A few years ago, as gas prices skyrocketed and there was no end in sight, friends of ours went on a vacation with another family, deciding to take one car between the two groups. While it made the journey a little less comfortable, and the children groaned about the bags under their feet and atop their laps, the decision had been purely financial. With the inevitable expenses yet to be incurred at the amusement park to which they were headed, both sets of parents chose to split the overall cost of gas in an effort to save what they could, where they could. For many, arrangements such as these did not go far enough, making "staycations" the only viable vacation options.
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With the recent steady drop in gas prices, however, families do have it a bit easier, relief being felt across the board. Speaking to a fellow carpool driver recently about the falling prices, he said he felt the impact immediately. "I can fill up for about $20," he said, exaggerating a little but making a point. "It used to cost me so much more." Pausing for a moment, he added that filling up at the pump "was a killer." When I asked him, however, if he planned to spend that money he saved, the answer was a firm, "No." While he may have spent more cautiously when prices were higher, he was not loosening his spending all around simply because gas was now cheaper. The father of four teens, he reassured me that any extra money was already accounted for, and then some.
A close friend and mother of four living in Washington State lamented that they have yet to share in the drop in gas prices being enjoyed by the rest of the country. At $3.25 a gallon, things were easier but still 40 cents higher than the national average. Even with the drop in prices, she said, in the scheme of what it costs to run a household in this country, "Would you really say an extra $10 a week is a BIG deal?" I reminded her that to many people, that $10 could go a very long way. She agreed, but then explained that in her situation, the found money she saved at the pump would not go towards an extravagant purchase. "More money in the bank," she said, "is just more money going to school."
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Another friend concurred. Was he enjoying the break at the pump? Absolutely, but the extra change in his pocket wasn't changing the way he lived. Father of three, with two cars and three drivers, there were still plenty of bills to be paid. "It gets spent in one place," he said, "or it gets spent in another place."
One person I spoke to felt differently. He was positively "ebullient," he said, when he filled up his SUV last weekend. While the cost of that trip to the pump was still a large sum of money, it was certainly significantly less than anything he had spent thus far since purchasing the vehicle. "I may not drive past Starbucks after filling up next time," he said, when asked what he would do with his gas budget surplus. In the past he would drive right by and skip the coffee, as filling up was expensive enough. Now, he remarked, he thinks he would stop and treat himself on occasion.
Responsible parents live in the real world. No matter what your situation, relief at the pump does not translate into a Caribbean cruise for a family of four. Apparently, the current economic climate belies a feeling of cautious optimism. While the lower cost of a gallon of gas is felt by everyone, it is still not enough to change their lives. Moms and dads may be breathing a little easier as they fill the family car with gas, but they are certainly not sighs of relief.
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