If it feels like Groundhog Day when you go to fill up your car lately, you're not imagining things. Prices at the pump are rising, and it looks like we could be in for a repeat of last spring's run-up to near $4 a gallon. (And the groundhog says spring is coming early.)
According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded is $3.53. That's up 17 cents in just a week (the biggest seven-day spike in nearly two years) and 23 cents higher than a month ago. Why the increase? Crude oil prices are up, and refineries are preparing to go offline for maintenance and to begin making the transition to summer-blend gasoline, which will drive prices even higher.
It's easy to overlook the short-term effects of higher gas prices on your wallet. Say your car has a 13-gallon tank, and you're suddenly paying 17 cents more a gallon. That's still only $2.21 extra per fill-up -- nothing to sneeze at if you're watching every penny, but for a lot of people, it simply means skipping one trip to the coffee shop. Analysts say we've become used to gas prices going up and down, and that's why smaller, more fuel-efficient cars don't necessarily sell more when gas prices rise.
If a couple of bucks a week doesn't phase you, a bigger-picture look might do the trick.
The Energy Department says the average U.S. household spent $2,912 on gas last year, or 4% of overall income. That's the highest level since 2008, when gas prices reached an all-time record amid global economic chaos. Before that, the percentage hadn't been that high in three decades.
And here's the rub -- you're spending more, but getting less. Even as the piece of the household pie devoted to gas has grown, the Energy Department says we're actually buying less gasoline than in past years, because cars are more fuel-efficient overall and we're driving less.