If there is a positive side to the pandemic for people whose only goal is to make it from one day to the next, about 98% of us, it’s that gas prices dropped through the floor.
While the cheapest I saw around here was $1.34 a gallon (I don’t believe it got very far below $1.50 in Monroe County), there was talk in some areas of the country it got down to 99 cents a gallon. The joke was of course it gets cheap when there’s nowhere to go. Another one was people claiming they were getting three weeks to the gallon. And there was the fatalist outlook that said as soon as this is over, gas prices will shoot through the roof again.
And we may be starting to see the beginning of that. GasBuddy said that prices went up 1.5 cents on average last week. I don’t know where their numbers came from, but one station in this area went from $1.44 to $1.57 overnight. At that rate, they’ll be over $2 again by the end of the month. At one point, from what I read, a barrel of oil was considered so useless that if somebody wanted to get rid of oil stocks, they had to pay someone to take them. A quirk in the way the market works, I read, goosed into overdrive by the pandemic.
I don’t know how oil stocks work, but I do know that at one point I filled up and it was more than two weeks before I had to buy more gas. Granted, I didn’t take any personal trips, but I’ll still miss the long gaps between filling up and being able to do so for $12.
A downside to the pandemic, one of many, is that people have been living off their credit cards. Creditcard.com said said about 47% of Americans are now living with credit card debt, about 120 million people. Now, 43% were living with the debt before all this started, so it’s not a huge jump, but that number usually increases over the course of a year about a tenth of a percent, so it’s still a significant number.
Loss of jobs and no savings are the main reasons people started getting out the plastic to pay for things. I learned how evil credit card debt is nearly three decades ago when I first charged $200 on one and they only wanted $10 in payment the next month. I thought that was the greatest thing ever. They like it when people are stupid about finances and they flat out loved me. One thing you should never do with credit cards is buy the things you get on a regular basis. Groceries, gas, repeating bills. Never charge a restaurant meal, though a lot of people do. And you really shouldn’t charge clothes, though the fashion business would probably shut down if people stopped doing that.
When I do use a credit card, which is rare, it’s to purchase something big and to do it on a card that offers six months or a year without any interest if I get it paid for on time. You’d be amazed at how well you keep up with payments when a boatload of interest is staring you in the face on a definite date. But in the end a person will do what they’re going to do, pandemic or not. The world has changed and may never change back, but people will still go in debt and need some way to get places. Gas might eventually run out, but don’t think you’ll get to drive your electric car for free. Rich people will get your money somehow.
Anyway, more and more people are out and about, some wearing masks and keeping away from others while some refuse to do either while glaring at those who do.
All we can do is hope we don’t get a second wave of this stuff and another big outbreak in the fall.
If it happens again, more of us might have to break out the credit cards. Though gas prices would probably fall again.