Economic Anxiety Index®

What we think about when we think about gas prices

Andy Uhler Mar 15, 2016
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Paying for anything causes pain, and paying for gas causes constant pain. J Pat Carter/Getty Images
Economic Anxiety Index®

What we think about when we think about gas prices

Andy Uhler Mar 15, 2016
Paying for anything causes pain, and paying for gas causes constant pain. J Pat Carter/Getty Images
Share Now on:
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The latest Marketplace Edison Research poll shows younger people and workers depending on hourly wages most appreciate low gas prices at the pump. But paying for gas is also an emotion.

Something emotional happens when people feel like they’re getting a bargain — like cheap gas at the pump. And there’s pain when they watch money drain out of their wallets.

“Pain is a kind of attention,” said Scott Rick, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan who studies the psychology of spending. “Attention to money leaving your possession. Gas is pretty good at soaking up a lot of attention.”

Rick said people experience that emotion attached to spending money on gas almost every day.

“It’s so salient,” he said. “Every time we pass a gas station, we see prices. I think it gets too much credit and too much blame when people are casually assessing their own financial picture.”

Rick said part of the problem is that sometimes the math doesn’t add up. “Sometimes people kind of double book savings,” he said. “Like, you might splurge on a dinner and think, ‘Oh, well, I saved $30 from gas.’ And then you do something else and you’re like, ‘Oh, well, I saved the $30 from gas.”

Michelle Streeter admitted to it. She works for the city of Mesa, Arizona, near Phoenix. She had to go to a conference in Anaheim, California, and had the option of buying a plane ticket or driving five hours.

“I’m being very strategic about it,” she said. “What I’m saving on my gas spending, I’ll be spending at the outlet malls, you know, as I pass through Palm Springs. So, it’s because I can have a savings. What I can save on the bottom line I can spend on a nice handbag.”

 

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