“I filled my tank for $3.32 a gallon at a station in Lexington! I am a super saver!”

Normally, I don’t like to make fun of my friends. Especially in public. But when I saw my friend – whom we’ll call Jane to protect her identity – post this as her Facebook status a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but laugh… and hit the reply button:

Me: But you don’t live anywhere near Lexington! What were you doing on that side of town?

Jane: I got sick of paying $3.49 a gallon at the station near my house, so I looked up the cheapest gas prices in the county on Gas Buddy! I got 17 gallons and saved $2.89.

Do you want to be the one to tell Jane the bad news, or should I?

Doing The Math

I was curious to see exactly how much fuel Jane had burned in order to get to and from the station suggested to her by Gas Buddy. I was able to find the station in question on the website; gas was, indeed, just $3.32 a gallon for regular unleaded. However, the station was 12 miles from her house, clear on the other side of the county. Round trip, it was a 24 miles.

Next, I looked up the fuel economy of her 2010 Honda Odyssey. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s fuel economy website, her minivan gets a combined 20 miles per gallon on city and highway driving. Now, let’s do the math:

24 miles / 20 miles per gallon = 1.2 gallons to get to and from the gas station

1.2 gallons x $3.32/gallon = $3.98

$2.89 (savings) – $3.98 (cost of gas used for the trip) = -$1.09

So, in Jane’s efforts to save money, she actually lost $1.09 by driving across town to find cheap gas.

We Do This More Than We Think

Jane’s not the only person who’s guilty of wasting money in order to save money. I know I’ve done this occasionally – not when it comes to getting the lowest gas prices, but when it comes to grocery shopping. I’ve bought multiple copies of the Sunday paper to get the coupons. Back in my couponing heyday, there were weeks when I’d spend $5.00 to buy four copies of the Sunday paper (at $1.25 each), only to cut out no more than $3.25 in coupons. My net loss? $1.75 wasted on newspapers.

My husband did this on one very memorable occasion as well. A few years ago, a group of school kids came by the door selling discount entertainment books. Inside the books were coupons and vouchers to local restaurants, movie theaters, museums, etc. My husband thought it would be a great way to explore our town without spending too much money, so he shelled out the $25, then promptly stowed the book away in the deepest, darkest corner of our junk drawer, where we didn’t uncover it until more than a year later… after all the coupons had expired. $25, down the drain.

Have you ever wasted money in an attempt to save cash?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke