Gas Prices Forcing Lifestyle Changes for Most Americans

By Nanette Holt
Nanette Holt
Nanette Holt
Nanette covers a wide range of issues, mostly in Georgia and her home state of Florida. She started as a journalist in a competitive, daily-newspaper market, and later launched a community newspaper in a geographic area ignored by other media. She spent many years writing and editing for a variety of national and international magazines, and has been hired to coach best-selling authors for book publishers. When she’s not chasing news, Nanette enjoys cattle ranch life with her husband, three children, and far too many horses, goats, cats, and dogs.
March 15, 2022 Updated: March 18, 2022

GAINESVILLE, Fla.—As if the price of gas wasn’t enough, a line of impatient motorists waiting behind him with sullen faces and engines rumbling made Zephrin Green’s visit to a Sam’s Club gas pump even more stressful.

As he prepared to fill the tank of his blue Subaru BRZ for an evening of Uber-driving, he tried to activate the pump as quickly as possible. Glancing at the price, he made quick calculations in his head.

“It takes 9.9 gallons to fill the tank,” he said. “I already know it’s going to take $50.”

Green used to make $140 to $180 per day ferrying Uber customers to their destinations around the college town of Gainesville in the middle of North Florida.

Since gas prices surged, his profits have dwindled to between $100 and $130—not enough to cover his bills and help support his young daughter. If the price of gas goes higher, he’ll have to stop driving and find different work.

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A woman fuels her vehicle in Alachua, Fla., on March 10, 2022. (Nanette Holt/The Epoch Times)

Gas prices are now the highest that consumers have ever paid in the United States. The $4-per-gallon mark is the tipping point that will force 60 percent of drivers to make changes, according to a AAA survey released March 10.

If gas hits $5 per gallon, 75 percent of U.S. drivers say they’ll be forced to change the way they live in order to keep up, the survey shows.

“A significant portion of drivers just don’t have the elasticity in their family budgets to deal with fluctuating gas prices,” AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. told The Epoch Times.

In 2018, when AAA asked drivers to reveal their “pain point for the price of gasoline,” 40 percent said they’d have to make major lifestyle changes if gas ever reached $3 per gallon,” said Sinclair, who is senior manager of public affairs for AAA Northeast. “And now, here we are.”

Driving less was the change 80 percent said they’d be forced to make. Almost a third of drivers between 18 and 34 said they’d start carpooling to save money on gas. But only 11 percent of those over 35 were willing to consider carpooling as a solution.

Instead, 68 percent of the over-35 group said they’d get clever about combining errands on their commute to save on fuel costs. More than 53 percent of the older drivers said they would reduce shopping or dining out to cope.

Changing summer travel plans was not an option, 42 percent of those surveyed said.

When Kelly Lundqvist pulled up to a Speedway station in Vandalia, Ohio, on March 7 and saw the price at $4.09 per gallon for regular unleaded, her heart sank.

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Kelly Lundqvist said her heart sank when she pulled up to a Speedway gas station on March 7 in Vandalia, Ohio, and saw the price of gas had surpassed $4 per gallon. (Courtesy of Kelly Lundqvist)

“I was quite surprised, and frankly, quite sad,” she said.

Lundqvist owns a home cleaning and downsizing business in Dayton. Driving to jobs has been costing her about $50 per week in gas.

“Seeing that the price of gas keeps going up made me sick to my stomach and nauseated,” she said. “I’ve had to cut back on everything.”

Lundqvist said she hopes President Joe Biden will do what’s necessary to boost American oil drilling and will restart the Keystone XL pipeline project he shut down shortly after taking office.

The pipeline was designed to send 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada to refineries in Texas.

Her wish for America to be energy independent again was echoed by people around the country, who told The Epoch Times they believe the problems began when the United States returned to a dependency on foreign oil after President Donald Trump left office in January 2021.

Richard Zulch, of Bowling Green, Ohio, agreed that America’s lack of energy independence was the problem. The army veteran, who served as a combat engineer in Vietnam, worried that rising gas prices would crush his concession business again.

In 2005, gas prices spiraled up after Hurricane Katrina blasted through oil-rich Louisiana.

“When gas went up that time, our sales went down to zero,” Zulch said. If numbers on the pump keep ticking higher, his customers won’t have money for the food he sells, he said.

“Those dollars won’t be there, because people will be spending all their extra money on gas.”

He worries about the effects on critical industries as well.

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Army veteran Richard Zulch worries that rising gas prices may hurt his concession business by leaving people with less money to spend. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

“We have to figure out a way to control the fuel prices,” Zulch said. “It’s going to affect trucking, farming, everything. We need to make ourselves energy independent again.”

American energy independence is key to fixing the problem, said Tiffany Gorham, of Dalton, Georgia. Now that the cost to fill her tank has almost doubled, she’ll have to cut back on activities with her grandchildren.

“I’m frustrated with the fact that the first thing that was done when our new president was in office was that they shut down our pipeline,” Gorham said. “So you take away our independence of gas, and I think that has a lot to do with it.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine plays a role, she said. “But when you take away our own independence that we had—that’s frustrating for me.”

Robert Hart of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, knows the energy business. He retired from work with the Knoxville-based Tennessee Valley Authority.

The federally owned utility provides electricity for 153 local power companies serving 10 million people in Tennessee and parts of six surrounding states.

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Robert Hart of Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., buys gasoline on Mar. 10, 2022, at a Georgia gas station. (Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)

The recent spike in what he’s paying at the pump means he’ll have to give up eating out, he said. If prices continue to climb, he’s not sure how he’ll make ends meet.

“I am really stressing,” said Hart, who lives in a household with four other adult family members who drive. “I’m having to pay too much for gas and for getting around.”

Prices at the gas pump reflect the trajectory of pricing for crude oil. At this time four years ago, crude was trading at $65.99 per barrel. A year later, the price was at $68.50.

Two years ago, prices plummeted to $28.47, and by April 20, 2020, “we actually went negative on crude oil prices,” Sinclair said. “I think it was minus 32 a barrel. They would have paid you to take the stuff away back then.”

That dip occurred just after the world started COVID-19 lockdowns, and few people were traveling, Sinclair said. There simply was too much supply and too little demand.

But by March 2021, crude oil prices bounced back up to $64.53 per 42-gallon barrel. By the end of 2021, crude oil was up to $75.21 a barrel.

In January 2022, the surge intensified, eventually hitting $128 per barrel on March 8. On March 14, the price had ticked down to $101.38.

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Pumpjacks in the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield, Calif., in a file photo. (Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)

Though gas prices typically drop at the beginning of each year, the price of crude oil started spiraling up in January when there was speculation that Russia might invade Ukraine, Sinclair said. Price hikes are typical when there’s instability, or even a threat of instability, in the world that could disrupt supply. Analysts call it a “fear tax,” he said.

Gas prices will likely keep climbing, he said, partly because of the normal cycle of gasoline prices. After a drop in January or February, they usually creep up in March. That’s when refineries shut down temporarily—making for brief shortages—as they prepare to switch from making “winter blend” gasoline to making “summer blend” formulations that perform better in warm weather.

Summer blends are more expensive to make “and more complicated to distribute, so that leads to higher prices,” he said. “And then the summer driving season starts and gasoline prices shoot up because of extra demand.”

When it comes to summer travel, 85 percent to 95 percent of trips are taken in a motor vehicle, AAA research shows.

“So we need a lot of fuel. Then prices peak sometime usually in June, July, or August. And then they started going down in September after Labor Day when driving cuts back a little bit,” Sinclair said.

“People start going back to work, no more summer vacations, and prices keep going down. Then they fall during the fall, and bottom-out again sometime in January or February.”

An employee holds a sample of crude oil at the Yarakta oilfield, owned by Irkutsk Oil, in the Irkutsk region, Russia on March 11, 2019. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters)

Crude oil is a smelly, sticky, black liquid pulled from deep under the earth’s surface in many places around the world. In the United States, the states with the most oil are Texas, Alaska, California, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Crude oil is refined to create gasoline and diesel fuel, and refining it is the costliest part of the process for fuel-makers.

So as the price of oil fluctuates, those changes are reflected in the pricing signs outside gas stations.

“When I was a kid, gas prices were 19 cents a gallon,” recalled 85-year-old Horace Turner, of Ringgold, Georgia. With the recent surge in gas prices, he said, “I’ve had to give up running around a little bit. I’m staying home more.”

He blames the conflict in Ukraine.

“We need to get rid of them Russians,” he said. “But if we do that, they’ll want to retaliate on us, and it’ll be Katie-bar-the-door.”

He also believes political policies are to blame, and he hopes his fellow Americans will band together when they head to the polls during the midterm elections.

Teri Taylor, of Union, Ohio, doesn’t blame the Biden administration.

“The world is a mess,” she said, as she added $10 in gas to the tank of her Ford Taurus. “I think Biden is dealing with what he’s been given. I never did like Donald Trump.”

She lives about 15 minutes from her job at ODW, a distribution warehouse for children’s shoes. She’s considering moving closer to help keep her gas expenses affordable.

“I don’t know what I’ll do yet,” she said. “When I started driving [in the late 1970s], gas was 75 cents a gallon. When it went up to a dollar a gallon, I threw a fit. Now I can’t go anywhere.”

She’s had to cut back on groceries, and she’s started making some of her own clothes, “including the hat on my head,” she said. “I’ll be growing my vegetables, too.”

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Teri Taylor of Union, Ohio, speaks about the ways she’s coping with rising gas prices as she fills up her tank on her way home from work. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Focusing on just one political party’s proposed solutions isn’t the answer, Gorham insists. She identifies more closely as a Republican and conservative.

“I believe in voting for what’s right,” she said. “But honestly, there’s been times when I favored more of a Democrat than a Republican. I’m for who’s for us and what is best for us.

“It’s not a matter of being Democrat or Republican. It’s a matter of voting for what’s right. And it’s hard to tell because you can be a great person when you get in office. And I think once you get in office, everything changes.”

Taxes imposed by lawmakers account for about 15 percent of the price people pay at the pump, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Fuel-makers’ cost for crude oil accounts for about 56 percent of the price consumers pay for gasoline, and it makes up about 51 percent of what people pay for diesel, according to the EIA.

U.S. refineries can make a little more than 19 gallons of gasoline and 10 gallons of diesel fuel from one barrel of crude, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

On March 14, the national average for regular gas prices was $4.33, up from $4.07 a week earlier, according to AAA.  That broke the previous record high of $4.10 per gallon in 2008, according to data from fuel-saving app GasBuddy.

The only states with average gas prices under $4 on March 14 were the 11 making a vertical swath down the center of the country. They were North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas. The country’s lowest average price for gas was $3.82 in Kansas.

Californians were paying the highest prices, shelling out an average $5.74 per gallon for gasoline on March 14, AAA research showed.

Across the country, people willing to pay climbing gas prices were increasingly finding stations with no gas to sell. That’s because of a shortage of truck drivers, especially drivers with the qualifications to drive a tanker truck, Sinclair said.

“You have to have a higher level of certification to drive a gasoline tanker truck. And we lost a lot of them during the lockdowns in 2020 when fuel demand just plummeted,” he said.

Many of those truckers took jobs driving for companies that saw business boom during lockdowns, such as Amazon and UPS, Sinclair said.

“During the lockdowns, everybody was online ordering stuff. So that’s where [truckers] went. And I guess it’s working out for them, because they have not come back to driving long-haul, big rigs and tanker trucks,” he said.

“Some analysts are worried that, especially as demand ramps up—with the weather warming and people wanting to take trips—that many gas stations will have problems staying ‘fully wet,’ as they say in the trade, which means that all their tanks might not be full and all their pumps might not be operational, because they can’t get enough gasoline.”

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Some pumps at a Raceway gas station in Alachua, Fla., were out of gas on March 12, 2022. (Nanette Holt/The Epoch Times)

Drivers of diesel-fueled trucks face even higher prices. Across the country, they’re paying an average of $5.13 at the pump.

Dump trucks practically slurp up diesel fuel, driving an average of five to six miles on every gallon of fuel.

So business owner Pete Falkenstern, of Dump Truck Services in Murdock, Florida, raised his prices by about 20 percent recently. And he’s likely going to have to raise prices again soon.

“Fuel’s still going up,” he said. And in 30 years of delivering dirt, asphalt, and other materials to commercial and residential customers, he’s never seen anything like it.

“People are grumbling, but they have to get stuff done,” he said of customers, who need his services in order to complete a wide variety of construction projects.

Some contractors have clauses in their job contracts allowing them to pass along price increases to customers who’ve hired them to construct buildings or fix roads.

Builders who can’t do that likely will start walking off jobs soon, leaving projects unfinished, because they’re losing money, Falkenstern said.

But for now, customers needing dump trucks still call him. And that’s a relief, because Falkenstern’s business not only feeds his family but provides work for 12 employees as well.

To keep his fleet on the road, he’s had to raise drivers’ pay by $2 per hour. They’ve been complaining they can barely afford to fill their own tanks to get to work.

That will affect his ability to pay himself, he says. And the problem will only grow, he said, because he expects to see the price of a gallon of diesel hit $8 per gallon.

“I’ll do what’s necessary to survive,” he said. “Who knows what the new normal’s going to be?”

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Pete Falkenstern, president of Dump Truck Services in Murdock, Fla. (Dump Truck Services)

Jaret Davis rumbled up to a pump on March 11 in High Springs, Florida, in his black Ford F-150 and pulled on his vape as he considered whether rising gasoline prices would cause him to make changes.

“I’m still going to go out and have a good time,” Davis, who works on air-conditioning units, said with a grin. “I’m going to go with it.”

He paused, puffed again, then said, “And I’m still going to buy beer. It helps ease the pain.”

Jackson Elliott and Michael Sakal contributed to this report.

Nanette Holt
Nanette covers a wide range of issues, mostly in Georgia and her home state of Florida. She started as a journalist in a competitive, daily-newspaper market, and later launched a community newspaper in a geographic area ignored by other media. She spent many years writing and editing for a variety of national and international magazines, and has been hired to coach best-selling authors for book publishers. When she’s not chasing news, Nanette enjoys cattle ranch life with her husband, three children, and far too many horses, goats, cats, and dogs.