After years of buying expensive food at rest stops and failing to plan ahead, a heard look at our budget forced us to rethink our road trips. We needed to learn how to save money on our road trips, and we needed to do it fast.
We live between 1.5 to 3 hours away from both of our families, so road trips are a very regular occurrence for us.
Road trips used to kill us, as budgeting goes. We never planned ahead, and the second we got into the car we were either hungry, tired, or needed gas. But planning ahead and making out own food and drinks helped us A LOT.
Here are my favorite road trip money savers.
Find the cheapest gas
First of all: any gas right off the highway is ALWAYS more expensive. By quite a lot. It’s always a good idea to get off the highway to find the best gas prices.
If you’re unfamiliar with an area, GasBuddy is my go-to app. They’ll show you not just where the gas stations are, but they’ll also let you see where the cheapest gas is! I even use this at home when I want to find the best price.
Avoid buying ANYTHING once you’re on the road
My husband can walk into the gas station and, no matter what he had for breakfast, he’s suddenly hungry for everything… which leads to impulse buys… which are unnecessary. When you’re living on a very small income, planning for everything is so crucial. I learned (not early enough) that I need to bring snacks with me wherever I go. By avoiding gas station stops (for anything other than potty breaks), we’ve saved a lot of time and money.
My husband and sons would snack all day, every day if I let them. But buying pre-packaged snacks (even single-serve pretzels) really adds up quickly.
Now, we go to our bulk food store the day or so before our road trips and buy snacks in bulk. Whether they’re pretzels, nuts, granola bars, or grapes, we’re all loaded up on snacks for every possible craving. I’d much rather pay $.20 a pound for Cheddar Quackums (our favorite bulk-brand Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies knock off) than have to stop to get a box of crackers at a gas station.
Coffee (and any other drink you might like)
We’re big coffee drinkers, so halfway through any road trip, we would be hankering for some of those sinfully delicious Starbucks Frappuccinos at the gas station. Those things are more than $2.50 EACH. For 4 of them, that’s $10 that we could spend somewhere more important… like gas!
So we started making our own coffee to bring in the car. We each made gigantic thermoses of iced coffee just the way we liked it so we never had to make a pit stop. Make your coffee however you like and keep it with you. You’ll never have to be thinking “I could really use a cup of coffee” and need to wait to get one!
If energy drinks are your thing, you can get them at a warehouse club, like Costco, for a fraction of the price at the gas station. The same can be said for many other drinks that you could pick up at a rest stop. Planning ahead could mean the difference between $1/ can of Monster, and $4 per can.
Check for traffic
Sitting in traffic eats gas. If it’s possible, find ways around any traffic if it’s going to make a lasting impact. Waze is an amazing app to have on your phone. It’ll help you see in real-time and traffic, or even speed traps, in your path. I also keep Google Maps on my phone to show me confession before I leave. Both apps are incredibly helpful to have on your phone.
Living on a budget doesn’t have to mean that your life stops. All it means is that you will need to plan ahead for every time you might pull out your wallet. Keeping your spending in check all comes down to how prepared you are to face any given situation. Even a road trip requires forethought: you will need to allot money for gas, tolls, snacks, and sometimes lodging. But if you plan ahead and shop for the best deals before you’re in a pressing situation, you’ll be better off in the long run!
How do you prepare for road trips?