Cost Conscious

I got in a bit of a verbal tussle the other day with a friend who complained that the current gas prices were the highest ever. I disagreed, of course, because prices have been higher.

To be honest, it wasn’t much of a tussle, falling short of an argument and ending quickly when I realized the person simply didn’t remember times when gas was higher. You can’t cajole people to the side of truth when they firmly believe — when they know — they are right, even when they are wrong. And I wasn’t arguing, anyway, about the truth of it. I simply wanted to put today’s prices in historical context. Unlike his shock at the price, it seemed normal to me because despite his belief, I remember times when I paid over $4.00 a gallon (2008) and other times (2011-2014) when prices were similar to what is being charged now.

In case it was I who had the faulty memory, I looked up gas prices in those years, and yes, in July of 2008, the average price of gas at the pump was over $4.00, and if you adjust that price for inflation, it would be over $5.00 by today’s prices. And though the average price of gas in 2011 through 2014 was just under $4.00, I was in California during those years, and since they are notorious for their insane gas prices, I paid over $4.00 then, too. It didn’t help that I switched from regular to premium around that same time. (It took me forty years to discover that my car needs premium, and it does seem to work better, but the only reason it works better is that the ethanol that is added to gas makes it run worse. The old regular leaded gas was best.)

To me, the real cost consciousness comes when I compare gas prices today to what I paid when I first started driving — $0.19 — though when adjusted for inflation, that $0.19 comes out to be $1.82 in today’s dollars and doesn’t seem quite so ridiculously cheap. But I don’t compare. Gas is up, gas is down. That’s the way it’s always been. For the last decade or so, gas pretty much remained the same price for me — when I go to the pump, I buy $20.00 worth of gas. I don’t pay attention to how far that $20.00 takes me, so in that sense, gas is always the same price. Admittedly, I don’t drive much and won’t until the mechanic can find a master brake cylinder with the correct clocking, but still, I don’t worry. I remember when they were predicting that gas would go up to $6.00 per gallon, so anything less is to the good.

I’m also not worried about wheat prices because I try to stay away from wheat. (People tell me they stay away from wheat too, without realizing that almost all baked goods and fried foods and all sorts of things are dependent on wheat.)

Despite my laissez-faire attitude, I do notice the price of myriad things going sky high. Lettuce $4.00 for a tiny head? Ouch. Good thing I tend to stay away from iceberg lettuce too, since it’s not highly nutritious. But there will always be something that comes with a shocking price tag, so it’s not worth getting het up over. Buy or not. It’s all basically the same.

Of course, there are times when even I am appalled at prices I have to pay — my water bill from a couple of months ago, for example. But that was a meter problem where they overcharged me, and since they still say the meter is working fine, they never gave me a refund for the 19,000 gallons they insist that I so impossibly used. (I just got my bill today, and it’s back to normal, so I think my surmise that the meter doesn’t like below zero temperatures is correct.)

Still, no matter what the price of gas and wheat and water and whatever else, I am glad those things are still available.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

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