Monday, May 23, 2011

Are We There Yet?

It turns out we weren’t raptured on Saturday (congratulations) so we aren’t going to that unknown place just yet (at least until the next potential rapture date).  That is great news: we can come out of hiding, buy back our homes, and resume our everyday lives (just in time for the DWTS and House season finales).  For most of us, “everyday life” means going to work or school (maybe we would rather have been raptured).  For others, this means getting out and about to get all the errands done we had to put off to prepare for being raptured.  For a lucky few, this week may be the kick-off point for annual summer vacations (lucky).

Few of us are able to go through the normal day without traveling in some form or another. Commuting can be especially brutal: a recent article by the Economist (“Life in the Slow Lane”) suggests the average daily commuting time in the US is almost 50 minutes (no wonder they are putting TVs in cars, such a commute could have serious implications for our evening line-up).  Compared to Europe, only Hungary and Romania have longer commutes (and not by much).  The fact is we spend a lot of time traveling – be it going to work, visiting family, driving to the beach, or just going to the store (Memorial Day sales are in effect!).  This does not come cheap either, in the first 3 months of 2011 transportation related purchases amount to over 10% of our total spending!  We spent about $820 billion on motor vehicles and gas, and another $305 billion in “transportation services” (trains and planes).  Imagine how else we could have spent all this time and money.

Gas prices also continue to be a drag.  Last week (May 16) regular (not “plus” or “premium”) gas prices averaged $3.96 per gallon (California had the highest average of $4.22 per gallon, yikes).  That equates to about $60 to fill up a 15 gallon car.  This average is up by $1.10 per gallon over a year ago with little sign of going down.  Distribution, marketing, and taxes make up less than 20% of the cost per gallon. Petroleum inventories, seen as a “good” signal for gas prices, have generally been on the rise over the last six months.  However, gas prices, thought to go down as inventories rise, have instead been going up, implying other factors (outside of our control) are having a larger effect on the prices we pay (think “Arab Spring”).  Considering Americans drove an estimated 250 billion miles per month on highways in 2010, gas prices will certainly be a factor to consider when planning that annual summer trip.

While time and money do not seem to be on our side when it comes to the act of traveling, we are not about to sit at home and eat all day (as much as we would like to, Kirstie Alley style pre-DWTS).  First of all, we would run out of food (illegal in America).  Second, we love the beach (especially the Jersey Shore) way too much.  But being more conscious about how much we drive seems to be in order – for example, maybe we can walk or bike to local errands (saves money and gives us something to brag about).  We can look into more fuel effective cars and commute using public transportation (let’s meet and beat the Europeans, we did it once already!).  As the wise Red, of the Red-Green show, would say, “Remember, I’m pulling for you – we’re all in this together.”

(Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Energy Information Administration, Bureau of Economic Analysis, The Economist)

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