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Pain at the Pump: Gas Price Impact Update

After learning about how gas price expectations impact behavior, what changes consumers are making as a result, and who they believe is in control, I thought we could take it back to basics this month and dig into where the impact stands today. We know that confidence is up slightly this month but not looking stellar compared to previous years, and the economy continues to play a big role in back-to-school spending plans.  Are pump prices still a pain or are they becoming a slightly more manageable ache? We turn to the Consumer Vital Signs InsightCenter™ to get our answer.

For the third consecutive month, the average gas price* in the U.S. has declined, dropping from $4/gallon in April to $3.42 in July. After hearing about $5/gallon forecasts, $3.42 doesn’t seem so bad. Following suit, the percentage of consumers being impacted by gas prices has declined from 76.3% in April to 71.5% in July, nearly 15 points lower than the 86.0% of Adults 18+ who were being impacted in June of ’08 when the price per gallon was $4.03.

*The average gas price is for the first week of each month to correspond with when the survey is being conducted.

This still means, though, that the majority of consumers are being impacted by fluctuating gas prices and changing their spending habits as a result. After paying $3.25/gallon last week and feeling like I was getting a deal, I quickly came to realize that notion was absurd; $3.25 per gallon is still a lot of money when you remember a day when prices were less than $1/gallon. It seems the majority tends to agree.

While driving less often continues to be the most popular (and logical) habit to conserve fuel, this is down from last year (45.8% in Jul-11 to 41.0% in Jul-12). Reducing dining out, decreasing vacation, spending less on clothing, delaying major purchases, and spending less on groceries are also all down from last year among Adults 18+. Carpooling, however, has seen a very small increase from 7.6% in Jul-11 to 8.3% in Jul-12.

So, is consumers’ pain at the pump excruciating or just a slight annoyance? With the large majority of consumers still being impacted by fluctuating gas prices, it does still seem to cause them a bit of pain. However, Anxiety at the Pump may be a more appropriate name for this ongoing blog. After feeling the pinch of $4/gallon in the midst of the Great Recession, there is always the fear that those prices will become part of the New Normal in the uncertain world we now live in. We may never go back to the days of not being conscious of how much gas we’re using.

To keep updated on fluctuating gas prices and other ways consumers are being impacted, register for the Consumer Vital Signs InsightCenter.

Source: BIGinsight™ Monthly Consumer Survey – JUL-12 (N = 8509, 7/2 – 7/9/12)

© 2012, Prosper®

BIGinsight™ is a trademark of Prosper Business Development Corp.

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