MONEY Travel

How to Negotiate a Killer Deal on Your Summer Vacation Rental

summer vacation cottages
William Britten—Getty Images

Because everything's negotiable

Are you considering bypassing the hotel or resort experience for your summer vacation and opting for a summer home rental instead? Home rental networks are on the rise and have never been easier to use, thanks to the increased web presence and sites like VacationHomeRentals.com, Airbnb, VRBO, and VacationRentals.com.

However, just because travel agents and middlemen are being squeezed out does not mean that you are getting the best deal possible. You can negotiate with a vacation rental owner to receive an even better deal by following these steps:

  • Outline Your Goals – Know what you are negotiating for, and what you are willing to give up in return, if anything. Are you willing to stay longer or at different times for an improved nightly rate? Are certain amenities important to you? Can you handle a larger up-front deposit for a rate discount? Have all of your negotiating points and strategy planned out in advance, and you will know when you should walk away from a deal.
  • Do Your Homework – Research your rental options in the area, and make a list of your preferred choices. Get the best understanding you can of the booking market during your preferred time — is it peak season, are there festivals or events drawing unusual crowds, or are there other hurdles to occupancy? Keep your vacation times flexible if possible. If you can offer a stay that is complementary to the rental’s typical business, you have tremendous leverage. Do not be afraid to use that leverage, but do not lead with it. Give the rental owner the impression that you are doing them a favor by altering your plans.
  • Be Courteous – Nobody likes doing business with an obnoxious negotiator. Say that the offering does not exactly fit your time and budget needs, and you were wondering if a certain counteroffer could be met. Keep your counteroffers reasonable, and do not mention that you have other options. Rental owners already know that, and they do not like to be reminded of it.
  • Book Early or Book Late – As strange as it may sound, you can have leverage on both ends of the timeline. Booking early can give you the best combination of price and selection. However, if you are willing to gamble on availability, last-minute deals can be found for most destinations. They may not be in the exact location you want or have all the amenities you want, but the savings are significant. Check the rental sites for last-minute offers — one example is VacationHomeRentals.com, but there are others available. However, if you go this route, be prepared to find a hotel if you have to, and realize when it is too late to do anything based on an area you are visiting (part of your “homework” above).
  • Sell Yourself as an “Easy” Customer – Rental owners love “easy” customers who simply enjoy their time, are respectful of their rental property, throw no parties, and cause no problems. If you fit into that category, find subtle ways to let them know that you are low maintenance.

On the other hand, if your family really does not fit that mold, don’t misrepresent yourself. Rowdy kids or uncontrolled pets will earn you a reputation you do not want for future rentals. Find a rental that is a bit more tolerant, and be prepared to pay extra.
Congratulations! You have successfully negotiated a great deal for your vacation rental. Now it is up to you to follow through.

Be a good and respectful guest, follow all the house rules, and leave everything in the same condition you found it in, if not better. If you had an excellent experience, do not forget to refer others to the rental — and let your host know that you will be referring them to others. You may receive a similarly good deal, or even a better one, the next time you stay there.

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MONEY Holidays

Memorial Day Weekend Traffic, Sales & More, By the Numbers

We know for sure that during the holiday weekend, sales will be big, traffic will be heavy, and many, many hot dogs will be eaten. Here's a big roundup of fun factoids about the holiday weekend ahead.

  • 95¢

    In this May 8, 2015 photo, vehicles drive past a gas station in Andover, Mass. Even after the typical springtime run-up, the average price for gallon of regular gasoline should top out around $2.60.
    Elise Amendola—AP

    Approximate difference in the price of a gallon of regular gasoline this Memorial Day, compared to the holiday weekend in 2014. Even as gas prices have surged steadily for over a month, filling up the tank is substantially cheaper than it was a year ago. The last time gas was this cheap over Memorial Day weekend, it was 2009.

  • 5%

    Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel resort exterior property swimming pool, Orlando, Florida
    Rosa Irene Betancourt—Alamy

    Average percentage rise in hotel rates this year compared to 2014. According to Priceline data, daily room rates over Memorial Day weekend are up even more than that in cities such as Orlando and Dallas, while prices at Virginia Beach, Detroit, and Fort Lauderdale have fallen compared to a year ago. Meanwhile, forecasts from AAA call for a 16% increase in rates at lower-end (two-star) hotels over the weekend.

  • 14

    person clicking seatbelt
    Getty Images

    Number of days that police around the country are aggressively enforcing a “Click It or Ticket” campaign to get drivers and auto passengers to wear seatbelts. Look for police to pull cars over and issue a disproportionately high number of tickets for not wearing seatbelts from May 18 to 31.

  • 14+

    Colonial Williamsburg
    Bob Stefko—Getty Images Colonial Williamsburg

    Number of freebies and special discounts available to veterans and active military on or around Memorial Day, per sites such as Military.com and MilitaryBenefits.info. For instance, at Colonial Williamsburg, admission is free this weekend for all active duty, reservists, retirees, and veterans—and their dependents get in free as well.

  • 25

    War Memorial to Confederate Soldiers, Macon, Georgia
    Sean Pavone—Alamy

    Approximate number of American cities that have laid claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day, the majority of which are in the South and held celebrations in the aftermath of the Civil War. (One of them is Macon, Ga., whose War Memorial to Confederate Soldiers is pictured above.)

  • 54%

    George W. Bush International Airport, Houston, Texas, USA
    Alamy

    Percentage of Americans who said they prefer to travel on non-holiday weekends rather than holidays like Memorial Day, according to a survey conducted for Citi ThankYou Premier card. Only 11% named Memorial Day as the best summer holiday for travel.

  • 57%

    man grilling fish
    Stephen Lux—Getty Images

    Percentage of Americans who say they will grill food on the barbecue during Memorial Day weekend.

  • 60% to 70%

    Cabela’s, Scarborough, Maine
    Gregory Rec—Portland Press Herald via Getty

    Discount off the original prices that shoppers can expect during many Memorial Day sales.

  • $199

    2015 Buick Verano Turbo
    Tom Drew 2015 Buick Verano Turbo

    The hot per-month lease price available for more than two dozen new vehicles during the busy holiday weekend, according to Edmunds.com. The auto research site also notes that there are an exceptionally large number of 0% financing offers in May, including 0% financing deals on several Toyota and Nissan vehicles and most Ford models.

  • 383

    overturned car
    Sebastien Cote—Getty Images

    Estimated number of fatalities from traffic crashes that will take place over Memorial Day weekend, according to the National Safety Council. Drivers and passengers can expect another car crash-related 46,300 injuries over the weekend as well.

  • 818

    hot dogs on plate
    Greg Elms—Getty Images

    Number of hot dogs consumed every second in the U.S. from Memorial Day to Labor Day, known as peak hot dog season, when we’ll collectively wolf down 7 billion dogs.

     

  • $200,000+

    toasting with beer pints
    John Giustina—Getty Images

    Amount of money raised for military-focused charities last year with the release of a special craft beer, Homefront IPA. Ten craft brewers have made their own versions of Homefront IPA for the charity effort this year, and the official release date for the brews is Memorial Day, May 25, 2015.

  • 1.75 Million

    Passengers board a Bolt bus to New York in Washington, D.C.
    Jay Mallin—Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Projected total number of travelers in the U.S. boarding buses on rides of 50 miles or more from Wednesday, May 20, through Monday, May 25. That would be a 5% rise over the holiday period last year, and the highest total for Memorial Day weekend bus travel in 25 years.

  • 37.2 Million

    Interstate I-10, Arizona
    Natalia Bratslavsky—Alamy

    Number of Americans that AAA is projecting will travel at least 50 miles from home over the big holiday weekend. That would represent a 4.7 increase over last year, and the highest volume of Memorial Day traffic since 2005. Nearly 9 in 10 travelers will get to their destinations this weekend via automobile.

  • 42+ Million

    U.S. Marines march during the National Memorial Day Parade on Constitution Avenue in Washington, May 27, 2013.
    Yuri Gripas—Reuters

    Number of American men and women who have served their country in the armed services during war time over the centuries; approximately 1.2 million lost their lives in the course of their service.

MONEY Autos

5 Reasons This Could Be the Worst Road Trip Weekend Ever

150521_EM_WorstRoadTripWkend
Ana Abejon—Getty Images

Crazy traffic is a given. But that's hardly the only reason Memorial Day could be a nightmare for road trips.

In a new survey conducted for Citi cards, 54% of Americans said they prefer to travel on non-holiday weekends rather than holidays like Memorial Day. The most common reasons given for staying home for the holidays were traffic (47%) and high costs (30%).

Maybe these people are on to something. Here are a handful of reasons why the Memorial Day weekend is shaping up as a less-than-ideal time for getting on the road. As you’ll see, traffic and high costs are only part of the problem.

Horrendous Traffic
The forecast from AAA calls for 37.2 million Americans to travel at least 50 miles from home over the big holiday weekend. That’s an increase of nearly 5% compared with Memorial Day 2014, and it would represent the heaviest amount of traffic on this weekend in a decade. Only a small portion of these travelers will fly: roughly 9 out of 10 will be in automobiles.

Cheap gas, an improving jobs scene, and pent-up demand after a long and brutally snowy winter in the Midwest and Northeast have been cited as reasons why so many Americans are more than ready to kick off summer with a road trip. The East Coast will be particularly clogged with cars. An estimated 890,000 vehicles will drive Maine Turnpike over the weekend, a 5.2% increase over last year. Nearly 1 million New Jersey residents are expected to travel this weekend—in a state that has a population of just 9 million. “Motorists need to pack their patience along with the sunscreen as they set out for the Jersey Shore,” a spokesperson from AAA Mid-Atlantic cautioned.

Aggressive Police Enforcement
To cope with holiday weekend crowds, police will be turning Miami Beach into a “mini police state,” in the words of the Miami New Times, with road closures, parking bans, barricades, one-way traffic loops, and police checkpoints in popular areas. Around the country, police have stated they will be aggressively enforcing everything from so-called “slow poke” left-lane driving rules to laws mandating the wearing of seatbelts with a national “Click It or Ticket” campaign.

Crackdowns on DUIs will be widespread as well—in Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, to name just a few states. In the latter, police may employ “No Refusal” tactics, which allow them to seek a search warrant and draw blood from someone who is suspected of driving under the influence and refuses a breathalyzer test. The same kind of enforcement will be used by police in parts of Texas, where the “No Refusal” process can be applied not only to car drivers, but those behind the wheel of boats as well.

Drunk Drivers, Car Accidents
The main reason for ratcheting up enforcement of DUI laws and other driving regulations on Memorial Day weekend is that, hopefully, it sets the tone for the entire summer season. The holiday weekend starts what’s known as the 100 Deadliest Days on American roads (for teens especially), and the goal is to crack down hard at the beginning to save lives in the long run. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 146 people were killed in crashes involving impaired drivers during Memorial Day weekend in 2013.

Data from the National Safety Council forecasts that there will be 383 fatalities from traffic accidents over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, and car crashes will result in another 46,300 injuries. What’s scary is that historically, the days around the July 4 holiday are even more dangerous for drivers and passengers than Memorial Day.

Texters, Tailgaters, Bikers, New Yorkers
Texting behind the wheel is the behavior most likely to induce road rage from fellow motorists, according to a new survey conducted on behalf of Expedia. Tailgaters and left-lane hogs tied for second place in terms of aggravating people on the roads, while New York City came out on top for having the country’s rudest drivers. All of this rage has manifested itself in drivers yelling or using profanity behind the wheel (26% admitted to doing so), and by employing a rude gesture that probably involves a single finger (17% admit to this, while 53% say they’ve been on the receiving end).

Memorial Day is also a traditional time for many biker rallies, which have been known to bring about traffic (and worse) in the past, and which this year may cause locals, police, and motorists to be more on edge than usual given the recent biker shootout that left nine people dead in Waco, Texas. Major motorcycle gatherings are planned this weekend in Washington, D.C., Red River, N.M., and Myrtle Beach, S.C.,, among other places.

Soaring Motel Rates
Hotel rates are up roughly 5% nationally compared to last year. That doesn’t seem like a big deal. But the one segment of the lodging industry favored by road trippers has spiked to an outsized degree. According to AAA, rates at supposedly cheap two-diamond properties are averaging $144 per night, a rise of 16% over last year. That kind of sharp increase may more than offset the money you’re saving thanks to cheap gas.

MONEY Odd Spending

This Is How Much Summer Will Cost You

To mark the unofficial start of the season, MONEY reveals the results of its summer spending survey. Bottom line: Budgeting for warm-weather fun is no day at the beach.

MONEY Fast Food

McDonald’s Wage Protests Continue as Shareholders Meet

Protesters marched on McDonald's corporate headquarters while the company looks to Washington to address minimum wage issues nationally.

MONEY consumer psychology

4 Personality Quirks That Sabotage Your Savings

insecure girl
Grove Pashley—Getty Images

When you are your own worst enemy

They say it takes all types — but some types have a harder time saving than others. Are you allowing some of your less flattering character traits to derail your finances? Here are four personality types that sabotage saving.

1. The Insecure

In a consumer economy, advertisers work tirelessly to link products to personality. Do you drive a domestic car, or an import? Are the countertops in your home Formica or granite? Are you a Mac person or a PC person? Often, the answers don’t simply explain what we prefer — they suggest who we are, or at least who we’d like to be.

Playing upon consumers’ insecurities works like a charm. Ego sells lots of products and keeps huge swaths of the population on a treadmill of debt. Fight back by getting comfortable in your own skin and learning little ways to feel more confident every day.

2. The Impulsive

Let’s admit it: we live in a consumer-centered universe. Every screen we gaze into promises to deliver more delights to our doorstep (with free shipping and cashback rewards, of course). There are entire armies of designers, marketers, and retailers whose sole purpose is to anticipate what will tickle us next and magically make our wallets fall open.

In a consumer Candyland like ours, those who haven’t learned how to overcome impulse spending don’t have a chance. Without a dependable restraint system, they’re sure to wander toward the Gumdrop Mountains, fall into the Molasses Swamp, and never be heard from again.

3. The Impatient

Just one word separates a saver from a spender. A saver says, “I need it.” A spender says, “I need it now.” Purging that one pesky word from our consumer vocabulary can save us thousands of dollars over a lifetime. “Now” eliminates the option of shopping around for the best deal, it means we don’t have to plan and save, and it means we’ll think about the consequences to our budget later. If you’re trying to spend wisely, stop being impatient and start thinking of “now” as a hair-curling, four-letter word.

4. The Fearful

Spending wisely and saving for the future takes a bit of fortitude. To make real progress, we have to know who we are deep down, learn how to conquer fear, and take a few chances. Those who are afraid of money likely don’t understand it, or grew up in households where money was a constant source of anxiety. They might be able to pinch a few pennies, but profound success will always be elusive. The fearful wouldn’t dream of negotiating on price, they don’t feel comfortable making independent investment decisions, and they’re afraid to spend when presented with real wealth-building opportunities.

Saving money over the long term is no different than achieving any other goal. We have to duck and weave around our own insecurities and impulses and surround ourselves with like-minded people who can cheer us on and serve as role models for success. If you find yourself struggling, it might be time to take a hard look at the company you keep.

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MONEY credit cards

5 Credit Cards That Won’t Hike Your Interest Rate If You Pay Late

Past Due stamp
Derek E. Rothchild—Getty Images

Forgiveness is divine

When children misbehave, their parents may resort to punishments like putting them in “time out” by having them stand in the corner. And that’s how many credit card users feel when they suddenly have a much higher penalty interest rate imposed due to failing to make a payment on time, slightly exceeding their credit limit or having a check returned.

But now, a major credit card issuer is ending penalty interest rates on one its most popular cards, joining a small but growing number of products that no longer seek to punish customers for what may just have been a single small mistake. Chase has just announced that its Slate cardholders will no longer be subject to penalty interest rates if they pay late.

Chase’s Slate card has always been especially useful for cardholders who are trying to pay off debt, as it offers 15 months of 0% APR financing on both new purchases and balance transfers, and has been the only such offer for several years with no balance transfer fee (on transfers completed within 60 days of account opening). Slate cardholders receive a standard interest rate of 12.99% to 22.99% depending on their creditworthiness when they applied, which is a variable rate that can change with the prime rate. But starting immediately, for all new and existing cardholders, there will not be a penalty interest rate imposed.

So why the change to drop penalty interest rates? According to Rob Tacey, Chase’s vice president for public relations, “As with the recent addition of the credit score dashboard, we have made enhancements to Slate designed to help cardholders best manage their overall credit health.” Further, Chase cardholders can utilize its Blueprint program, which allows them to avoid interest on some charges by paying them in full, while carrying a balance on others. Blueprint also offers budgeting and goal-setting tools. There is no charge to use Blueprint, and no annual fee for this card.

1. Discover it. This card has never had a penalty interest rate. Currently, the Discover it card is offered in several versions including the it Chrome, it Miles and the new Discover it NHL card which features the logo of your favorite National Hockey League team. Other features common to all Discover it cards include a free monthly FICO score, 100% US based customer service, and cardholders first late payment fee waived. There are no annual fees for these cards.

2. PenFed Promise. PenFed stands for the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, which was created to provide financial services for members of several military, defense, and government organizations, as well as their families and household members. The PenFed Promise card offers a standard interest rate of 7.99% to 16.99% (variable), depending on the applicant’s creditworthiness, and no penalty interest rate. In addition, this card boasts having no annual fees, foreign transaction fees, cash advance fees or late fees.This card was even named the Best Simple Credit Card in America for its easy-to-understand fee structure. To apply, you must be a member of the credit union, which you can be eligible to join on the basis of your affiliation with one of many qualifying organizations, including some military support charities that require just a small fee to join.

3. Barclaycard Ring. This card allows customers to interact with the card issuer and help shape its terms and conditions. Community members propose new ideas and vote for ways to make the card better. In addition, cardholders can ask questions online directly to the three community managers. So not coincidentally, it also has a very simplified structure for its rates and fees. All cardholders receive a standard interest rate of 8% (not 7.99%), which applies to new purchases, balance transfers, and even cash advances, with no penalty interest rate. There is no annual fee for this card.

4. Citi Simplicity. Simplicity lives up to its name by offering no late fees and no penalty interest rates. But in addition, it also offers the longest promotional financing offer available — 21 months of 0% APR financing on both new purchases and balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. There is no annual fee for this card.

Whenever you plan to apply for a credit card, it’s good to know where your credit stands, since your credit score is a major factor in determining your interest rate. You can get copies of your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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MONEY credit cards

5 Terrifying Facts About Identity Theft

150521_EM_IDTheft
Alex and Laila—Getty Images

Nearly one billion records were leaked in 2014 alone

Identity theft was the number one consumer complaint at the Federal Trade Commission last year. So far in 2015, the data breach problem that drives so many identity-related crimes has gotten worse. The massive compromises at Anthem and Premera alone put a combined 91 million records in harm’s way.

With more information “out there” than we can possibly know, identity theft has become the third certainty in life, right behind death and taxes. And because so many major compromises include Social Security numbers — the skeleton key to not only your financial life, but also your health care and many other aspects of daily life—the damage can be life-changing.

The bottom line: Be afraid, be very afraid.

1. A Billion Records Leaked

According to IBM, more than one billion records containing personally identifiable information were leaked in 2014 alone. An identity thief only needs a few data points like the kind found in many data breaches to tap into your financial life.

2. There Is No Anonymity

Science Magazine reported that “anonymized meta data sets” containing product purchase information were re-identified with the people who made the purchases by looking at Instagram posts and tweets that matched the purchases.

You can do everything right and still get “got.” The fraudsters out there mining the veins of personal data for financial gain are good at what they do. However, if you assume you are going to get got and take some proactive steps – including monitoring your bank and credit accounts regularly for signs of fraud – in many cases you can have a head start when it actually happens. (Keeping a tight rein on your social media posts and making them private can also help give fraudsters less access to you.)

3. Your Medical History Can Be Compromised

With more than 2.32 million victims thus far — 500,000 last year alone — medical identity theft is a crime on the rise. It can cause medical histories to get changed, and benefits fraudulently used by others can bar a victim from getting medical treatments – making it a dangerous crime.

Unlike credit card fraud where liability is often zero, a recent study by the Medical Identity Theft Alliance found that more than 60% of medical fraud victims had to pay an average of $13,500 to resolve the crime.

Your best bet is to check every statement that comes in, and make sure the treatments listed on your Explanation of Benefits summaries sent out by your insurer match the care you’ve received.

4. Your Tax Refund Is Under Attack

Early in the 2015, Intuit, the company behind TurboTax, had to shut down e-filing in several states after the company noticed an uptick in what appeared to be fraudulent tax returns.

Tax-related identity theft is a big-money crime, and the statistics prove it. The IRS stopped 19 million suspicious tax returns last year, and stopped more than $63 billion in fraudulent refunds. A whopping $5.8 billion in tax refunds were paid out to fraudsters. In 2012, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration projected that fraudsters would net $26 billion into 2017.

For now, your best defense is to file your taxes as early as possible to avoid falling victim to tax-related fraud.

5. Even Kids Are at Risk

It’s long been known that children in the foster care system were more likely to become the target of identity-related crimes. This was due to the fact that when children move in with a new foster family, their personally identifiable information moves with them.

A less well known fact is that more than 30% of identity theft victims are scammed by family and close friends of the family. The key in these crimes is of course access to the necessary data. No one knows this better than Axton Betz-Hamilton, whose mother defrauded the entire family — father, grandfather and herself — for almost 20 years.

There are services available that protect a child’s credit. It’s also a very nice graduation present to check your child’s credit, and make sure there isn’t a history there.

While it is impossible to avoid some of the fallout from identity theft after it’s detected, it’s not possible to prevent these crimes. If you detect fraud early, it can be contained. And if you follow the three Ms of identity theft management (note that I didn’t say prevention), you can at least have a little piece of mind during this historic crime spree. Minimize, Monitor and Manage. Check your bank and credit card statements every day online to look for fraudulent transactions. You can sign up for free transactional monitoring alerts from your bank, credit union or credit card company for help in this. Check your credit reports regularly – you can get them for free annually on AnnualCreditReport.com – to look for unauthorized accounts or changes in existing account balances. File your taxes early, and keep an eagle eye on your medical insurance benefits. Report any suspicious activity immediately to the respective institution so that you can try to minimize the damage.

Make yourself a harder target and know what to do when you become one anyway.

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MONEY Budgeting

Shopping for Low Gas Prices Is a Waste

gas pump in the desert
Will Sanders—Getty Images

Don't bother.

I know a couple people who will drive five miles out of their way, ten miles round trip, just to save a nickel per gallon. I’m sure you know several folks that might even drive further to save a nickel or dime per gallon.

I never worry about saving a few cents at the pump. When I need gasoline, I usually just pull in to the first gas station I see. That is because driving out of your way to save a few cents doesn’t make much sense. Usually, the savings at the pump are eaten up driving around to get the bargain.

Once again, I will use my trusty spreadsheet to illustrate my point. The results are shown in the two tables below:

For example, lets assume you drive 10 miles out of your way (round trip) to save four cents per gallon at a cheaper gas station. Let’s also assume you buy 12 gallons worth of gas. Looking at the top chart, we can see that you saved 48 cents.

Now let’s assume you paid $3.00 per gallon of gas. Looking at the bottom chart, which assumes the car averages 20 miles per gallon, we can see that you spent $1.50 driving to the station with the lower gas price. So in reality you lost $1.02 ($1.50 – 48 cents) in your quest to save four cents per gallon!

Your loss would be even greater if the price of gas was higher, or you drove even further to save the money, or your car got less than 20 mpg.

For this example, even if you only drove five miles round trip and the price of gas was only $2.50 per gallon, you’d still lose 15 cents (63 cents – 48 cents).

When shopping around for gasoline, you should naturally expect any savings at all to become less as:

1. The price of gasoline rises.

2. The amount of gas you put in your tank decreases.

3. The miles you drive to realize the “savings” increase.

4. The average vehicle MPG decreases.

So next time you’re driving around and your tank is running on empty, don’t fret about finding the cheapest price. Unless the competing gas stations are within a couple blocks of each other, the odds are you won’t be saving much money anyway.

More From Len Penzo dot COM:

Len Penzo blogs at lenpenzo.com, “the off-beat personal finance blog for responsible people”.

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