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Radio Tour: Is Consumer Spending Ready to Run Out of Gas?

The calendar says it's spring, in many places it still feels like winter, but everyone's already worried about the summer and how high gasoline prices will climb.

Radio Microphone
Radio Microphone

At least that's the sense I have after my latest string of interviews with radio stations around the country.

And it shouldn't be surprising that when you're talking about consumer spending, as I was, you will wind up talking about gasoline prices. After all, AAA estimates that gasoline prices hit a U.S. national average of $3.83 a gallon on Monday, and the summer driving season is still six weeks away.

So far, consumers have remained resilientin the face of higher gasoline prices, but some expect that prices are nearing the point where Americans will begin to rein in their spending, to compensate for the fact that they're spending more to fill up their gas tank.

Still, six states have now crossed the $4-a-gallon mark, including California, as KIQO-Q's Adam Montiel shared. And that's an important psychological level for many consumers.

So much of consumer spending is tied to perception and cues we get from the world around us. That includes spring shopping, which tends to gain speed as we approach Easter.

Of all the major US holidays, Easter ranks fifth in its powerto drive consumer spending. Still, it counts for a sizeable chunk—about $14.6 billion, according to the National Retail Federation trade group.

No doubt, retailers are hoping that Easter will drive more customers into the stores. Mother Nature certainly isn't doing her part. In fact, listeners at two of the radio stations I talked with had to contend with snow in the forecast. Even in San Luis Obispo, the weather was unseasonably cool, according to Weather.com. Only listeners in Tampa could boast of a warm, sunny day, with temperatures in the 80s.

Warmer weather also brings more chances to celebrate events such as weddings, another topic of conversation. With more than 12 percent of brides spending more than $40,000 on their big day, according to wedding-information and planning website the Knot, there are plenty of couples looking to make the expense of a wedding more manageable.

Fortunately, retailers and designers are developing new products with more down-to-earth prices.

Costco, for example, has been getting into the wedding businessby selling everything from "save-the-date" magnets and wedding invitations to food and flowers, and now even the wedding dress. The company has been hosting trunk shows featuring wedding gowns designed by Kirstie Kelly. Those dresses sell for less than $1,400, compared with her usual designs which sell between $2,000 and $7,000.

Designer Vera Wang built her reputation on her wedding gown designs, and now she has partnered with David's Bridal to sell a less expensive line of wedding dresses, priced between $600 and $1,500.

While these dresses may seem like a bargain, we're afraid that consumers overall have been feeling like the best deals are drying up. A recent survey from Deloitte showed fewer consumers think stores are offering more value for their money, and they may be right: many retailers are looking for opportunities to dial back their sales promotions.

And that's tough because, as we know, gas prices are on the rise, and eating up more of our income.

Thanks to WIBN's Brent Lee, WECL's Kris Cooper, Janice Malone's "Film Festival Radio Show" on Blog Talk Radio Network, KKCT's Hot 975, WFUS's "Catfish & Lana" Show, and KIQO-Q's "Up and Adam in the Morning" show. It was a lot of fun talking with you all.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com