In the lull between news stories about Charlie Sheen, the devastating tsunami in Japan, and now the war in Libya, the media occasionally likes to remind us that gas prices are on the rise. As if we didn’t already notice when we filled our cars, or paid more for groceries.
Naturally, there is justifiable frustration, even downright anger, over these higher gas prices. We don’t just feel the increase at the pump, but we feel it as the increased costs to transport virtually every consumable product are passed on to consumers.
Some argue higher gas prices are a good thing – that they force us to consume less and seek out “alternative energies” that we might not turn to otherwise. Putting the politically-charged arguments aside for now, one thing I find interesting is the things we are willing to, and not willing to, tolerate in our society.
According to the AAA Daily Fuel Guage Report, at the time of this writing the average cost of regular unleaded is $3.55 a gallon. One year ago it was $2.82 a gallon. That’s a 25% increase in the cost to fill your car’s tank over last year’s prices.
Then I read this from a study on store credit cards published the end of last year:
Among the 35 store cards surveyed, the average store credit card rate is 23.83%.
I recognize not everyone signing up for a store card pays interest, but many do, and for them it is acceptable for a store card to take 25% more of their money in the form of tacked-on interest. I wonder how many people screaming about high gas prices also pay considerable amounts of interest to credit card companies and retail stores?
Some use this opportunity to point out that if you are living so close to the edge that a 25% increase in gas prices sends you over, then you are failing at personal finance.
Well, that may be, but the fact is there are a lot of people just that close to the edge. Some are there because they made bad decisions: bought too much house, or too much car, or too many goodies. But many are there because of bad circumstances: layoffs, illnesses, etc. Yes, bad things happen to good people.
Those good people may already be living frugally, and they may have already cut all frivolous expenses from their budget. They are struggling to keep their heads above water as the water levels continue to rise. So for these folks, higher gas and food prices are not a good thing.
This all leads me back to my idea of a serentity prayer for finances. I cannot single-handedly control the price of gas. I can control the amount of interest I pay. I can complain about both, but complaining about something over which I have little control seems futile. I need the wisdom to know the difference.
Instead, I can focus my energy on managing my household’s finances so that I don’t have to borrow money and pay those interest rates. I can focus my energy on inspiring others to take the same approach.