The Erratic Nature of Gasoline Prices
While it didn’t draw major headlines, I noticed that numerous media outlets picked up on the recent story about a computer glitch that led to a brief gasoline price war in Toledo, Ohio.
That allowed some drivers to buy gas for literal pennies, such as one driver who filled his tank for 26 cents a gallon. A bargain compared to the national average last month of $1.70.
I chuckled when I saw the story. It immediately brought to mind the time I drove to work in work in high school days and noticed the fuel gauge dropping towards “E.”
Being a typical, unprepared teenager, all I had on me was a quarter. So I pulled into a station, told the attendant I needed 25 cents worth, and was on my way (and later arrived home with gas to spare).
Then there was the time I came home (about an hour south of Toledo) from college to news of a gas price war in our area. I filled up for 23 cents a gallon, although I had heard some area stations were selling it for 19 cents.
When you consider that was nearly 41 years ago and minimum wage then was only $1.80 an hour, someone getting gas today for 26 cents a gallon is an incredible bargain. Even if the price war only lasted for three hours.
During the years between college and last month’s price war, I have seen gasoline prices fluctuate wildly. Twice during the Great Recession, they surpassed $4 per gallon, which brought into reality a prime reason for the economic downturn: gas prices.
We adjusted to the shock by simply cutting spending in other areas. After all, it took a certain amount of gas to make it around town for work, grocery shopping and other errands. Since our income wasn’t going up—for several years it went down—we bought fewer groceries, skipped restaurants, and otherwise tightened our belts.
I also laughed at the news that gasoline and food weren’t part of the “core” Consumer Price Index because of their volatile nature. While it may be true monetary policy can’t affect those items, at the same time the two things that nearly everyone does are go to the gas station and the grocery store.
Given the thoroughly unpredictable nature of oil prices, world instability, and terrorism, I figure it is just as likely that we could see gas over $4 again next year as it is a gallon staying below $2. After all, a couple years ago I never thought it would never again dip under $3.
The thing I’ve learned through all the changes is that worrying about the price is an exercise in futility, as well as a waste of time.
Case in point: our first (and only) trip overseas to visit our youngest daughter, whose husband was stationed in Germany. Coming two months after 9-11, gasoline had shot up, along with the nerves of people who wondered if airline travel was safe.
Peace of Mind
The thing that caught my attention that week was the busy nature of open-air markets and other sites we visited around Germany. Because stations priced gasoline by liters, I was never sure of the exact price per gallon. I knew enough, though, to recognize it was at least triple the price back home.
Yet, nobody seemed concerned. They were shopping, laughing and enjoying life. Which is when I decided that no matter where gasoline went, it was time to stop stressing out over the price. Glad I made that decision, no matter what happens in the year ahead.