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Budget Buster: Families Spend $3K a Year on Gas

New government estimates say families are spending nearly $3,000 a year just to fill up their gas tanks. Meanwhile, in the East Bay, gas prices are rising sharply.

Families are devoting more of their money to gas these days than they have in most of the past 30 years, according to new estimates in a U.S. energy report.

The average American household spent $2,912 — or about 4 percent of its gross income — on gas in 2012, according to estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). This is a bigger drain on the family budget than at any time in the past three decades except 2008, when the gas grab was about the same.

What may be frustrating for some to hear is that while gas consumption has gone down in recent years, the budget burden has only gotten worse as gas prices have increased.

Back in the early 1980s, families were spending more than 5 percent of their income on gas but traveling much less than we do today. Since then, fuel efficiency has increased significantly, making it cost less per mile for us to get where we're going. However, while U.S. gas consumption was at its lowest level in 10 years in 2011, average gas prices increased that year by 26.1 percent and then again by 3.3 percent last year, according to the EIA.

On Monday, the average gas price in the Oakland metropolitan area was $3.96 per gallon for unleaded regular — up from 11 cents from a week ago and a whopping 38 cents from one month ago, according to Cynthia Harris, a spokesperson for AAA Northern California.

As of Wednesday, prices ranged from $3.75 to $4.05 in Fremont, with prices ranging from $3.85 to $4.02 in San Leandro, according to gasbuddy.com.

Harris said the increase is due mostly to the change from winter to summer gas formulations. 

Warm-season gas contains several additives to keep it from evaporating in the heat, so it's more expensive to produce, Harris said. Refineries also have scheduled shutdowns about this time of year to implement the change, she said.

Harris said gas prices dropped during the period from just before Christmas to mid-January before starting their recent climb.

How much do you spend on gas? Do you have tips to share on saving gas? Tell us in the comments section below.

NewBomb Turk February 19, 2013 at 05:43 PM
We should all be driving Ecars by now. They have been available for years. But we aren't, Why? I think people just don't trust them. It's like going Solar in your home. We keep wasting all our money, by choice. Myself included. Why? Maybe the E car companies could put a little more into Marketing and educating the public about these vehicles. Once they catch on, there will be work trucks, tow trucks, big rigs ect. It's time to stop wasting our money. Just My opinion. Thx.
David February 19, 2013 at 06:55 PM
The decision to drive a "traditional" car or plug into the standard grid is a rational economic one. You could buy (as posted above) a plug-in hybrid vehicle for a bit over $30,000 after incentives. Let's assume your gas price is $0, as is your electricity cost, for argument's sake. You could alternatively buy a new Toyota Yaris, Nissan Sentra or Ford Fiesta for $14,000-$16,000. A Fiesta gets around 35 mpg. So 15,000 miles/year of driving will cost about $1700, assuming $4/gallon gas. Therefore, you will *not* make up the difference in price caused through reduced gas consumption over what most people assume is the lifetime of their car (around 10 years). As for solar energy, it's a similarly simple calculation. Generally solar panels "yield" a return on your upfront investment of roughly 5%/yr over 20 years. That's not very impressive, especially considering most people don't live in the same house for 20 years, and there's little resale value for this "improvement."
Fran February 20, 2013 at 02:16 AM
I want a Leaf myself. Can you put a price on never having to go to Chevron again, to be gouged? Or never having to be gouged by PG&E. Living off the grid...priceless.
x February 20, 2013 at 02:57 AM
LEAF: "Nissan claims a maximum full-charge range of 100 miles for Leaf, a number that proved slightly optimistic based on our experience. In Consumer Guide testing, we averaged 73-88 miles on a single charge, some of that driving in high-temperature conditions that may reduce battery efficiency." -- Consumer Guide "If you don't commute more than 100 miles a day, live in an area with easily accessible electrical ports and don't mind waiting from 30 minutes to eight hours to ‘fuel’ your car, the 2012 Nissan LEAF EV is your ticket to the eco-Super Bowl." -- Kelley Blue Book "In fact, even ambient temperature plays a role in determining cruising range, because extreme temperatures are detrimental for battery performance.” -- Edmunds
Fremont Resident March 09, 2013 at 04:51 AM
The Chevy Volt is way to go for now. I don't really care for Chevy's in general, but I have to hand it to them for the Volt..

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