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Why To Complain More about Gas Prices

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David at MyTwoDollars asks if we can stop complaining about gas prices. I'm not so sure that complaining helps, but in my opinion it's very understandable considering the circumstances.

Americans typically drive a long way to their jobs and public transportation isn't common in much of the area. We are also denied many of the smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Where is the Smart Car version in the US? The Mini comes close, but isn't quite there. Plus it wasn't an option in 2001 when I bought my last car. My next car may be small or a hybird, but it's hopefully going to be a long time before that happens.

Other countries have different economic climates - it's really impossible to compare. Housing in the UK is smaller (from what I've seen) and people live closer together leading to what I'd expect to be smaller commutes. I also hear a lot about Europe's amazing train system that can take through many countries very affordably. If they don't have to drive as much due to the layout of their country the higher gas prices are not going to be as big a deal.

You also have to factor in the psychology of the rising rates. We had become conditioned to paying under $2.00 a gallon a few years ago. The price of gas has doubled when adjusted for inflation in California in 8 years! See $1.40 adjusted for inflation in that chart and the 2.80 for 2006 prices. I think the current California average gas price is probably over $3.00 adjusted for inflation today. Have our salaries, adjusted for inflation, doubled? Thus gas is eating up more of our (Americans or at least Californians) budgets than ever before.

The reality is that any time any necessary expense inflates more our paychecks there will be complaints. That's why you see it housing. You see it with college as it's largely considered a necessary expense by many nowadays. That's a topic for a whole other day, though.

Update: As I finished up this article, I noticed that Flexo at Consumerism Commentary wrote about gas price complainers as well.

Last updated on August 1, 2011.

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17 Responses to “Why To Complain More about Gas Prices”

  1. Dave says:

    Nationally, gas is cheaper now than in 1981 (using today’s dollars)… See this Google Video

  2. Lazy Man says:

    Yes, but what are people going to compare to, the price 10 years ago or the price 25 years ago? I say it’s more natural to look at the percentage of our income gas is now vs. what it was 10 years ago.

  3. plonkee says:

    Housing is smaller in the UK and denser, but there are still lots of people so I don’t know whether commute times are shorter. More people commute by public transport, I imagine.

    The biggest difference is that cars are indeed much smaller on average and so more fuel efficient. I’m sure I remember a blogger (maybe JD at get rich slowly) saying that they owned the smallest Ford, a Focus. In the UK, thats the third smallest Ford, there’s also a Fiesta (same size as a Mini) and a Ka (a bit bigger than a Smart Car).

    High gas (we call it petrol) prices are a big deal over here, but as most of the cost of UK fuel is actually tax, there is more of a problem when the tax rate rises than when the price of crude oil goes up (e.g. petrol blockades of 2000).

  4. Jeremy says:

    I hate complainers. The points you made are valid, there is no arguing that. But ultimately it all comes down to personal choice and how most Americans choose to live. In Europe, people live closer to where they work. Ok, well people here have that option too but many choose not to. They want to live in a more rural area, they want to have the personal freedom of a vehicle and not rely on public transportation.

    People have the ability to be less reliant on gas but they also don’t want to change their lifestyle. Everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too. How many people do you see complaining actually make an effort to use less gas? You still see people driving huge vehicles they don’t need for regular commuting, people still drive 2 hours to the office but rather than make a few lifestyle adjustments they choose to complain, bitch and moan about prices.

    I used to drive a vehicle that got 12 mpg, but when it started to get too expensive to do so guess what I did? I traded it in and got a more fuel efficient and practical car. HOLY CRAP, what a concept! I’m driving more miles to work now and gas prices are quite a bit higher and I’m still paying even less on gas than I was 7 years ago.

    But as long as people insist on driving huge status symbols and enjoy commuting 500 miles a week to work in them we will have to continue to put up with the complainers.

  5. Lazy Man says:

    I think people live closer to where they work in Europe because that’s the way their country evolved for thousands of years. As Plonkee says their housing is smaller and denser. If you want to compare Europe as a whole, you have to compare it more towards something like NYC with smaller denser housing.

    I see people everywhere making an effort to use less gas. Yes people still drive huge vehicles, but its not always cost effective to just sell a new vehicle – it takes time for the gas prices to affect people’s car buying decisions. If I bought an SUV in 2004 when gas prices weren’t nearly as high am I to sell it today and buy a new car? No.

    I don’t know anyone who commutes 2 hours to the office by car. If they do, it’s simply because the traffic and not that they choose to live 50-60 miles from their job. Traffic is a whole separate issue here.

  6. Jeremy says:

    You need to spend more time in the midwest ;)

    I know people who commute to chicago from where I live. They are 1.5-2 hours away even if there is no traffic at all. Same goes for people who do the same thing in the Detroit area. I have a few relatives who used to easily drive 90 miles each way to work. My parents right now continue to drive over 60 miles to work everyday. They live north of Flint michigan and drive to Lansing everyday. I think it is stupid and have urged them to move, but they like their house and don’t have any urge to move closer.

    And if you bought an SUV in 2004 you could buy a used car not a new one, and chances are a more fuel efficient car will cost much less than an SUV which should result in not only a savings in interest and monthly payments if you finance it but on insurance costs as well. Unless you were buying a 35-40k luxury car it would almost always be cost effective to downgrade for reasons other than gas consumption alone.

  7. Lazy Man says:

    Driving across the country last year, I spent more than enough time in the mid-west. ;-)

    I see no logical reason to commute that far other than stubborness. I can’t help the people that don’t want to be helped ;-). Maybe if you and your wife had jobs in opposite directions, but even so, those examples are extreme. Real estate prices are extremely cheap in Detroit (if I recall correctly), so it doesn’t make sense to pay a ton in gas for many years when moving can save a ton. If those are the people complaining, they’ve got no say (in my opinion), but this article isn’t about those edge cases.

    As chance would have it my wife owns a SUV which she used to commute in Boston blizzards (sorry the military hospitals doesn’t allow “snow days”). Today she uses public transportation and the SUV largely sits idle. We’ve used the SUV a number of time to transport larger items. If we downsized, I’m sure our van rental costs would skyrocket to the point where it’s probably a wash with the gas prices.

  8. StevieD says:

    You are lazy! The smart car is coming to the USA in January 2008. 20,000 people have all ready plunked down $99 for a deposit on the small car. Visit http://www.smartusa.com to see the car in action.

  9. Lazy Man says:

    Awesome find StevieD… However, since I’ve wisened up about not buying new cars – I’ll let someone else pay the depreciation in the beginnning – this isn’t going to be an option for a few years.

  10. JS says:

    I live in a nice town on the outskirts of a big city and drive a toyota yaris which is getting close to 40 mpg currently. I hardly notice gas prices :)

    My mom lives in Hawaii and commutes 60 miles a day in her truck. Whole ‘nother story.

  11. David says:

    Of course, my gas expenses have dropped to $0 every month as I don’t have a car anymore. My wife took my Mini to commute in and we sold hers. I use my feet, my bike and public transportation. And even here in LA, with public transportation hell, I still have managed for 4 months without a car. When I need one, I rent it for the day or by the hour.

    Still, gas prices are only going higher, so everyone should just get used to it.

  12. saladdin says:

    I drive 100 miles roundtrip a day in a S10 at 30 MPG.
    I never understood moving just to be closer to work. My life and my job are two different things.

    Here I see my brother, sister, nieces and nephews any time I want. If I moved closer to work, than I can be closer to my…. cubicle.

    I just offset the extra gas cost in other ways.

  13. Dave says:

    I thought that lazy man and money was also about sustainable living, but with 2 SUVs (Editor’s correction: I only have one SUV and it was my wife’s bought before we met), I guess you don’t care about gas prices or the environment.

    That is the problem with most of these “money” blogs – you want to have your cake and eat it too. In economics you learn that to have something requires you give up something else.

    Anyway, the three slices of the money pie are saving it (frugality), making it(practical entrepreneurship), and investing it (real diversification, not just stocks and real estate).
    And that is what makes my blog unique and supreme!

  14. Lazy Man says:

    I want to stress that I do not have 2 SUVs. The SUV that we do have is my wife’s from before we met. With snow storms in Boston, she was required to get a vehicle capable of driving though unplowed roads to get to the medical facilities to provide health care.

    We could sell the SUV now, but we plan to go back to New England in a couple of years, where the same problem will arise. Since she takes public transportation most of the time, 12-13 gallons gas can last 2-3 weeks in the SUV – definitely not a cause of environmental concern. Anyone who has drank a drop of Fiji bottled water has done much more environmental harm.

    I’ve talked before about my concern for gas prices, but our move to San Francisco changed the use of the SUV, so it’s no longer an issue.

    Lazy Man and Money is about the economic principals of sustainable living – but at a personal level. It does not try to discuss the overall health of the people in general. This is how I can suggest eating cheap Ramen noodles in the case of a dire personal financial situation. Obviously, that’s not sustainable living for the long term. My other blog, Lazy Man and Health is the place where I can talk more about environment. I haven’t quite tackled that point since I’m still developing a voice of what I want the site to be.

    I may suggest The Good Human as a superb, environmentally friendly blog. David does an excellent job and it’s worth a visit.

  15. JoeRiv says:

    That smart car looks like a toy. Are these things going to able to move at all during a New England winter?

  16. Foobarista says:

    My biggest gripe with most tiny cars is they’re built for tiny people, or at least young, thin, very athletic people who can do the contortions needed to get in and out of them. My wish would be for a single-person or two-seater commute car that basically had the front seat shape of an SUV, but was small and efficient.

    Until then, our “gas friendly” ride will be our Camry, and our road-trip and hauling vehicle is our Element. And since I work from home 3 days per week, we don’t use much gas generally.

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