By Lisa Walters

When we first began our journey with the Credit Counseling Center, my husband and I began tracking and categorizing every single penny we were spending. We were shocked to see that gas was a huge guzzler of our monthly income. My husband had a large SUV and over an hour commute to work. He was filling up his tank multiple times a week with one of our five major credit cards. Eeek! I know… you live and you learn. It was one of those essentials he swiped for without thinking.

After years of being complicit with this spending routine, we had to make changes. But how can we cut costs on something that we view essential in order to work? Just because something is a necessity, doesn’t mean you have to pay for it excessively.

Moving closer to my husband’s place of work, or finding another job with a shorter commute were not viable options for us. Unfortunately, public transportation and carpooling with a coworker were also not available for our situation. However, I do recommend exploring these options and giving them consideration even if it is for a small period of time. A year of leaving for work an hour earlier to catch a train, or taking another job closer to home, may help you free up funds to pay down other outstanding debts.

As we evaluated our options, it was clear that I was driving a much more gas efficient sedan and commuting a significantly less amount of miles in a given week. Although my car was not as comfortable for my husband on long drives and not ideal for holding our children’s car seats along with all his work things, we agreed the car swap would save us a significant amount in fuel costs and worth the inconvenience. Small sacrifices will lead to big changes!

Around this time, I was also focused on our grocery budget and was studying the weekly circulars for the best deals. We typically food shop for our family at Giant grocery stores. I noticed that there was an entire section of products that would give us extra “gas points.” Each week, I’d excitedly grab my circular from the mail and strategically map out a shopping list around products that provided gas points. Very soon, my husband and I were filling up our tanks for FREE!

An hour of planning a week allowed me to create hundreds of dollars worth of savings in our monthly budget.

If you are looking for ways to cut costs, shopping at grocery stores that offer gas discounts is a good change to make. Here are seven additional ideas, thanks to Money magazine, to help you save on gas:

    1. Get a warehouse club membership (like BJ’s), and fill up your tank at their gas station.
    2. Use apps like that have gas price comparison tools, as well as rewards programs.
    3. Carpool whenever it’s possible (not just to work).
    4. Keep up the maintenance on your car, and see that your tires are properly inflated.
    5. Maximize your regular routes.
    6. Drive with fuel efficiency in mind.
    7. Buy a more fuel-efficient car on your next car replacement cycle.

Every dollar you save can be applied to paying down existing debt and will set you on a stronger path towards crushing your financial goals.