such a long line for gas.
Why do Americans obsessively attempt, at any cost, to pay the lowest gas price? Do they not know that their efforts cost them precious time and yes, even money?
One Woman’s Pursuit of the Lowest Gas Prices
I have a relative I will call Judy, who is a low gas price chaser. She will drive 10 miles or more out of her way to save a few pennies per gallon on the price of gas. She has a 10-gallon tank. If she pays $5.04 at her local gas station, filling her empty tank will cost $50.40.
If she cruises to a town 10 miles away, she might pay $4.98 per gallon, meaning a fill-up will cost $49.80. She saved .60 cents, but did she? She also wasted gas to get to the lower-priced station and took 20 to 30 minutes of her time to do so.
Why We Don’t Seek the Lowest Gas Price
I’m frugal in general. My husband and I only take our family out to eat about five times a year. We drive old vehicles. My Toyota Sienna is a 2004 and has 231,000 miles on it. My husband’s car is a 2013 and has 105,000 miles on it. We live in a modest neighborhood, and when we bought our house, we bought one that was on the lower end of what we could afford.
We like to save money, so you might be surprised to learn that I don’t play the lowest-gas-price game. It’s not worth it to me.
My minivan has a 20-gallon tank, and our nearest gas station sells gas for $4.86 a gallon. To fill up my minivan costs a whopping $97.20. Ouch! Gas at our nearest Costco is $4.55 a gallon. Filling up there would cost $91, so I would save $6.20. However, I do not want to wait in line for 30 to 45 minutes to save six bucks.
Instead, I choose to limit my driving while prices are so high. We stay home a lot more, and when we drive, we combine errands, so we don’t use as much gas. Right now, I’m filling up every two weeks.
Americans are obsessed with seeking the lowest gas price, only to save at most a few bucks, or, at worst, a few cents. To do so, they have to spend money and precious time. Rather than chasing the lowest gas price, a more lucrative option may be to find other frugal ways to save money that more significantly impacts their bottom line.
Melissa is a writer and virtual assistant. She earned her Master’s from Southern Illinois University, and her Bachelor’s in English from the University of Michigan. When she’s not working, you can find her homeschooling her kids, reading a good book, or cooking. She resides in New York, where she loves the natural beauty of the area.