The journey of a Christian wife, stay-at-home mom, quasi-tree-hugger, and cheapskate to find ways to "CHanGE" her life to be Cheaper, Healthier, Greener, and Easier. Constructive feedback always welcome!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cheaper: Saving Money on Gas via The Gift Card Trick

For those of you wondering why I'm not labeling this as "Greener," you'll see below.

As we all know, the price to fuel up your car has increased dramatically in the past few years. I long for my college days in the late 1990s when I could fuel up for less than $1 per gallon, and my tank would be full for less than $20. Since it doesn't look like those days are returning any time soon, we need to be looking for ways to pinch those pennies on fuel consumption.

Besides the normal strategies for increasing gas mileage and reducing costs (combining trips, cutting down on long-distance trips, accelerating and braking more gently, inflating tires to the correct air pressure, rolling up the windows after reaching 40 mph, buying a more fuel-efficient car), here is a trick I've started using recently.

At Kroger, you can purchase a multitude of gift cards, and most of them will give you at least double points on your Kroger Plus card for every dollar you spend. They occasionally even run specials where you get quadruple points! You can use these points at either Kroger Fuel or Shell to get money discounted per gallon--10 cents per $100 spent at Kroger that month, up to $1000. Huz finds Shell to be superior in quality to "discounted" brands, so we buy all of our gas at Shell. Even though they are sometimes more expensive, these discounts typically more than make up for the difference.

What I do:

- Buy a $50 Shell gift card. I automatically get 100 points for doing this on top of whatever I spend at Kroger. I buy other gift cards as I know I'll need them that week. I recently knew I was going to JCPenney in the following day or so, so I also picked up a $25 JCPenney gift card, which gave me 50 points. During quadruple-point time, these would be worth 200 and 100 points, respectively.

- The next time I need a full tank of gas, I use the gift card and my reward points to pay for my gas. I save a minimum of 10 cents per gallon, more if I've bought a lot of groceries and/or gift cards at Kroger that week. One time, I saved 40 cents per gallon! Even at a savings of 10 cents per gallon, that translates to savings of $1.00 - $1.10 per fill-up for me as I usually need 10-11 gallons for a fill-up.

- A $50 gift card is more than I need to fill up my tank as I drive a Toyota Matrix (usually $30-35 will do it), so I save the rest of the gift card for my next trip to the gas station. If I don't have any more gas points at that point, that's ok, I'm not getting a lot of gas, anyway. I save my gas points for when I need a fill-up, not just a couple of gallons.

You can tweak this plan to work for you. If you have a subcompact car, you might be able to get away with a $25 Shell gift card. If you drive a large SUV, might want to invest in a $100 Shell gift card. I think Jay-C stores also have this plan; I don't know who else does.

As a disclaimer, I don't think buying Kroger gift cards will get you the extra points; it's just 1 point per dollar spent on them, so it's not really worth it. You might as well just buy the groceries and get the points. If someone knows differently, please let me know.

This is a great tip to keep in mind as we get closer to Christmas if gift cards are on your family's and friends' lists! And even if they want a tangible gift, you can buy the gift card for the particular store at Kroger and use that to do your shopping. See the list of available gift cards at Kroger. The list is quite extensive--restaurants, clothing stores, music, electronics, and more!

You'll still get gas points if you just buy groceries and don't buy the gift cards, but the points accrue much faster if you do.

This could be a Greener option in the sense that you're not driving from store to store to get different gift cards. And if you're disposing of the gift cards in a way that they can be recycled, or you're recharging them, then it is relatively Green. However, some Green points might be lost if you're throwing away the cards after you're done with them, making a separate trip to Kroger to get the gift cards apart from your regular grocery-shopping, or driving a long distance to get to a Kroger. In my case, the nearest Kroger is directly on the way to the nearest Shell.

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