What High Gas Prices Made Me Realize About My Perspective on Money
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- I grew up in a family that struggled to make ends meet.
- My parents always filled up their gas tank for $20 at a time.
- After I started taking a long-term approach to finances, I was able to fill my tank all the way.
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I learned to drive in a Suburban. It was what my mother always drove: as we were a family of six and often traveled with a group of cousins and friends, we needed nine seats and a spacious cargo hold. Unfortunately, the gas tank was also huge, so my mom would stop several times a week, pull out a $20 bill, and send me to the gas station, where I learned to ask “$20 on the pump four”.
We were busy – running to four different activities for the kids – so it would have been easier to make a weekly stop to refill the gas stench. But my parents had to earn $20 each before they could spend it on gasoline. They would scrounge up the $80 or so needed to fill the tank, but they didn’t have it all at the start of the week.
Of course, I never gave much thought to the reason for our frequent gas stops when I was a child. But when I met my partner and he moved in with my family, he pointed out to me that we were stopping for gas every other day.
“Why not just fill up? »
That’s when I realized that filling up was a privilege. It wasn’t until I made financial changes to go beyond paycheck living that I was able to refuel without hesitation. This summer, with gas prices higher than ever, I moaned and moaned at the pump like everyone else. But I took a moment to appreciate the financial progress I’ve made.
Budgeting allows me to take a longer term approach to money
Shortly after this conversation with my partner, I started thinking about budgeting. I realized that I could think of money not only in terms of what was in my bank account that day, but also what would come in and go out over the course of the month.
It was such a simple shift in perspective – one that many people probably understand intuitively. But I had been raised in a family where we constantly faced financial crises. Limited funds were directed to where they were needed most at the time, whether it was for the gas tank, to buy groceries or to keep the lights on. Tomorrow’s expenses were tomorrow’s problem. There was immediacy in spending choices.
By establishing a budget, I began to unravel this logic. My partner and I had enough money to cover our expenses, so for the first time I had some leeway. If I had already budgeted $80 a week for gas, I could fill up with confidence without worrying that my card would be declined or that I couldn’t get groceries the next day because I overspent on essence.
High gas prices made me realize how different life is now
It’s been years since I’ve had to put just $20 or $40 in my tank. When I was a kid, seeing how far you could get the gas tank down was a family art form. We ran out of gas more than once. Now it’s rare for my light to come on. Once I’m below a quarter tank, I just fill up, even with record gas prices.
It seems so banal. But it’s representative of how lack of money affects all areas of your life. It reduces your ability to make logical decisions or plan ahead. This leads to more expenses – like AAA calls and missed work the times we broke down because we didn’t have $10 to spend on gas.
When you’re on the other side, the right way to do things is clear, as my husband pointed out all those years ago. Refuel once and save time and stress for the rest of the week. But when you don’t have that option, you just do your best. Small changes like budgeting and planning ahead won’t make a difference for everyone – they can’t make up for too little income or too much spending. But for me, it was an important tool that allowed me to achieve a goal I hadn’t realized: a full gas tank every time.