Gas Prices Are Out Of Control And People Love It!

I’ve been neglecting Moose for a couple weeks since I’ve been traveling so much.  But, I took him out for a spin the other day and was absolutely shocked to see that gas prices have ROCKETED to $4.11, $4.29, and $4.39 for regular, plus, and supreme at my neighborhood Chevron station!  I know WTI oil prices have risen to $112, but it really didn’t hit me until I saw and paid for the latest gasoline prices.

As a city dweller, I take the bus to and from work, and try and ride the bus as much as possible on the weekends.  The only times I really drive is to and from the tennis club, and up to Tahoe which is about 180 miles away.  Overall, I drive about 6,500 miles a year which is not that much compared to the national average of 15,500 miles a year.  With Moose getting roughly 17 mpg, I spend around $2,145 a year in gasoline, up from just $1,750 this time last year.

IF I’M SHOCKED, WHY AREN’T YOU SHOCKED TOO?

When gas prices were only $3.50/gallon, my yearly gas bill would be roughly $1,750 for 6,500 miles.  $395 more in gas costs isn’t exactly going to break the budget for me, or for most people ($33 more a month), yet I’m pretty shocked nonetheless.  I’m so shocked that I’ve decided to asset allocate out of equities and back into cash and selective bonds in my 401K because I’m worried high energy prices, along with problematic state government deficits will ignite another sell-off.  I’m happy to lock in 6.8% performance YTD in my mothership fund and play it safe.

In addition, I’m looking to cut an additional $100-$200/month out of my expenses to counteract $4+ gas prices, which only costs $33 more a month.  Skip a lunch here, cut down on gym usage there, drink more water are all things I plan on doing.  In other words, thanks to oil, I’m looking to slash spending by 3-6X more!

In my world, everything is rational.  The reason why gasoline prices are as high as they are is because people are willing to pay for it.  If people weren’t willing to pay for it, prices would be lower.  I, therefore must be an anomaly to believe that $4.11-$4.39/gallon is a painful level.  I’m consciously reducing my gas consumption, even it it only costs me $395-500 a year because I’m mentally revolting at paying so much.

But now, as I think rationally still…. if someone like me, who drives half as much as the average American and has a steady flow of income is clamping down consumption, then it’s logical to assume that other people will also start tightening as well.  It’s not like I can’t afford an extra $33/month, it just annoys me that prices have gone up so quickly.  I’m mentally going on strike and just going to take the bus everywhere now, even if it does take longer.  I figure, why not use this time to reduce my global footprint, reduce traffic, and save some money in the process?

MAYBE THERE’S ANOTHER REASON

There’s one important variable that we should recognize.  The job market has come back in force as predicted!  People are getting raises and getting jobs again.  Why else would traffic be as horrendous as it has been in SF in a long while?  There are plenty of positive anecdotes that suggest things are drastically improving in addition to the government labor statistics.  Fellow blogger’s online incomes have skyrocketed in March, flight loads are soaring, the markets are at 3 year highs, and head hunters are calling out the wazoo.

Despite it all, I’m still cutting down on energy consumption and re-balancing my portfolio.  I’m happy to see the economy and the markets continue to improve, even if I’m not fully invested anymore.  Call me conservative, or too easily satisfied.  The older I get, the less I really need.

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Updated: 5/2014

Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Rob says

    I have a long commute to work that requires me to fill up every other day (roughly 40,000 miles per year.) My gas expense is now almost equal to my share of the mortgage. Luckily, I’m in a position where my partner will let me adjust my share because we live a few minutes away from her work and moving is not an option for a variety of reasons.

    A lot of people are outraged, but there’s also a lot of people who don’t have any other options. Public transportation is limited outside of larger urban areas where houses are more spread out and farther away from employment. Outside of a major city, if you don’t have a car you don’t work, period. If you’re a farmers wife who needs to work at the bank two towns over to make ends meet then you’ve got to take it on the chin, so to speak. It’s not about being willing to pay for the gas, it’s about not having any other options.

    My hope is that hybrid tech gets cheap enough to compete in rural areas. But that ignores the psychological aspect where someone insists he needs an extended cab pickup truck even though the most he ever hauls anywhere is the weeks groceries. But that’s just my biases talking.

  2. krantcents says

    I don’t know if I call it pain, but I see my gas expenses increase. My wife and I am pretty lucky that our commute is so short. I drive about about 9,000 miles a year and my wife drives nearly 8,000 miles. For us, the monthly increase is around $25 per month. Cutting back a little resolves the increase easily. Is this temporary due to the turmoil in the middle east or is this a longer term problem? If it were only the $25 increase in gasoline it would be no problem! Transportation costs due to oil goes into everything such as food, clothes etc. It will certainly add to inflation and raise interest. The implications are enormous!

  3. JT McGee says

    This country is a net importer of 5 billion barrels of oil per year. At $109, that’s $545 billion a year that flows outside our borders.

    That isn’t good. Within a year that’s the stimulus package, within three years that’s the TARP + Stimulus.

    Oil is a great sign that the economy is on the rebound, but for me to appreciate rising oil as a barometer of economic health, I’d like to see our trade deficit fall. Tell government to cut $500b in spending and it’s all good, I’d say. That’d balance out our trade issues, and rising oil wouldn’t matter.

    • david M says

      I do NOT feel the pain as I only drive about 3,000 miles a year!

      I take public transportation to work and I walk to do almost all of my shopping.

    • Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot says

      Is it really a sign the economy is rebounding…or just a reflection of what is taking place in oil producing countries?

      I mean GM’s stock price isnt declining because the company is doing poorly, but rather based on public perception of unrest in oil producing countries.

  4. Kasey says

    Oh I’ve definitely felt the pain at the pump. But I don’t think many Americans – including myself – cut back on fuel consumption.

    I’m not driving around for the fun of it – transportation is a necessity. The cutbacks come in other areas.

    I think you’re a little off in saying people aren’t complaining as much about gas prices because jobs and the economy are rebounding. Sure, unemployment numbers are improving – but they basically had nowhere to go but up.

    I believe we’ve added about 2.5 million jobs since the recession ended. But we originally lost around 8-million. We’ve got a long way to go dude.

    People don’t complain as much about gas because we’ve gotten used to it, and we realize that complaining and boycotting does nothing.

    I worked in local news before the economy hit the skids. Gas prices were a huge issue at that time, then all of a sudden there were much bigger things to complain about.

  5. MoneyCone says

    Uncertainty drives up gas prices whether there is a genuine shortage or not. Goldman Sachs must be laughing their way to the bank! Wait, they are the… oh never mind!

      • Kathryn C says

        Hi, I’m new here.
        I’m with you and MoneyCone too. Gas started to spike on speculation with Libya and Libya only produces 2% of oil, there’s oil avail in other regions. But, regardless of why oil is so expensive, it’s still expensive, which is our reality..ugh!

  6. The Passive Income Earner says

    It’s definitely affecting the budget for us. Less eating out at lunch for me covers it though. An electric car has been on my mind lately … I am struggling with promising myself not to change car until the mortgage is paid or trying to reduce gas cost …

    Consequently, is it temporary due to Libya or is it permanent now ?

  7. retirebyforty says

    The economy is definitely recovering. I see the traffic getting worse and worse in my area as well and the gas price will keep going up. I drive about 5-6,000 per years and I get 24-28 mpg so it’s not hitting us quite as hard as others.

    As long as Americans continue to buy huge gas guzzlers, we are not feeling the pain that much.

  8. Norman says

    Its amazing how we get acclimated to a certain price for gas. Many years ago, I remember when gas prices got so high it hit ONE DOLLAR a gallon. I actually traded in my gas guzzler for a car that got better gas mileage because I was so shocked at paying a dollar a gallon.

  9. BeatingTheIndex says

    Since I am mostly a public transportation guy, I don’t really feel a lot of pain from gas since my car usage is limited.

    In my opinion, there are no supply problems out there for oil, there’s plenty of oil and a normal price should be between 85 and 95 a barrel. The rest is pure speculation….

  10. The Dividend Pig says

    I remember a few years ago, when gas prices really hit the ceiling, a report on some financial channel (msn? fox?) Anyway, some gas expert was on, and they asked him what the cure for high gas prices was. He responded, very simply, high gas prices. Sometimes we forget, oil, like everything else, is supply and demand.

  11. Joe says

    Maybe people keep paying these prices not because they aren’t shocked, but because they don’t think they can do anything about it.

    • Kasey says

      It’s also not shocking because we’ve already been here. The national average for gas was higher a few years ago. I think our attitudes now are more like – great…here we go again!

  12. Untemplater says

    That’s a hilarious and seriously true pic. I’m a big bus person myself and unfortunately I’m sure the cities will start raising transit pass prices again soon if gas prices don’t go down soon. Flights are a lot more expensive now too it seems which is putting a damper on my travel plans.

  13. First Gen American says

    I have a company car which comes with a gas card, so we use it as much as possible for road trips and such. BUT, when I didn’t have one, I really did start reducing the # of roadtrips I took on the weekends and focused more on local excursions instead.

      • First Gen American says

        It’s a good deal but I have to pay $175/month “personal use fee”. Free company cars are a thing of the past for most of us salespeople. Usually we have to kick in something somewhere.

          • Financial Samurai says

            Dayum! That’s a lot of driving! No wonder the company provides a company car! You must be a really good driver now and have a lot of audio books :)

            Listen to blogcastfm.com. Love some of those interviews by Srini!

        • Mike Hunt says

          Sam,

          Move abroad- most companies for people in a middle or senior mgmt level provide a car. I have a car, driver, all maintenance, tolls, insurance and repairs are covered. We also have a gas card that has a value of $675 a month- only last month I hit the limit for the first time and had to wait till the 1st of the month to get the tank topped up!

          -Mike

  14. 101 Centavos says

    I wrote a post about this very topic a couple days ago. We’ve likewise changed our spending habits to make up for the increase in gas prices. We started eating out less, and cut back a little on other discretionary.

  15. Darwin's Money says

    I don’t pay much attention; my commute to work is 4 miles and my wife doesn’t work now so we don’t use a ton of gas. Aside from the Middle East where the government heavily subsidize gasoline, we pay the least in the world at the pump, so when Americans complain about gas prices it just illustrates how wasteful we are.

    Surprised you sold all your equities – I thought you’re eternally optimistic! I’m staying long; I figure with another election coming up, the administration will do everything possible to continue artificially prop up asset prices, even at the detriment to future generations. Might as well ride the tide. Bailouts, tax breaks, you name it; they’ll do it if it continues to prop up prices.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Haven’t sold all my equities. Just went from 100% equities to ~60% equities in the motherfund since it’s up 7.2% YTD and I don’t think the markets will go much higher than 10% in 2011.

      I do agree about the Multi year trend though, so I do plan to get back in this year on an anticipated correction. I have a lot of exposure everywhere, so I just don’t want to get broadsided.

  16. Ravi Gupta says

    I’m lucky to be working with a contracting company that carpools us everywhere, that and I drive a Yaris when I’m back home. I think it’s all about being able to group your trips and not making too many unneccesary trips. As an example I rarely drive when I’m home unless I’m going to school. The only trip that takes up some gas is a 100 mile round trip to see my girlfriend. That’s just me though and some people have long commutes to work.

    If you want lower gas prices bring on some rail.

    -Ravi Gupta

  17. Maggie says

    I am stuck. I live in a far suburb of a large city in Ohio. Years ago Detroit did a great job of making us car-based societies and inhibiting public transportation. Thus, I live 20 miles form my employer and woudl ahve to take 2 buses and 3 extra hours to get too and from work. There is no public transportation from our house to Hubby’s job in another suburb. Our public school system has elimiated busses for high schooler, so my high schooler needs a ride to school. We cut back in other areas to afford gas. In Jan I took advantage of Toyota’s celarance sales and got myself a 2010 Prius for my commute, keeping my 2002 Ford Escape for the high schooler to drive when he obtains his driver’s license later this month. But Guess who will supply that gas. There are a lot of logistical reasons that getting the teenager to school without a third car involves way too many hoops to jump. Possible, yes? Sustainable over the long term? no.

      • Rob says

        The problem is that pay rates are also lower in less urban areas. A job in San Francisco usually pays more than the exact same job in Iowa. If you’re lucky, the comparison is a wash.

        • Financial Samurai says

          You’re right, which is why I was thinking that cheap housing would help with high gas prices. But, if cheap housing is all one knows… then that doesn’t help, b/c you need to have cheaper housing.

          The argument that Europe is so much more expensive doesn’t matter, b/c we don’t live in Europe and never paid those prices!

  18. Car Negotiation Coach says

    I think $5/gal will be the oh sh$t moment when driving behavior drastically changes.

    As for me, I work from home and have my vehicle classified for insurance purposes as “for leisure”. Last year at my inspection my mechanic laughed at me because i had put less than $3k miles on it. Of course my wife is a driving fiend so I still end up footing a decent gas bill.

    I’ve seriously considered buying a moped to get around town. It’d be a ton of fun and dirt cheap…..but my wife would freak….and of course there’s the embarrassment factor….but who cares what other people think!

    • Financial Samurai says

      I think you’re right. I’ll be biking/walking everywhere along w/ my bus pass at $US5/gal! I don’t remember it ever getting up there when WTI was at $140+….. Hmmmm.

      Mopeds rock. Just be careful!

  19. Money Reasons says

    Do you feel the pain at the pump? If not, how come?
    I feel it only because I realize it. I’m afraid a lot of people don’t realize how much they are wasting on gas. If I weren’t in tune with traveling cost, I might not pay attention to the expense either, but since I’m a financial blogger… Ouch, it hurts!

    If so, are you cutting down your consumption?
    I’m thinking about car pooling to work with a buddy, and stop driving to the drive thru for food (that $1.00 McDouble is really costing me 4 or 5 dollars when you throw in the price of gas)!

    How many miles a year do you drive on average?
    I’m pretty average 15,000!

    Here’s food for thought! I takes me an hour to drive to my parent’s house, and then another hour to drive back. Once I calculate the cost for gas only, it comes to an expense of over $22 per trip! Big OUCH!

  20. optionsdude says

    I certainly have noticed the price at the pump since I drive quite a bit. I have gone to calculating the price of trips now based upon miles traveled, gas mileage, and per gallon cost. Sometimes I have decided that it isn’t worth it.

    I do wonder if the gas prices will cause another recession. I view that as a distinct possibility since the extra expense could hurt business profits. If everyone stops spending in response to the gas prices like you, the economy and the stock market could be in for a big hit.

    • Financial Samurai says

      It’s largely psychological. The absolute dollar amount isn’t MASSIVE for added cost.. but I think people will go to the extreme and cut much more than the increase in cost. This is why I’m so cautious now with the markets up 6%+. Happy to take some money off the table.

  21. Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer says

    I think the prices have just crossed the point where people are going to be making changes. My neighborhood Arco was over $4 per gallon for the first time this past week.

    I drive 10,000 miles a year and get about 17 mpg so it will make a difference to me, but not too bad.

  22. Greg McFarlane says

    I’m convinced that the major reason gas prices are so newsworthy are because they’re so big. I mean, the signs are big. If every business advertised its prices in 3-foot-high numerals, and changed them daily, we’d pay a lot more attention.

    I wonder how many people whining about gas prices spend more on beer and liquor than they do on fuel.

  23. Ryan says

    I haven’t quite felt it yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time! I drive to school 37 miles roundtrip, which I know isn’t a lot for some people, but it’s a lot for a student. I was spending $200 or more per month when I had class 5 days a week. This quarter my schedule is only 3 days, but the increase in price will probably even it out.

    Driving a midsize SUV has benefits, but my next vehicle will probably be a hybrid or smaller sedan. Maybe a Ford Escape hybrid or Honda Civic.

    The way I look at it, driving to school is still wayyy cheaper than living on campus, so I’m technically coming out ahead.

  24. Invest It Wisely says

    Even if the US stumbles the emerging markets will be there to pick up the slack, so whatever the reason behind high gas prices they’re probably here to stay for a while. Up to nearly $6 over here!

    • Financial Samurai says

      That’s a really great point. Emerging Markets are driving incremental demand! However, if the US goes negative consumption, everybody will remember that US is a HUGE percentage of annual energy consumption, and prices will fall. Unlikely to correct much though!

  25. Elle says

    I’ve incorporated no drive days into my schedule. It’s a benefit of working from home, but still annoying. It’s helped counteract the rising gas prices. Our next car, I’ll also be looking into getting even better gas mileage.

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