05/16/2013 02:33 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2013

Pennies & Petroleum: Spending Wisely at the Pump

For Women & Co. by Jody Devere,

It's the phrase that you dread to hear, and yet there it is, on the news, in the paper, and at the water cooler. Gas prices stink. Still, we line up at the pumps and we fill up week after week, day after day -- because in the end, what choice to you have? Paying through the nose for gas may seem unavoidable, but it doesn't have to be needlessly expensive. To help trim your spending at the gas station, here are a few tips that to help you spend a little more wisely the next time you fill up. Getting the most "bang" for your buck at the pump may be a small condolence for the price of a fill-up, but pennies do add up.

There's an App for That!
To start saving money at the pump, you need only reach as far as your own purse or pocket. There are plenty of apps out there that will assist you in your quest, but one of the most popular is Gas Buddy. The app reports local gas prices in your area (or in any area, in fact), either on the web or on your phone. What's more, if you're traveling, you can actually plot your route using the Gas Buddy route planner, and it'll pinpoint the stops along the way that will save you the most money when you gas up.

There are also some apps out there for fuel economy, where you record your driving data to keep track of how economically you're traveling. Apps like this can help alert you when it's time for a tune up, or to check on your tire pressure. Ford, which has been making great strides in green driving in recent years, recently launched a contest to find the holy grail of fuel economy apps. They'll give a $50,000 cash prize to the developer (or developers) who come up with an app to help customers optimize their "personal" fuel-economy performance. Keep an eye on the contest, because it may just give birth to the new "killer app" of fuel economy tracking.

Drive Smarter
Jerky, aggressive, and fast driving are all a drain on your tank. Gas mileage deteriorates rapidly after you pass 60 miles per hour. Slow down and avoid "jackrabbit" stops and starts. Use cruise control when you're on the highway to maintain a steady speed. Also, don't put off emptying your trunk of heavy things, like tools or sports equipment. One hundred extra pounds in your vehicle can diminish your gas mileage by 1-2 percent.

Cash or Credit?
When you fill up, do you swipe the plastic, or hand over greenbacks? At many gas stations, this choice could cost you more than you think. Lots of stations advertise the "cash" price for their gasoline, and charge extra for customers who prefer to use credit. Though the practice is certainly controversial, it still occurs widely in many parts of the country, with some stations charging as much as 50 cents extra per gallon for credit card purchases. Why do this? Well, with most consumers paying at the pump and driving away without even entering the store, many station owners are feeling the pinch due to fewer patrons opting for the impulse Ultra-Jug o'Java or 72-oz soft drink, so they add on a credit surcharge to help cover the loss. If you're in an unfamiliar area, be careful where you top off your tank.

Calculate the Cost of Your Time
Finally, we leave you with a simple question: if you drive out of your way to fill up for a few cents less, how much extra does that trip really cost you? I'm not talking about the fuel you burn going the few extra miles to the cheaper station, though that's certainly also a factor, but your time. How long will it take you to drive across town to the station that's typically a nickel per gallon lower, saving you a couple of bucks when you fill up? If you were getting paid hourly, would that couple of bucks be worth your time? Sometimes, penny pinching at the pump can become more trouble than it's worth. Next time you pass the gas station that always charges a penny more than the other place, take a moment to consider the true cost of visiting the competition in terms of your own time. Sometimes, you may opt to pay an extra dollar because that quarter-hour you'd spend otherwise is more valuable.

Women & Co., a service of Citi, is the go-to personal finance source for women. By providing financial content, commentary and community, Women & Co.'s mission is to get women thinking and talking about personal finance. Founded in 2000, Women & Co. is one of the longest running personal finance websites dedicated to helping women strengthen their financial futures.