Granddaughters vs. gas: Surge in fuel prices force Americans to make tough choices

The retired secretary from Salt Lake City babysits for Layla, 3, and Harlow, 1, three times a week while her daughter and son-in-law are at work. She also loves to watch Layla play soccer on Saturdays.

But the girls live 45 minutes away, and the soccer games are even farther. The jump in gas prices has forced Waters, 64, who lives mainly off Social Security, to reconsider how often she can see them. She’s already stopped going to the games, and fears she may have to cut back on caring for the girls.

“I do have such a good relationship,” said Waters, who estimates it will now cost $60 to fill up her 2012 Ford Focus. “And it makes me really sad to think that I might not be able to continue. And if I don’t continue, what are they going to do for care?”

A gallon of regular gas cost about $4.29, on average, nationwide on Thursday, according to AAA. While that’s down slightly from the peak last week of $4.33 a gallon, it’s still up considerably from the $3.51 a gallon drivers were paying before the invasion began a month ago.

An 80-cent increase at the pump translates into nearly $700 annually on household spending on gas, according to Moody’s Analytics.

Tough for delivery drivers

The spike in gas prices is making it harder for Chris Rivelli to make money delivering pizzas. Rivelli, a senior at Northbridge High School in Massachusetts, works five days a week in order to save for college.

He now has to shell out about $70 each time he fills up his 2016 Ford Fusion, compared to less than $50 a tank when he started the gig at the end of last year. When it’s busy, he might use a half tank of gas ferrying pies to customers in one shift.

Chris Rivelli sometimes pays more for gas than he earns delivering pizza in Massachusetts.

On a good night, he could clear $55 in tips. But typically, he only makes $30 to $35 in tips a shift, on top of his $10 hourly wage.

“With tips staying the same and gas prices going up, often times I lose money when delivering to a house because the tip does not compensate the gas I used,” he said. “Sad times.”

However, Rivelli, 18, plans to stick it out for now since he likes his boss and colleagues. But if prices continue to rise, he said he may have to find another job.

For Nicole Humphrey, who lives in the tiny town of Buhl in rural Idaho, the increase in gas prices means she can’t look for a higher-paying position in Twin Falls, which is about 30 minutes away.

That’s where she can find jobs that pay $15 to $20 an hour. But the commute would eat up her raise, said Humphrey, 27, who works as a clerk at a local deli and drives a 2016 Nissan Xterra.

Nicole Humphrey, who lives in rural Idaho, is taking classes online and spending less time with friends because of high gas prices.

Humphrey already opted to stop taking classes at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls because of rising gas prices and Covid-19. She plans to finish her bachelor’s degree in information technology online at Western Governors University.

Curbing her driving also means Humphrey is spending less time with friends, who are mostly in Twin Falls. She studies with one classmate on Zoom, but it’s not the same.

“It can be pretty isolating,” said Humphrey. “In areas where there are small populations that are spread out, rising costs are really hurting people.”

Limits on travel

Patrick and Tracy Salyard had grand plans for the summer — that is, until fuel prices spiked.

For the past three years, the couple has lived with their two dogs in a 2002 Fleetwood Expedition motor home. After working the sugar beet harvest in Minnesota in October, they drove to Buckeye, Arizona, where they are staying until May. They put around $200 a day in their 90-gallon tank while on the road last fall, when diesel cost around $3.89 a gallon.

The high price of diesel is forcing Patrick Salyard to rethink where he and his wife travel next.
Now that the price of diesel is around $5 a gallon nationwide, on average, the Salyards have changed their itinerary for their next adventure. They had hoped to go to the beach in California, drive up the coast and then head across the country to New Hampshire. But now their tentative plan is to go Nashville, where they lived for many years, for a few weeks in May.

What will they do after that? They aren’t sure.

“Once fuel prices started rising, we knew California was like ‘Well, maybe we can do that next year … maybe’,” said Patrick Salyard, 61, noting costs are higher out West. “Rising fuel prices have completely changed what our plans were going to be. With the way things are right now, everything is so uncertain.”

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