It almost seems as if Americans act only when there is a crisis. Well, Americans, we have a crisis. The prospect of gasoline at $4.00+ per gallon has been on the horizon for months, maybe even back a year or more. You will not find too many people that like it as it hurts in your wallet or purse. The American family’s economic pie is just so big. Unless we win the lottery or get a big raise or promotion, we have just so many dollars to go around each month. If it cost me $80.00 to fill up the family sedan, the extra $20.00, $30.00 or $40.00 has to come from somewhere else in my economic pie. In other words, I have to see a reduction in food, or entertainment, or discretionary spending if there is any left.
I remember the gas rationing crises back in 1973. People filled their autos on odd and even days and even then it was difficult as many stations ran out of gas. Today, however, there is plenty of gas, but the price keeps going up. So what can we do?
Eventually, all of us will have to replace the vehicle we drive. We can no longer afford to drive the type and kind of vehicles that we drove in the past. I predict the end of the V-8 and V-6 automobiles. Our family auto will have to get in the area of 30+ miles per gallon in the city. Forget this smoke and mirrors about “highway” driving. The automakers will have to get real regarding gas mileage in the city. This is where the majority of us drive every day. It becomes even more important if we are caught in what is so aptly called the “rush hour” where we sit, bumper to bumper, going 5 to 10 miles per hour on a road designed for speeds of 70 miles per hour. We need to look at automobiles that guarantee us a minimum of 30+ miles in the city.
Whatever happened to the carpool? Firms promoted the use of sharing a ride years ago. It made sense then and it makes sense now. Even if we only shared a ride one or two days a week, it would make a difference. A lot of young parents have children in athletic events. Is it necessary for every parent to drive each child to the lacrosse practice in a separate automobile?
Working from home may make more sense than ever before. Not all consumers are able to do this but for those that can, it can be a real transportation savings.
What about consolidating our trips? Gone are the days when most of us can afford to drive hundreds of miles every weekend to go to garage sales, sales at Meijer, then a sale at Kohl’s, and then another sale across town at Sears while dad drives the other car to the cleaners, the barber shop, the hardware store, and then the oil change. I spoke with a lady the other day that said that she is consolidating her trips. “I used to go to several food stores to pick up the specials until I realized that for the few extra pennies in savings, I was using up gallons and gallons of gas.” It makes a lot of sense.
You should support local stores that are either an easy drive or within walking distance. The Lowes store may be a few cents cheaper but not if you have to include the gas to travel there.
Use rapid transit or public transportation if available. Many years ago, America had a lot of public transportation that included buses, trains, and subways. It was the automobile and cheap energy, gasoline in particular, that dealt a death blow to public transportation. Public transportation has to return to areas like the Midwest. Support local initiatives that promote the use of public transportation.
Shop via the Internet. Obviously, this does not apply to all items, but where applicable, it does make sense. Some Internet offers include free or low cost shipping.
As consumers, we have to rise to the challenge. Our transportation habits have to change. We consume too much energy. Walking is a good habit to start. Why join the local gym for hundreds of dollars each year when you can step out your front door and start your own exercise program?
DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati’s Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.