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Home  > Article

$3 gasoline means changing lifestyles

By By Ashley Kelly

$3 gasoline means changing lifestyles Consumers cut other spending to compensate

As consumers brace for gas prices of $3 a gallon, their behavior patterns are changing in subtle yet broad ways, experts say.

"I use to go to the hairdresser every two weeks. Now I try to stretch it to three or four weeks," said Barbara Alvarez of the Town of Wallkill.

Alvarez, who commutes to work in Westchester County, has cut back her spending because, she said, the amount she pays for gas has increased so much. "I spend like $60 a week on gas," Alvarez said.

Budget cutbacks by customers like Alvarez are now widespread. Julie Braffett, owner of the hair salon Angles and Cuts by Julie, in Blooming Grove, said she's seen it among her clientele.

"Instead of coming to get color, when they have 1-inch roots, they come when they have 2 or 3 inches," Braffett said, with a laugh. "They hold out a little longer, and I know it has to do with gas and electric prices."

Gas prices in Middletown have reached $2.83 a gallon, up from $2.61 two weeks ago. Yesterday, the Energy Department's new seasonal outlook projected that the price for regular grade gasoline this summer will average $2.62 a gallon. That would be 25 cents higher than last summer, barring any unexpected supply disruptions.

But mid-Hudson prices are already well above that level, and the pace of increase shows little sign of slowing. Among other things driving the hikes, the shift from MTBE to ethanol has greatly complicated gasoline distribution.

According to Glenn Geher, associate professor of psychology at SUNY New Paltz, and Kajal Lahiri, a distinguished economics professor at SUNY Albany, the rising gas prices have changed the way people think about their daily lives.

"I think people are starting to perceive automobile travel in a different way," Geher said. "All of a sudden it's affecting our decisions."

Geher said he thinks the change began when gas hit $2.

"If you look at the consumer sentiment. "? it is hurting all over the place," Lahiri said. "Other kinds of expenditures consumers make will be dampened or decreased."

Other businesses also see an impact. Some customers aren't eating out as often. And many businesses, like restaurants, face their own higher costs, such as for heating oil or deliveries.

"A lot of people stop spending money because of higher gas prices. "? we have to raise prices and it affects everyone," said Franco Paglia, co-owner of Franco Di Roma Italian Restaurant in the Town of Wallkill.

"Last year wasn't as bad, but this year even our natural gas has gone up," Paglia said.

Kyle Farrell of the Town of Wallkill no longer makes multiple trips unless it's important.

"You combine trips "? there's no running to get something just to get it," said Farrell, who tries not to fill her tank up in one shot at the pump.

"It kills you when you let it go beyond half a tank "? it's a psychological thing. I still feel a lot better when I pay $35, than paying $70 to fill it up."

Sandra Alleyne of Middletown, like Farrell, combines trips to save gas.

"Everything is condensed into one trip," said Alleyne, who does not drive her Ford Expedition as frequently because of the large amount of gas it requires.

Some businesses say customer demand has wavered little.

"This business is pretty much recession and inflation proof," said Michael Tagarello, owner of High Withers Wine & Spirits in Goshen. "In bad times people still drink, they just don't buy as many expensive things."

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