Consumer Nation

Gas Prices Have Some Rethinking July 4 Plans

Recession-weary consumers may be getting very close to the point where they will change their behavior to cope with rising gasoline prices.

Fourth of July fireworks

A new survey conducted by BigResearch and commissioned by the National Retail Federation finds most consumers will start adjusting their driving habits once prices at the gas pump rise to an average of $2.75 a gallon.

Although gas prices remain below last year's record-high levels, prices have risen rapidly in the past two months. The price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline averaged $2.69 on Monday, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. The price is actually down 0.3 cents in the past day, marking the first decline in nearly two months, AAA says.

The higher gasoline prices are prompting some consumers to adjust their plans to celebrate the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, according to the NRF survey.

About 44.5 percent of the 8,635 consumers polled said they would change their Independence Day plans on account of higher gas prices.

Most consumers — about 62.6 percent, or about 144 million people — will celebrate the upcoming holiday with cookouts, barbecues and picnics, the survey found. That's an increase over last year, when 61.2 percent, or about 139 million, hosted such an event.

Fewer people, only about 11.4 percent, will take a vacation or travel. But more people, some 42.7 percent, will attend their local fireworks or a community celebration this year, according to the poll.

According to NRF spokeswoman Ellen Davis, consumers were taken completely off guard when gasoline prices surged above $4 a gallon last summer.

"They didn't have any contingency plans," Davis says, "and they are determined to not have that happen to them again."

Even after gas prices pulled back from the $4-a-gallon level last summer, most consumers continued strategies they adopted when prices were higher, according to Davis. This includes taking fewer trips to the store, comparing prices online rather than traveling to different stores to research a purchase, and carpooling.

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