6.12.2008

Reflections on Gas Prices

A few days ago, on my way home from work, my gas tank was very low, and NPR was saying the national average for a gallon of gasoline was over $4.00 a gallon for the first time.
Lasik
As I heard that, I happened to be passing a gas station with their gas at $3.89- you better believe I pulled in and filled up!

I get the Consumer Reports Average Gas Prices report via RSS, and Monday's report showed what is typical- we in the Midwest are at or slightly below the national average. All that tells me is, our prices are headed where much of the country is already at- well over $4 a gallon. The day has come- The Indy Star is reporting that some gas station prices shot up to $4.19 this morning around the city. What does this mean for me?

I was discussing with Kacie earlier this week about gas prices- will we hit $5 a gallon? How will it affect us? We did some quick calculations and figured out I have a 9 mile commute to work each way, resulting in 90 miles of commuting each week. My car reliably gets 30-33 miles per gallon, so I expend 3 gallons, or $12-$15 a week getting to and from work while prices are between $4 and $5 a gallon. My husband, on the other hand, drives 23 miles to work, 230 miles a week, with a car that gets comparable gas mileage. His commuting costs are 7.66 gallons per week, or between $31 and $38, for $4 & $5 gas. For us, we can absorb this extra $10 a week as gas prices continue to climb, but this is not true of everyone. This will be an extra $500 a year for us. For people living at or beyond their means or struggling to make ends meet, $500 is a lot. Even for us, it's a lot. It's $500 that I wish was being spent or saved elsewhere, so it's valuable to do these calculations and see how I could avoid putting it towards gas.

What could we do to stave off rising gas prices?

  • Commute together: Today, Josh took me to work because my car's in the shop. According to Google Maps, this makes his commute 28.1 miles one way rather than 23- but on a normal day, our combined commute is 32 miles one way. By riding together, we save 13% on the trip. At $4 a gallon, we're currently spending $43 per week driving separately, and would spend $37 a week riding together. This makes his already-long commute about 5 minutes longer, however, and results in me getting into the office later than I would on my own.
  • Buy more fuel efficient cars: This is a solution for many people, but I'm not sure, with our two Civics, that we could do much better in a practical way. Actually, plans are in the works to get a less fuel efficient car, a Camry, this summer. If we see the efficiency is very different, I will end up driving it because I have a shorter commute.
  • Drive in an efficient way: Have you heard of hypermilers? While I'm not willing to go to some of the extremes that some hypermilers do, their principles are sound.
  • Drive less elsewhere- combine trips: Based on my calculations above, I should only have to get gas once every four weeks. As it is, I fill up about once every two weeks, which means I'm driving outside of my trip to work and back quite a bit. I could bring my coupons and shopping list to work and swing by on the way home. Other errands could be run by Josh. Because I typically get home an hour or more before Josh, making a stop on the way home wouldn't really affect home life.
  • Travel less: We don't have any big vacations planned this year, though there will probably be at least one drive to Wisconsin for a reunion, as well as fairly-local camping trips. CNN suggests a "staycation"
All that to say, I'm not convinced the higher gas prices are all bad. Yes, they're costing everyone more at the pump- but they're also making me think about how I consume and how I drive and how I might conserve in a better way. They're making others think, too, and hopefully that will result in less wasteful driving and fewer wasteful vehicles on the road. In the meantime, we're going to have to adjust our budget to cope!

7 comments:

beth@thenaturalmommy said...

We're saving $ by riding the train to
Missouri next week. :-) Last time we took the train it was more $ than driving - and that was just this past spring!

Daniel & Teresa said...

Hmmm... sounds like our trip to Indiana may be a little expensive! (hopefully we've budgeted enough). Gas prices here are about $5.55, and will continue to go up.

Brett said...

It's a shame the benefits of higher gas prices (rethinking driving, rethinking where our money goes, etc) has to come at such a cost.

Anyway, we’ve been fortunate in that the gas prices at the actual pump haven’t been too terrible for us. I mean, it hurts but it's not breaking the bank. My commute, 9-10 miles each way is plenty but my car pushes 37 mpg in the spring when I’m not running many amenities. My wife’s car (a 4 cylinder Hyundai Tucson) gets 22-24 which isn’t anything to brag about but it doesn’t get a lot of miles. We briefly considered trading her car in for something more fuel efficient but, with 2 child seats, groceries, and out-of-town trips with luggage, we can’t go much smaller. And, for the number of miles put on, gas prices weren’t a good justification to do so. I think people need to be careful with buying a more fuel efficient cars. I’m not saying they shouldn’t go greener. But, if they have to spend $10k to save $10/week, it’s maybe not wise. I'm still waiting for gas prices to justify buying a motorcycle.

I have actually tried some of the hypermileage techniques. I don’t know if they helped or not. I think you’d have to do them pretty faithfully to see a real difference. There’s one technique where you accelerate (slowly) to something like 50mph, pop your car into neutral (easier with a manual, obviously), coast to 40mph, repeat. I’m sure this is incredibly annoying to other drivers. And I don't know about the wear and tear on your car. Again, if you have to drop a good chunk of money a new clutch, did the fuel savings really benefit you? On the other hand, I’m pretty sure this method would really work. My high school, Homestead High School in Fort Wayne started participating in a super mileage competition (the year after I graduated…BLAST!) and, with their superlight, single-person vehicles they achieve mileage ratings over 1400 mpg using a similar technique on a closed course. I’d be thrilled to break 40 mpg.

Kookaburra said...

I agree about the higher gas prices not being a totally bad situation. Of course, I'd love to save that money, but it really is making people stop and think about their consumption. It's also prompting people to buy cars that use fuel alternatives. And prompting companies to produce more fuel efficient and fuel alternative cars. All good things in my book.

Lisa said...

Your Civics only get 33 mpg? Wow, the manual transmission *really* must make a big difference..

Joanna said...

To Brett & Lisa, the manual-transmission Civic owners: ours are both automatic, a '92 & '04, and they both get 39-40 on trips and 30-33 around town. I've gotten lazy about calculating it lately.

ashley @ twentysixcats said...

I feel like we're traveling just as much this summer. Though this year we have just ONE trip to Indiana instead of the two trips we've had in years past! :-) That's nice.

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