Hard times across the board

Gas prices aren’t going down, but your buying power can

When $3.99 seems like a bargain, it’s a clear sign that high gas prices are here to stay. Those prices are not going to change in November—not to a great extent, anyway. The thing about corporations is that they are bottom-line creatures: Sometimes they care about percentages, other times they care about whole numbers. In other words, the percentage in profits may wax and wane, but they are unlikely to allow overall cash inflow to drop below record highs.

So, if and when gas prices do come down, don’t expect your grocery store to drop its prices. Not for a long time.

Average consumers simply must take matters into their own hands. Many of us have actually lost purchasing power from where we were three years ago—the costs for food, fuel and fun have increased at a higher rate than our salaries. So here are a few common-sense methods to get more bang for your buck. Some could be considered less than sustainable, but the difference between eco-friendliness and foreclosure may come down to situational ethics.

Drive to the store less. Make a list and take one trip a week for shopping. The really hard up or truly organized may be able to do a once-a-month trip to the store, the way our pioneer ancestors did. Pioneers didn’t have the Internet, either—check for super-saver bargains, and when a cheaper alternative does not exist, walk to your local grocer.

Use the dryer less. You’ll save money by hanging your unmentionables off the patio railing or apartment balcony. OK, fine: or a clothes line.

Use the air conditioning less. Close the windows and draperies during the day to trap the cool air and open them at night. But remember, these are hard times, and burglars come in open windows, so there are times when the air conditioner is the best option.