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How to save money on gas, with or without a federal gas tax holiday

The recent run-up in gasoline prices is now being felt nearly across the board.

The national average for a gallon of gas is currently $4.94 after topping $5 per gallon for the first time ever earlier this month, according to AAA. Last year at this time, the price was $3.07 per gallon.

The increase has put a severe strain on most workers’ ability to cover their expenses and save for the future, according to a recent report by DailyPay, which polled more than 2,000 adults in May.

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Hourly workers are having an even harder time getting by, the report found. Roughly 81% said higher gas prices have had a negative effect on their ability to pay for basic necessities.

As a result, 44% of households making less than $100,000 a year said they are saving less than last year — or not at all.

To make ends meet, 22% of hourly workers said they had to tap a payday loan, one of the most expensive ways to borrow money.

To provide some immediate relief from prices at the pump, President Joe Biden asked Congress to temporarily suspend the federal gas tax for three months. The federal tax is 18.4 cents per gallon of regular gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel.

“Would it help? Yes, but having said that, I don’t think there’s much chance of success,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. “There’s a lot of politics intertwined here.”

What’s more, if a gas tax holiday coincides with rising wholesale fuel prices, consumers won’t see much of an impact at the pump because the tax move would be offset by the higher cost, De Haan noted.

On the upside, prices have already started trending lower due to the tumbling cost of oil, which is the key ingredient in gasoline.

“We’ve already seen prices decline, which is the good news,” De Haan said. By the July 4 weekend, “I hope we’ll be somewhere five to 15 cents lower.”

Four ways to save on gas

With or without a federal gas tax holiday, there are ways to shield yourself somewhat from prices at the pump. Consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch has these four tips:

  1. Track gas prices. Apps such as GasBuddy, Gas Guru and AAA TripTik can track down the cheapest price per gallon at nearby gas stations. You may be able save up to 30 cents per gallon, depending on where you fill up. Even if the difference doesn’t seem like much, taking this approach can add up to hundreds of dollars in savings for the year.
  2. Pay with cash. The price per gallon can be 10 cents to 15 cents more per gallon for credit card transactions than cash purchases. For those who can, it’s best to pay with cash or use a cash-back credit card to earn up to 2% on the charges. CNBC’s Select has a full roundup of the best cards for fueling up based on your consumer habits.
  3. Drive strategically. Carpooling to and from work and school or sports practice can dramatically reduce your time on the road. Or use ride-sharing sites like ZimRide, RideJoy or eRideShare.com, Woroch advised. Also, order online and look for free delivery to cut the cost of getting groceries, takeout and other daily essentials.
  4. Sign up for loyalty programs. Loyalty programs, which are offered by many major gas station chains, can help offset the price at the pump. Some grocery store chains also may offer cents-per-gallon rewards. For example, Kroger and Shop & Stop give fuel points for every $1 spent on groceries, which can be redeemed at participating gas stations. 

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