As Gas Prices Creep Up Again, Tips for Saving at the Pump

Just in time for the peak summer driving season, gas prices are once again climbing, once again putting a strain on budgets already stretched too thin.

Cheap gas was the one bright spot for families suffering with burdensome mortgage payments, rising unemployment and credit card debt. Now even that slight relief is disappearing.


"If they go up again this year, I don't know what I'm going to do," said Gina Pierce. "If they go way up again, we're going to be in trouble. It's just going to be one more thing to deal with."

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The price of a gallon of gas shot up 10 cents in the last week to $2.62 for regular unleaded. While that's still $1.42 less than this period last year, it's up nearly 60 cents from the start of April. This is the highest weekly average since the end of October 2008.


The tight economy has already forced Pierce and her husband Robert to cut their daughters' health care.

"It was another thing we had to get rid of to afford food," said Pierce, of Clearbrook, Minn.

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Every penny at the gas pump adds up. Pierce runs a horse-training business and needs to drive a gas-guzzling truck far distances. Her husband drives 80 miles each day to and from work.

"It's a bad situation all around," she said. "I pray every night for help. We basically live one day at a time."

ABC News first spoke to Pierce almost exactly a year ago. At that point, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in America was $3.93, according to the Energy Information Administration. Today, gas is averaging just over $2.62 a gallon.

Back then, the couple really wanted to get rid of Robert's GMC Jimmy and get something more fuel-efficient but could not afford to do so.

In the fall, that changed.

"We finally did get a smaller car. We had no choice," Gina Pierce said. "We borrowed some money from my in-laws and got a smaller car because it was really killing us."

That car has helped them deal with higher gas prices, but if the prices keep going up, "we're still not going to be happy," she said.

But just in time for summer and the family road trip, gas prices are just doing that.

After hitting an all-time high of $4.05 a gallon right after the July 4th weekend last year, gas prices started to fall. As the recession spread around the globe, individuals and companies started using less petroleum. Additionally, more and more Americans lost their jobs, eliminating their daily commune.

By the last week of December, gas was averaging just $1.59 a gallon. But then prices started to climb as people started to drive more, other countries such as China underwent massive stimulus plans and because of normal seasonal adjustments.

The price of oil has also been climbing. On Friday, the a barrel of oil spiked briefly above $70, for the first time since October. And some think it will only keep going higher. Goldman Sachs raised its three-month-ahead price target to $75 a barrel from $52. The bank also increased its 2009 oil price forecast to $85.

Forecasters say the price of gas at the pump will rise too, but don't expect $4-a-gallon gas anytime soon. For instance, the American Automobile Association doesn't see gasoline rising to $3 a gallon this summer, though $2.75 is a "possibility."

And the government predicts that during this summer driving season -- April through September -- gasoline prices will average $2.21 per gallon, down about $1.60 from last summer.

Last year, Travis Sanders of Colfax, Wis., told ABC News how gas prices were compounding his financial problems.

"I'm just an average down-home family man that is trying to make a dollar stretch as far as I can, but whenever I turn on the news, look at a paper of just drive past a gas station I get that terrible feeling that this may very well be short-lived," Sanders said at the time. "I worry for my family and for everyone around me who has to deal with this."

Today, he drives 60 miles roundtrip for work and is at least spending $20 to $30 less a week than last year. But now he is "extremely worried because I see gas prices going up all over."

"You bet gas higher gas prices hurt me," Sanders said.

"I can't switch to a smaller car or anything like that because I can't afford it, even with all these deals and prices going down," he added. "I can't afford another payment to worry about."

Gas Money Saving Tips

So what can you do to save at the pump? Here is a list of tips that should help you squeeze a little bit more out of your gas budget.

Choose the right octane. For most cars, the recommended gas is regular octane. Using a higher octane gas than the manufacturer recommends offers no benefit, and it costs you at the pump. Unless your engine is knocking, buying higher octane gas is a waste of money.

Stay away from gas-savings gadgets.

Be skeptical about any gadget promising to improve your mileage. The Environmental Protection Agency has tested more than 100 such devices -- including "mixture enhancers" and fuel line magnets -- and has found that very few provided any benefits. Those that worked provided only a slight improvement. Some can even damage your engine.

Stay within the speed limit. Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.

Avoid unnecessary idling. It wastes fuel, costs you money and pollutes the air. Turn off the engine if you anticipate a wait.

Stop and start gently. You can improve in-town gas mileage by up to 5 percent by driving gently.

Use overdrive and cruise control. They improve fuel economy when you're driving on the highway.

Check your tires. Keeping your tires properly inflated and aligned can increase gas mileage up to 3 percent.

Keep your engine tuned. Tuning your engine can increase gas mileage by an average of 4 percent.

Change your oil. Clean oil reduces wear caused by friction between moving parts and removes harmful substances from the engine. Motor oil that says "energy conserving" on the performance symbol of the American Petroleum Institute contains friction-reducing additives that can improve fuel economy.

Replace air filters regularly. Replacing clogged filters can increase gas mileage up to 10 percent.

Lose the junk in your trunk. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk can reduce fuel economy by up to 2 percent. Removing nonessential stuff can save you at the pump.

Combine errands. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.

Consider carpooling. Many cities make it even easier by matching up commuters.

Bus it, bike it or hoof it. Why not leave your car at home and consider public transportation, a bike ride or a stroll across town?

With reports from ABC News' Dean Praetorius.