Monday, May 28, 2007

Soaring gas prices to keep ripping our budgets to shreds

Most folks consider the Memorial Day weekend to be the unofficial start of the summer travel season.

It is the first long, holiday weekend most of us have had since Christmas and that means we can't wait to hit the road to go to some place warm and relaxing.

However, if most folks were like me this weekend, that trip was a short one. Why? It is because soaring gas prices are taking a bigger bite than ever out of our household budgets.

Locally, gas prices are hovering around the $3 per gallon level, but we should consider ourselves lucky when compared to other places in the country.

Prices are hovering around $4 per gallon in cities like Chicago and San Francisco. Of course, those are large metropolitan areas that are well known for their high taxes, but the point is prices will likely surge higher as summer unfolds.

The impact of increased prices is being felt by all. The average U.S. household is now paying $1,000 more a year for gasoline than it did only five years ago, according to consumer groups who have monitored prices.

The Associated Press recently reported that the Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Union both say households are spending 85 percent more for gas than they did in 2002. They also stated that rural residents have been hit harder than urban dwellers, spending about 20 percent more than folks in the city.

Rising gas prices have been a problem for years, but nobody really wants to step up and tackle the problem. Drivers blame oil companies, but we really haven't done much to reduce our driving in recent years.

If nothing else, we have gone in the other direction. Despite our grumbling, SUVs and other large vehicles continue to dominate our highways.

These vehicles have big tanks and have relatively low gas mileage. This is not a winning combination when trying to combat the challenges of a tight budget.

Take a while to look around the next time you are driving on the interstate. In any given 10-minute time period, the doors of your car will get blown off by all sorts of large vehicles driven by people willing to knock you into the ditch if you get in their way.

'Restraint' is not practiced by most drivers, yet we whine about the prices we pay at the pump. The hypocrisy is pretty obvious.

Then, of course, there are the oil companies that promise us they are not overcharging for their products.

They present us a variety of reasons why prices are higher: demand is greater for oil this time of year; there is a shortage of refineries making it more difficult to stockpile their product; environmental laws make the process of making gasoline more costly; and so forth.

Frankly, all their reasons could be true, but it is difficult to say.

I tend to have a short fuse with massive corporations especially when they have me over a barrel. After all, their products are among the most necessary in our country and play a central role in keeping our daily schedules on track.

Still, it is really frustrating. The bottom line is that we have nobody to blame but ourselves for this problem.

Despite our whining, most Americans have repeatedly shown a willingness to pay through the nose for gasoline. Given the sense of entitlement we feel about most things these days, I get the feeling most drivers believe it is their constitutional right to have as big a car as possible regardless of the consequences.

Therefore, don't expect the situation to change much. Predictably, prices will decline somewhat later in the year, but the impact will be minimal.

Who knows? Maybe prices will tumble all the way down to $2 a gallon. That would be quite a drop compared to what we are getting accustomed to.

However, it wasn't that long ago when $2 a gallon bit with the same pain as $3 a gallon does now.

Don't be surprised if you are reading this blog a year from now, and we are longing for the good old days when we only paid $3.

1 comment:

Joltin' Django said...

"Despite our grumbling, SUVs and other large vehicles continue to dominate our highways."

Do you remember the little GEO I used to drive? I bought that car when I started grad school, and I drove it back and forth to Murfreesboro four days a week. I would fill up at the beginning of the week, and I would drive a full week - trips to M'boro and trips 'round Nashville - on one tank of gas.

I could probably drive two - or two and a half - weeks on a tank of gas in that car now; but if I'd ever had a wreck in that thing, I woulda been dead ... fo' sho'!