Ever notice how when you're searching for something or other, it seems to pop up everywhere? If you're in the market for a house, you become hyper-aware of all the houses for sale; if it's an SUV you're after, you suddenly see them roll up all around you.

This must go back to our hunting and gathering days – our brains are hardwired to focus and practically see only what we're looking for. Our minds get tunnel vision.

These days many of us are on the lookout for lower petrol prices. They have never been so high. If they stay that way, or push even higher, perhaps we'll even be aiming for alternatives to driving. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

In the meantime, we'll all look for the best prices in town. Apps like Gaspy or Fuel Watch aim to give drivers an edge by compiling data from users. Comparison shopping is usually worth doing, although we'll need to factor in how far we need to drive to fill up the tank.

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Cars and money: that combustible mix

A wise man once told me, "You can't have both cars and money". He happened to be a leathery old fella working at a petrol station.

It can dent your cashflow to have your car commute fluctuate between, say, $57 and $69 from one month to the next. Price movement creates more of a headwind.

My strategy of late has been to drive decades-old cars into the ground, although it is sometimes difficult to gauge where "the ground" is.

I've just reached the point with one of our cars when it no longer seems worth throwing good money after bad into a pit.

Until you reach "ground level", however, you can save heaps on car payments, interest and the like by keeping a car for longer.

But not on petrol. In fact, this point was brought home to me – ouch – last week when I filled the tank. With older cars, sediment in the gas tank means you don't want to run it all the way down and have problems starting because things clog up.

So while I used to just put in a bit here and there, I now aim to keep it full regularly. Instead of $30 a time, my petrol was suddenly $130 a pop. Nothing like a hit to your wallet to get your attention.

Let your budget breathe a bit

can let you see where your money is flowing and the tweaks you could make here and there to absorb the higher petrol costs.

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But budgeting for every single cent can lead to angst – without breathing room in your plan, it will be hard to roll with the higher prices at the pump.

Leave yourself some leeway, and we'll all be able to make it through before we find the right alternative to all our combustion. My next vehicle will probably be electric, so hopefully I can skip thinking about petrol full stop.

We'll get there!

Get Sorted is written by Sorted's resident blogger, Tom Hartmann (@TomHartmannNZ). Check out the guides and tools from Sorted – brought to you by the Commission for Financial Capability – at sorted.org.nz.