My Eighty Dollar Fill Up: How I stopped worrying and learned to love my SUV.

Eighty dollars in gas

Yesterday, I happened to fill up our Ford Expedition, which was pretty much on ‘E’ (it’s a guy thing).  It was a day off, so I was in no hurry and casually looked around as the numbers clicked off.  By the time the pump stopped, I was in for $80 exactly.  Wow. While I can’t say that I ever paid much attention to the price of gas, the probability of closing on an even number was what intrigued me more, which resulted in the picture you see here.  But after I got back in and went on my way, it got me thinking about the state of the economy and how much emphasis is put on our driving habits, our dependency on oil and the cost of gas.  Should I be doing something differently?  Am I at fault, driving this classically American symbol of excess?  How should I feel, spending so much of my hard earned cash just to drive an automobile?

Well, my emotions weren’t stirred.  There was not ranting or raving, no whining or tears of frustration.  Sure, I’d rather pay less (much less in fact).  But I realized that the cost of gasoline is a bit player in my life, and probably the life of most Americans.  Here’s why:

 

I’m fortunate to have 2 fairly new cars, neither of which would be considered economy, one which I’ve already mentioned is a full-size SUV.  My wife tells me that it gets about 12mpg.  That sounds about what I would expect – my first SUV started off it’s life in our family with 9mpg, which I found embarrassingly low (it improved to about 12-15mpg over time).  2006 Ford ExpeditionWith 3 kids to take to/from school, sleepovers, etc; it is the family workhorse. Could we get by with a smaller or more fuel-effected-vehicle? Absolutely. But that’s where I look at the bigger picture.  You see, I think of the $80 as the price I pay for approximately 260 miles and more than 5 hours of personal tine for me, my family, our dog and 1-2 friends to go any where we want in comfort and relative style.  Now, that is a different perspective, right?  With a navigation system, DVD player, moon roof, etc. I figure paying $3.20 per hour for each family member to enjoy this nicety is money well spent, even with the increase in the price of gasoline.

And what about the price of gas?  When inflation is factored in, we’re just barely nipping at the prices reached during the gas crisis during the Carter administration.  In comparison, milk has increased 26% this year, and eggs 40%.  And why have those prices increased?  Because of the increased need for ethanol, which comes from corn, which requires a substantial amount of fossil fuels to produce.  So, not only do you pay a premium for hybrid vehicles in terms of price (10% markups from gasoline engines?) and availability, but you’re also affecting the demands for corn, which increases the price for produce and products it supports.  And just like that, I’m feeling less guilty about taking my kids on a joy ride and smirking at the guy in the Toyota Prius!  You can read more about this interesting confluence in Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, as well as in various articles on Associated Content.  To net it out, realize that increased food costs are much more of a concern than an increase in the price of oil, because food accounts for about 13% of household spending compared with about 4% for gas.

Lastly, and most pointedly, is the absurdity of what we prioritize and consider necessities.  Every time I hear someone lament how much they’re putting in their gas tank, I have to wonder whether they considered cutting back on the things we’ve grown so accustomed to as Americans.  For example, as I write this, I’m enjoying my 3rd coffee of the day, courtesy of Starbucks.  This s a personal pleasure I don’t budget nor track, but would guess I spend upwards of $125 a month on (and chronicle my love for on the Starbucksters website).  Same goes for cable TV, multiple phone lines, cell phones, movies, video games, etc. etc. etc.:  It all adds up, and is easily less justifiable at certain levels than the fuel I use to get to and fro.  Do you see what I’m saying?  Before joining the revolution marching on the automakers and oil companies, or weeping at the pump, I am more inclined to take stock of just how much this really affects me, relative to other niceties I’m privileged to have.