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Four Bucks a Gallon?!

In Mother-Daughter Spa Time earlier this week, an anonymous poster got on parents' cases for talking about the frivolous when the world is crashing down around us:

"What planet are you on? Every other family in America is trying figure out how to afford four dollar a gallon gas and four dollar a gallon milk for their kids! Sheesh. Spa days? Are you out of your mind? If that's all you have to worry about, then clearly you are overpaid and underworked."

While anonymous's tone wasn't for everyone, the point is a good one. Gas prices are averaging over $4 a gallon in Washington, D.C., and just under that in the nation. Food prices are through the roof. Husband happily found a gallon of milk for under $3 at Costco last weekend, something unseen at our closer grocery stores, where milk is usually running about $4 a gallon.

When we last chatted about how the economy was affecting us all it was February, and gas was a good buck less than it is now. Since then, prices for just about everything most of us consider necessities have continued to rise.

With summer vacation season approaching, my guess is many of us are thinking twice about plane tickets and long car rides. And beach rental agencies and hotels are expecting that. Some are offering grocery and gas cards worth between $100 and $250 to entice vacationers to houses in the Outer Banks. In Ocean City, businesses are adjusting vacation packages and offering more restaurant coupons.

As for me, I'm taking suggestions on good places to pitch a tent with the boys. That seems like an inexpensive and easy win for a short break.

How are the rising costs affecting your vacation plans and daily lives? Has anyone started using Web sites like eRideShare to find carpool buddies or tried to organize carpooling with sites like Divide the Ride? Or have you abandoned your car altogether?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  May 30, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Family Finances
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My husband lost his job and is having a tough time finding a new one. So now we're a family of three living on my one very modest (for DC area) income. Making ends meet by the skin of our teeth.

So we're definitely going camping instead this year. We'll be doing a warm up "camp" this year with NWF's great american backyard campout on June 28-29th....

It's got great resources and a link to find camping places across the U.S. for you Stacy!

Posted by: LOVE Camping! | May 30, 2008 7:35 AM | Report abuse

Lake Anna in Virginia has good camping near Fredricksburg. There is also the Assateaque/Chinqateaque (I know the spelling is wrong) islands near the beach.

We are suppose to visit friends who just moved to Maine (and camp in Acadia) but I was budgeting $4/gallon for August; I didn't eaxpect it to get there this quickly. Will it be $4.50 or $5 by then? We might have to cancel. We'll end up spending $500 on gas alone!

Posted by: md | May 30, 2008 7:37 AM | Report abuse

"We are suppose to visit friends who just moved to Maine (and camp in Acadia) but I was budgeting $4/gallon for August; I didn't eaxpect it to get there this quickly. Will it be $4.50 or $5 by then? We might have to cancel. We'll end up spending $500 on gas alone!"

The delta b/w $4 and $5.50 gas for a 1400 mile trip if your vehicle gets lousy mileage (15 mpg) is $140. Of course, all depends how tight your budget is, but cancelling a pretty sweet vacation over $140 (3 months of HBO or 2 nice dinners or 15 movie tickets or 28 cups of starbucks or 6 cases of beer) doesn't seem worth it.

Posted by: scrape | May 30, 2008 8:17 AM | Report abuse

We purchased a "vintage" Winnebago in January and filled up on gas then. We will be camping locally at the local parks such as Burke Lake Park and military bases such as MCB Quantico and Andrew's AFB. Should be lots of fun!!!

Posted by: tlawrenceva | May 30, 2008 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I had finally convinced my husband it was time to replace his 12-y.o. vehicle when gas prices started jacking up. We're just going to hang on to it and drive it 'til it's dead, I guess. (I don't like buying cars on credit and it takes time to save, so the newest vehicle we have is 8 years old. Still runs, and is paid for. Don't really care what it looks like.)

As for vacations, we are staying put except for a planned trip to NY for a relative's 100th birthday. I would love to combine that with a run up to Maine to stay with my grandparents, but that's not in the budget this year. Camping sounds GREAT.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 30, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

I was told there would be no math today!

Posted by: Trixie | May 30, 2008 8:40 AM | Report abuse

The Maryland state parks have wonderful camping. My kids loved going to Cunningham Falls state park just above Frederick. There are many nice ones that are about an hour or two away.

Posted by: MD Mom | May 30, 2008 8:46 AM | Report abuse

I could take the bus to work and may even do that once my other responsibilities are done. But I can't get to my second evening job if I take the bus and if I am not working, I am picking up the kids after work - also can't do it by bus.

We are spending about 400$ a month on gas. I wish we could reduce this but we basically only use the cars to get everyone to work and see the kids. I even do groceries in the same mall in which I have my second job so we don't even make a special trip for that. We spend as much on gas as we do on food. The good news is that we don't pay what the Europeans pay for gas.

Posted by: Billie | May 30, 2008 8:47 AM | Report abuse

We're spending a week in a cabin at a state park. It's not cheap--$700 for a 2 bedroom for one week--but we'll prepare our own food and there will be few other expenses.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Honestly, I'd love not to drive, and looked into alternatives several years ago when we first moved back. But gas prices haven't changed anything for me, because I had already figured out that I can't manage my daily loop on the buses (home - work - pick up kids - home). And the fabulous express bus doesn't work when you can't guarantee you'll be out of work by a set time.

Gas prices also aren't going to change our summer plans, because all we're doing is driving down to NC to my dad's during the week between the end of camp and the start of school. It's @ 750 miles round trip, which means maybe 30-40 gallons of gas -- so even if gas is $2/gal more expensive than last year, we're still talking less than $100 more for free lodging, free food, free babysitting, and a pool to boot. Seems like a pretty sweet deal to me. :-)

The impact on us has been more indirect. My practice is a lot slower this year, I suspect because our clients are feeling the effects of the recession. So I can't really afford to schedule a bunch of vacation time, because if the work picks up, I need to be able to do it. Which means we'll likely do a weekend at my mom's beach condo here or there, because (a) it's free, and (b) we can schedule that last-minute as work allows.

Posted by: Laura | May 30, 2008 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Went to a WV mountaintop Resort (Snowshoe) for Memorial Wknd and they had about a 10% occupancy rate - no one there! On the way home, we didn't care if gas were $10/gal if we could just find it 'cause we had a hard time finding a station open that even HAD gas! And the roads were much lighter coming home Monday then any Sunday night! Heard on the radio gas should be $5 by the 4th. Will be spending our summer in the back yard - that's free!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Even though my job is stable, we are cutting back too. Our favorite SC condo resort is offering 7 nites for the price of 5. Even though we do breakfast and lunch in our room, it is 600 miles ($100+ for gas alone) each way, plus trips to dinner, entertainment, etc.

We even cut back on dining out at local diners (2 can eat a full dinner for $25 total, including tax and tip).

We re-upped at the local swim club for $500 for the season (May-Sep).

Glad to see oil barrel futures are dropping because of demand cutbacks.

Posted by: Stay at home | May 30, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

This has been an unusually stressful year for my family and I really "need" my vacation this year. We are not interested in camping, although we have camped in the past. We don't really have the proper equipment and, frankly, there is more work involved than I care for while on vacation.

The economy has taken a bite out of our vacation budget. Our solution is to take 5 days at the beach rather than 7 in order to save 2 nights lodging. I'd rather be there for a shorter period of time and do what I want than have to skimp while I am there. We go out to eat very seldom, and dinner out on vacation is not something I want to give up.

Posted by: anon | May 30, 2008 9:18 AM | Report abuse

We're moving to a big city, where I can take public transportation and my SO can walk to his job. The move is for school, but we picked the school largely on this factor.

Posted by: JEGS | May 30, 2008 9:46 AM | Report abuse

I'm very fortunate that a member of my extended family (my grandmother's stepson) has a 5-bedroom oceanfront beachhouse in S.C. that he's letting my brother & me (and our families) use for a week in August...for free! If it weren't for that, I doubt I would have much of a vacation this year. So all I'm paying for is two or three tanks of gas and some groceries for a week (the groceries I would have had to buy at home anyway).

I recently moved to a neighborhood that has a LOT within walking distance for me. Post office, bank, big regional library, playground, pool, Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, a toy store, a dry cleaners, several restaurants...I can walk to it all in 10 minutes or less. So that's my big savings plan!

Posted by: PLS | May 30, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I have never appreciated the metro as much as I do now.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 9:59 AM | Report abuse

No chance of a vacation this year. We need to keep a slush fund for the wave of inflation that hasn't hit yet. In the first 5 months of this year we spent 70% of what we spent on natural gas for all of last year. Everything will be more expensive in the second half of the year as the cost of energy trickles down. For memorial day we splurged and went to whole foods to buy stuff for my vegitarian wife and some nice vegitables to grill out. That is about as 'vacationee' as it gets for us.

Posted by: jjs | May 30, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

We just moved into the city and the cost of a parking space for just one car was astronomical so we sold them both. We now do a lot of walking to and from the grocery stores - Penn Quarter doesnt have one. I have to think I am very lucky b/c aside from not buying gas, steady jobs, etc now I'll be in better shape! Its too bad this isnt an option for more people! PS - I use Peapod for the basics and can get milk for $3.75/gallon.

Posted by: PQ | May 30, 2008 10:14 AM | Report abuse

The median household income in Fairfax and Loudoun counties is nearly $100,000.

I don't think anyone here has really noticed what the price of gas is. Personally, I just look at the price, mutter a few expletives, and fill'er'up!

Posted by: Bob | May 30, 2008 10:17 AM | Report abuse

What can you do but fill it up? I am not going to move because of the housing market. I am not going to change jobs because my job pays super well. My husband can't change his job if he wants to continue in his apprenticeship program. And the kids live where they live. It would be great if they lived closer but closer is much more expensive and not affordable by the mother. There is really nothing we can do to reduce our gas bill. Eventually, we will buy a new car and we will buy something that is reasonably gas efficient - perhaps even a Prius.

I groan every time I go to the pump but it is what it is and there is no changing the rate of consumption in our house.

Posted by: Billie | May 30, 2008 10:57 AM | Report abuse


Median is a mathematical term that means the middle point. So knowing that the median income is $100,000 only tells me that 50% of people make more than $100,000 and 50% make less. It doesn't tell me the range of incomes, and I can tell you that my income is significantly less than $100,000, and I am in a much better position financially than many people in the county.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 11:18 AM | Report abuse

When we lived in the DC area, we were paying $250/month for gas just for commuting. We moved to a location where we could walk or bike to work, so our "gas budget" dropped substantially. Now our non-commuting gas budget is creeping up toward $200/month!

Camping in state parks is great. Improved (hot showers and flush toilets) campsites in MD, PA, and NY run about $15-$30 per night.

Posted by: skm | May 30, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

If I drove from DC to Orlando it's about 1700 miles roundtrip. Based on my car's mileage, that's about 65 gallons rountrip. At $4 a gallon that's $260. If gas were 50 cents cheaper, that's $227 roundtrip for a savings of $33. Hardly a reason for the panic that seems to be gripping the nation. If love the tv stations that interview people complaining about gas prices while sippnig a $4 starbuck coffee.

Posted by: Do the Math | May 30, 2008 12:09 PM | Report abuse

to do the math - for some people $33 is a big deal. maybe not in this area but in other areas that is. there are people who have to make choice between spending $33 on food or on gas. it's also not necessarily the actual dollar amount but the percentage difference. if i have budgeted everything carefully a 20% increase in the price of gas or food or whatever really bites especially if i don't have an extra 20% to spend even if that 20% is only $33.

Posted by: quark | May 30, 2008 12:48 PM | Report abuse

As a European, I pay $8,50 a gallon for gas and $5,70 a gallon for milk. And higher taxes, too.

Posted by: Sanity check | May 30, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Sanity check

"As a European, I pay $8,50 a gallon for gas and $5,70 a gallon for milk. And higher taxes, too."

But you don't have to deal with millions of American a-holes....

Posted by: Sanity is priceless | May 30, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

As a European you also get universal health care, don't have to save for university for your children and get several weeks of paid maternity leave adn paid vacation every summer. I wouldn't have a problem with paying more for milk if college and healthcare were free. Also, public transportation is much better in Europe. Hardly the same thing. not at all.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 2:20 PM | Report abuse

"to do the math - for some people $33 is a big deal. maybe not in this area but in other areas that is."

I would posit to you that those for whom $33 is a big deal are not debating whether or not to go on vacation. That choice was made long before gas went from $3.50 to $4.00...

Posted by: scrape | May 30, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Vacation? Don't think so.
My ex lives 70 miles away and even splitting the cost of the trips every other weekend is tearing at us both.
I will be taking the kids to a local beach on the weekends for our "vacation".
As far as my paid vacation days: I will be turning them in at the end of the year for cash.

sad? i know.

Posted by: jana | May 30, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

My method of budget balancing is to always over account. I am quite lucky in my short commute and we use my partners car for everything else so I've been budgeting $60 a month for over a year now. Only just this month did it actually hit that mark.

So I have to readjust my budget upwards, but this way I don't get ACTUALLY tight immediately when the prices change.

While inwardly I groan that I didn't just rush to get a hybrid, but I just paid off my 5 yr car loan last Dec and I want to drive it as long as possible to save up to not have to take another loan.

Posted by: Liz D | May 30, 2008 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Liz D

"I am quite lucky in my short commute and we use my partners car for everything else so I've been budgeting $60 a month for over a year now."

I pay $0 per month for work related transportation. My employer pays for my bus pass for my 20 minute round trip commute.

Posted by: Sitting pretty | May 30, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, many of us are not working hand to mouth and can afford spa's and other things. The unemployment rate is around 5 percent but with the idiot media out there, you would think it is the great depression. Yes 4 gasoline sucks, but its not the end of the world for most. I always laugh when they interview someone smoking and complaining about gas, what are cigarettes, 5 per pack, to kill yourself?

Posted by: get over it | May 30, 2008 3:10 PM | Report abuse

"But you don't have to deal with millions of American a-holes"

just millions of euro trash and soccer hooligans. By the way would you care to take Sanity is priceless back with you?

Posted by: usa all the way, been to europe, thank god i am home | May 30, 2008 3:14 PM | Report abuse

you just can't win with bloggers. first we get slammed if the topic is the slightest bit "elitist" because the world outside the beltway doesn't live that way. then when the topic might be something that relates to the rest of the country we get told off as well.

yes, the people for whom $33 difference in gas money are not planning a vacation but my comment was directed to do the math's kinda snarky comment about "hysteria".

Posted by: quark | May 30, 2008 3:28 PM | Report abuse

as far as the spa thing goes, it seemed to attract the ire of the large marge crowd who probably gave up make up a long time ago. Thank God some women still care what they look like.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 3:37 PM | Report abuse

oget over it

"I always laugh when they interview someone smoking and complaining about gas"

Ha, ha. The smokers that complain about the price of gas tend to have beer bellies & kids that pick their noses...

Posted by: ya gotta wonder | May 30, 2008 3:44 PM | Report abuse

"as far as the spa thing goes, it seemed to attract the ire of the large marge crowd who probably gave up make up a long time ago. "

AKA The Nursing Nazis.

"Thank God some women still care what they look like."

Amen to that.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Well hi from the South Island of New Zealand
where gas has just gone over $2/litre. You do the conversions but doesn't that mean that your $4/gallon converts to approx $1/litre or that if you were paying what we do you would be paying approx $9/gallon. Maybe your readers should get a reality check on the rest of the world's situation.

Posted by: Alistair Webber | May 30, 2008 5:30 PM | Report abuse

"The unemployment rate is around 5 percent but with the idiot media out there, you would think it is the great depression."

> the unemployment rate states nothing important. It only records people on the unemployment rolls for 6 months. If you have been unemployed for longer than that, you are not counted. If you are underemployed, you are not counted. If you have seen your wages slashed, you are not counted. If, like me, you "willingly" quit your job before being laid off to go back to school, you are not counted. See a pattern here? 5% means NOTHING.

Best learn some facts before you ironically start calling OTHER ppl idiots .......... lol.

Posted by: To getoverit | May 30, 2008 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Alistair Webber | May 30, 2008 5:30 PM

Posted by: | May 30, 2008 2:20 PM

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 7:09 PM | Report abuse

When we lived in Europe I loved the lifestyle. We walked everywhere and rode our bikes, because the town was laid out on a pedestrian scale. When we needed to travel long distances, we hopped on the clean, convenient heavily-used trains. It's sad that America is laid out on a big, automobile scale. Without our cars, we are stranded in our suburban subdivisions. I find this American lifestyle depressing and isolating. We are held hostage by the price of gas and unlike Europeans, we can't easily switch to walking, biking, or taking mass transit.

How I've adjusted: Try to take the car out just once daily and do everything in one big efficient loop. Walk/bike to the closest destinations. Am definitely using less gas. No big change in vacation plans though, am cutting back on other things (like meals out) to work the budget.

Posted by: USA vs Europe | May 31, 2008 12:56 AM | Report abuse

I have never been happier to live where I can walk everywhere but the grocery store. My husband car pools to work, the kids walk to school, we walk to the dentist, pediatrician, library, etc. We have virtually abandoned our car at this point except for a weekly trip to the grocery store and emergencies. Between the price of food and gas there is little left for anything else. We are skipping the pool pass this sumer and are not going to visit my parents in SC. My older girls are going to girl scout camp because a week there is under $200. We will also camp 5 or 6 times (not to save money, we actually enjoy it).

Posted by: Momof5 | May 31, 2008 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Coming in kind of late but we have not altered our vacation plans based on the price of gas.

We plan on driving down to Williamsburg and spending 5 days at Great Wolf Lodge, which is an indoor water park. We have to modify our plans because our son will be born in a few weeks. We did not want a newborn in the sun a lot. So indoor water park seemed to be just right for us.

We look forward to next year (if the economy is better). We will then try a week at the beach. Maybe no the Jersey shore if gas prices are still high. Maybe a closer beach. But my in laws like to go to the JS. So we may end up going regardless of the price of gas.

We will have to wait and see. I see and hear a lot of people complaining but not a lot of changes in behavior. If gas really does get to $7/gallon (prediction for next year), then I think you will see a lot of people changing behavior (even in Fairfax and Loudon county). But for now, people seem to go about their business as usual.

Posted by: foamgnome | June 2, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

It seems as if only DC residents read this blog...there is no way to change any of our transportation habits here in FFX. Must drive the kids to school on the way to work (though husband does drive to the Metro, but he did that before gas went up), drive them to practices, friends' houses, grocery store and the doctor. There is simply no choice. We are fortunate enough to have 1.5 incomes that bring in sufficient income that we are taking all the vacations we planned--to the outer banks, new york, side trips various weekends. Summer is what we wait for all year, so we would never consider cancelling our respite. And for us camping is just more work and less sleep, and who wants that on a "vacation"?! If I didn't work, now is the time I would consider going back--no one has mentioned that minefield yet!

Posted by: uldc | June 2, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

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