As inflation continues to send the cost of goods and services higher and higher, there’s one place where price spikes have been especially acute: the gas pump. The consumer price index says that the price of gasoline surged 6.6% in February 2022, pushing costs 38.0% higher than one year earlier. And if rising inflation wasn’t enough of a concern, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has added more uncertainty and volatility to energy markets. By March 11, the national average for unleaded gasoline peaked at $4.33 per gallon, according to AAA data.
With gas prices on the rise, SmartAsset set out to determine where surging prices will affect people the most. To do this, we examined data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia across six metrics: estimated gas spending as a percentage of income, one-month change in average gas prices, one-year change in average gas prices, percentage of households with at least one car, percentage of households with two or more cars and average annual vehicle miles traveled per capita. For more information on our data sources and how we created the final rankings, read our Data and Methodology section below.
- Sun Belt states are most impacted by high gas prices. Of the 10 states where individuals are most affected by high gas prices, seven are located in the Sun Belt, which stretches across the southern portion of the country. The three states where drivers will feel the most pain at the pump are in all the Southeast: Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
- The acute price surge this spring is only part of the story. Across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the average price of a gallon of gas increased $0.71 between early February and early March, according to data from AAA. Of course, that boost represents just over half of the total price increase in the past 12 months: the average price of a gallon increased $1.35 over the past year.
- New England and Mid-Atlantic states are least impacted. Seven of the 10 places where drivers are least affected by high gas prices are located in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, including the District of Columbia. That’s largely due to the higher median household incomes in these areas and lower one-month changes in average gas prices.
We estimate that average gas spending for one car in Alabama makes 4.25% of the median household income, the sixth-highest percentage across our study. Between Feb. 18 and Mar. 18, average gas prices in the state rose $0.79 per gallon, which represents the 12th-largest increase in the country. Over the last year, gas prices in Alabama have gone up $1.40 per gallon, more than 30 other states and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, the most recently available data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shows that Alabama has the second-highest average vehicle miles traveled per capita.
In neighboring Mississippi, drivers spend a higher percentage of their income on gas (4.71%) than anywhere else in the country. The state also has the third-highest average annual vehicle miles traveled per capita (13,370) and the 17th-largest one-month increase in average gas prices ($0.75).
Drivers in Tennessee currently spend 4.01% of their income at the pump, the 10th-most across our study. On average, individuals in the Volunteer State travel more vehicle miles than 40 other states plus the District of Columbia. Tennessee, which also has the 13th-highest percentage of households with at least one car (63.44%), saw average gas prices rise $0.77 per gallon between Feb. 18 and Mar. 18. That’s the 15th-largest one-month increase in our study.
4. New Mexico
In New Mexico, gas expenditures account for 4.48% of drivers’ incomes, the third-most across the country. The state also has the seventh-highest vehicle miles traveled per capita, according to the most recently available FHWA data. And more than 94% of households in New Mexico have at least one vehicle, which is the 16th-highest rate for that metric.
Only Utah has a higher percentage of households with vehicles than Idaho. In fact, about 96% of households in the Gem State have at least one vehicle, while nearly 72% of households have two or more. Idaho also had the seventh-largest increase in gas prices between Feb. 18 and Mar. 18 ($0.83) and drivers in Idaho spend 3.90% of their income on gas, 16th most across our study.
Montana has the fourth-highest percentage of households with at least one car (95.41%) and the fourth-highest percentage of homes with two or more cars (68.20%). The state also has the eighth-highest average annual vehicle miles traveled per capita, according to the most recent FHWA data.
Indiana has the sixth-highest average annual vehicle miles traveled per capita in the country. The state saw the average price for a gallon of gas go up $0.83 between Feb. 18 and Mar. 18, which is the nation’s eighth-largest increase in that timespan. Meanwhile, the average price of gas was $1.47 cheaper a year ago, having risen more than in 37 other states, plus the District of Columbia, since then.
Drivers in Louisiana currently spend the fourth-highest percentage of their income on gas (4.43%). The state also had the 14th-largest one-month increase in the average price of gas ($0.78). Over the last year, gas prices have risen $1.45 per gallon, which is also the 14th-largest increase during that time.
Average gas prices in Arizona rose $0.89 between Feb. 18 and Mar. 18, which is more than 46 other states and the District of Columbia. A gallon of regular gas now costs drivers an average of about $4.61, or $1.50 more than a year ago. That’s the seventh-largest one-year increase in the nation. Meanwhile, drivers in Arizona spend the 11th-highest percentage of income on gas (4.00%) in our study.
Nowhere in the U.S. have gas prices increased more than Nevada since February. The average price of a gallon of gas shot up $1.10 between Feb. 18 and Mar. 18. Nevada drivers have also seen a gallon of gas become $1.78 more expensive in the last year, second only to California, where average gas prices have risen $1.93. That means drivers are spending more of their income at the pump (4.39%), the fifth-most in the country.
Data and Methodology
To rank where higher gas prices will most affect individuals, we looked at data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia and compared them across six metrics:
- Estimated gas spending as a percentage of income. We assumed that drivers purchase an average of 562 gallons of gas per year, or drive 13,500 miles per year in a Ford F-150 (the most popular car in the U.S.) which gets about 24 miles per gallon. From there, we calculated annual gas spending using regular gas prices from AAA for March 18, 2022. We divided that figure by median household income, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey 1-year Experimental Survey.
- One-month change in average gas price. Data comes from AAA and is for February 18, 2022 to March 18, 2022.
- One-year change in average gas price. Data comes from AAA and is for March 18, 2021 to March 18, 2022.
- Percentage of households with at least one car. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
- Percentage of households with two or more cars. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
- Average annual vehicle miles traveled per capita. Data comes from the Federal Highway Administration.
We ranked each state in every metric, giving a double weight to estimated gas spending as a percentage of income and a single weight to average annual vehicle miles traveled per capita. The remaining metrics were assigned a half weight.
Using those rankings, we found each state’s average ranking and used the average to determine a final score. The state with the highest average ranking received a score of 100, ranking as the state where high gas prices will impact individuals the most. The state with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0, ranking as the state where high gas prices will affect individuals the least.
Tips for Saving Money on Gas
- Schedule your trips to the gas station. Automotive expert Lauren Fix, also known as “The Car Coach,” says gas prices fluctuate depending on the day of the week, so time your trips accordingly. “Wednesday is typically the best day to fill up for less - prices tend to rise on Thursdays in anticipation of weekend travel," Fix said, pointing to a St. Louis Federal Reserve study that found refueling on a Tuesday or Wednesday can save you [between] $0.08 [and] $0.09 per gallon when compared with filling up on the weekend. “It also pays to fill up early in the day," she added. "Station owners tend to hike prices after 9 a.m. or so, once they've had time to check the competition.”
- Take better care of your vehicle. Making sure your vehicle is in good shape can have a positive impact on your gas consumption. “A poorly maintained vehicle can consume more fuel than a well-maintained one,” said Francis Locknear of TheCostGuys, a data and analytics company focused on the cost of consumer goods and services. “Get your car checked by a trusted mechanic on a regular basis. Your brake system, engine, ignition system, electrical system, and fuel system can greatly affect how much gas is consumed by your unit.”
- Lighten your car’s load. If your vehicle doubles as your personal storage unit, it may be time to get rid of all non-essential items inside. Fix said get rid of any excess weight from their vehicles, leaving only their spare tire and emergency kit. “Each extra pound takes more energy or gas to propel your vehicle,” she said.
- Pay with cash. Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance expert, recommends using cash to buy your gas. “The advertised price per gallon at gas stations is for cash payments and that cost goes up between 10 to 15-cents per gallon for card paying customers to cover transaction fees,” she said.
- This app can help you find cheaper gas. Many experts recommend downloading the GasBuddy app, a program that tracks gas prices in your area. GasBuddy, which has been downloaded nearly 100 million times, has real-time price information for 150,000 gas stations nationwide.
- Have a pro examine your finances. The recent spike in gas prices may be a reason to reevaluate your spending habits. A financial advisor can help you assess your budget and find ways to scale back your spending. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
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