Consumers Weary Over Fuel Price

Despite a flailing U.S. economy, gasoline prices are the leading factor in changing American consumer spending, according to a NACS survey.

Results found 45% of U.S. consumers said soaring gasoline prices have affected their spending more than rising energy and food costs, the slumping economy or the national mortgage and lending crisis, the survey found. The survey, released on Monday, was of 1,215 Americans on behalf of NACS>

On average the tipping point for the average consumer to cut back on gasoline use is $3.71 a gallon, according to the survey.

"If gasoline prices get to $3.71, that is the point at which, on average, consumers said they would change," said Jeff Lenard, vice president of communications for NACS.

Still, current gasoline prices, which have been on average hovering around the $3 a gallon level, have already prompted 13% of consumers to cut back on driving. Another 50 percent said they would cut back on driving when gasoline prices hit $3.25.

Average U.S. gasoline prices hit a record high of $3.24 in May 2007, according to the travel and auto group AAA, and the U.S. Energy Department is forecasting $3.50 a gallon gasoline by this spring. Climbing gasoline prices have spurred some consumers to change their behavior in other ways as well, the survey found.

Not only will most consumers shop based on price, nearly one in three will inconvenience themselves–at a convenience store–to save a penny a gallon," according to the NACS analysis of the survey. Almost a quarter of consumers said they would drive five minutes out the way, just to save a penny, while another 15 percent said they would be willing to drive 10 minutes out of the way.

But trying to save money by literally going out of one’s way can backfire: a 20 minute round-trip out of the way to save about 10 cents could end up costing about $1.50, according to NACS.


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