Yesterday I was at the gas station and I observed a soccer mom topping off the tank of her bright yellow Hummer.
And when I say “topping off,” I mean really topping it off. She must have squeezed that hose handle a dozen times — and each time she did, the gas pump reacted with one of those obnoxious attention-getting retorts warning her that the tank was full. You know … Thunk. Thunk, thunk. Thunk. Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.
Now, maybe I’m being a bit snooty, but I find that kind of behavior to be extremely annoying, not to mention just a wee bit ignorant. Don’t you?
I mean, come on. How much extra fuel did that nice lady think she was going to put into the neck of her gas tank anyway? I’m not a car mechanic, but I’m guessing it was less than a quarter gallon.
Perhaps she thought those final few precious drops of fuel would allow her to drive for an extra day or two before having to return for her next fill-up of premium gasoline.
In reality, all of the commotion probably earned her little more than a measly mile of extended driving range — assuming she runs her tank bone dry.
True, an extra mile or two might prove critical if she were traversing the Sahara Desert. However, I’m fairly certain this lady lives in Southern California. There’s a gas station on every corner here.
There’s no getting around it; occasionally, a lot of folks will unwittingly make misguided decisions based upon well-intentioned beliefs.
Here are a few common money mistakes people make in the name of saving a few bucks:
1. Going to a restaurant and ordering the “daily special.” When a waiter comes up to your table and tells you all about the chef’s special, don’t ever assume that just because it’s a “special” it comes with a special low price too. Quite often, it’s the exact opposite; sometimes the chef’s special comes with a price that would ruin the appetite of even the most famished of diners.
2. Blindly sacrificing quality in favor of lower prices. There is a time and place for everything. To be sure, sometimes it makes absolutely no sense to pay extra for quality. Then again, sometimes it does. For example, it is not unreasonable to pay extra cash for high-quality clothing that can be worn many times over several years, as opposed to buying cheaper alternatives that will only fall apart after only a couple of washings.
3. Buying items in bulk that are better off being bought in smaller quantities. Buying things in bulk can often result in significant money savings but, the truth is, there are also plenty of items that are usually better off being bought in smaller quantities. For example, brown rice has a short shelf life due its oil content; mayonnaise too. If an item you purchased in bulk goes bad before you can use all of it, then the odds are you probably could have saved more money by buying it in a smaller quantity.
4. Always assuming larger-sized packages are cheaper. Nowadays, it’s no longer a given that products in bigger packages are always the best buy. When trying to choose between getting the smaller- or larger-sized item, always be sure to calculate the unit price of both packages first.
5. Thinking in terms of monthly payments when getting a car loan. Car dealers love to steer price negotiations toward how much money you can afford to pay on a monthly basis. After all, when it comes to negotiating car prices, dealers can usually work out the financing such that you can afford just about any vehicle your heart desires. By increasing the loan repayment period, dealers can offer a monthly payment to fit most any budget. Of course, the flip side to that means you will also pay more interest over the life of the loan.
6. Driving out of your way to save a few cents on the price of gasoline. Uh huh. Driving even a couple miles out of your way to save a few cents per gallon is usually a losing proposition. In fact, unless the price differential is significant, you’ll actually save money by buying your gasoline at a nearby station with the higher price — regardless of whether or not you’re the type that likes to top off your tank. Thunk.
Photo Credit: Michael Gwyther-Jones
(This is an updated version of an article that was originally posted on December 8, 2010.)