Save Money This Winter - Part 2: What to expect from propane prices

Propane customers may be wondering, "what's ahead for this winter?" Almost a year ago, the polar vortex increased demand for propane fuel, driving prices up to $4 per gallon across Michiana.

Andy Stevens lives in southwest Michigan and says he refilled his propane tank one month sooner than usual.

"Last year, instead of having the the tank filled the first week of March, I had to have it filled the first week of February," said Stevens.

Normally, he "pre-buys" propane -- or locks in at a certain price per gallon his provider sets for winter refills. Stevens says companies tend to offer these deals in early July.

He took a chance last year, opting not to pre-buy because the propane pricing forecast appeared optimistic in early December.

"When I got the fill in December, I thought I was smart doing that because it was a $1.599 a gallon," Stevens said.

By not locking in on the pre-buy price, Stevens had to fork over at least $4 per gallon in the premature refill him. A 250-gallon fill cost $1,192.

"I've never heard of prices going over $2.30 a gallon, ever," he said.

Jim Patterson, associate editor of the Kiplinger Letter in Washington D.C., expects propane prices to rise "quite a bit" during the winter. Still, there is some good news.

"I don't think it will be quite as bad in terms of prices as those price spikes you saw last year," said Patterson.

Patterson says propane prices increased to surprising highs for two reasons: demand and location.

"It wasn't that there wasn't propane available. It was just a matter of getting it to where it needed to go quickly," he said. "Of course, with the severe weather, a whole lot of people wanted a whole lot of propane all of a sudden."

To make sure you are getting the best deal, Patterson advises propane customers to compare what they pay per gallon against the state average. This website offers that feature.

Stevens says he is chancing a price spike again, deciding not to pre-buy in the summer.

"I figured, maybe this year, prices might get low at the first of December, and I'd fill at that price and see where it went from there," he said.