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Getting Heated

Mike Zaccardi, 2:56 am ET

REMEMBER JULY 2008? The financial system was faltering following Bear Stearns’s March 2008 forced merger with J.P. Morgan Chase. That summer, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac needed special assistance. The Global Financial Crisis was almost upon us.

But many folks forget that, at that time, another crisis was coming to a head—a global energy squeeze.

In 2008, I was a busy 20-year-old driving my 1998 Toyota Camry around Jacksonville, Florida, taking summer classes and working a part-time job. Filling up my 15-gallon tank every two weeks cost many hours of work at the local grocery store.

Back then, as the cost of oil soared to near $150 a barrel, retail pump prices averaged more than $4 a gallon. Those were truly tough times for countless families across the country. Today’s average gas price of $3.25 might feel pricey. But it pales in comparison to the $4.11 top in 2008. Adjusted for inflation, that’s equal to a whopping $5.24 today.

Gassing up your car isn’t the only energy-related issue right now. Heating your home could put a bigger dent in your budget this winter. U.S. natural gas, which powers roughly 40% of the country during the winter, has more than doubled in price over the past 12 months. Sure, utility companies hedge some of their costs. But residents and businesses will eat a substantial part of the increase.

The data suggest U.S. consumers are well-positioned to weather the coming energy storm. In aggregate, we have plenty of cash in our coffers, thanks to increased savings rates over the past year and a half. Still, we should be prudent and revert to those trusty old energy-saving strategies, such as combining multiple errands in each driving trip, turning down the heat and turning off lights when we leave a room.

We should also be grateful. Energy woes in Europe and Asia are far worse—and the situation overseas will almost certainly turn dire this winter. Rolling blackouts and sky-high electricity prices will be realities for millions of people around the world.

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Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
8 months ago

U.S. gasoline expenditure as a percent of disposable income (per capita):

2008: 7.12%
2020: 3.28%

David Powell
David Powell
8 months ago

Household energy resiliency will be important going forward.

Two EVs in the garage so we’ve not looked at gas prices in years. I earned minimum wage pumping gas during the 1970s oil embargo Richard alluded to, and remember fist fights at the pumps and long lines. And for natural gas: a few years ago I splurged on a heat pump too when replacing our old 80% efficient gas furnace with a high efficiency one. Was handy when Seattle saw temps around 115 for a week this summer. In winter the furnace kicks on when temps get into the mid-30s or below. Starting in January, all our electricity will come from a community solar project so our electric bill is insulated from rising natural gas prices.

R Quinn
R Quinn
8 months ago

You would have loved the 1970s

Last edited 8 months ago by R Quinn
Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
8 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

No social media. I would’ve had to actually go out and talk to people!

R Quinn
R Quinn
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Zaccardi

That would be easy, they would have been sitting in the gas lines with you for hours. 😎

David Powell
David Powell
8 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Had to put the last car sign up sometimes in my job at a gas station thru all of that madness. It was a too real experience with the laws of supply and demand.

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