Wednesday, December 10, 2008

$1.45 a Gallon - Hold Me Back!

No...really...hold me back.

Take my car keys away. Help me remember how committed I was to driving slower, consolidating trips, and working from home when gas was $4.00 a gallon. And while you're at it, don't let me buy ice cream.

I feel a little like a child who insists on playing with a sharp knife. I cut my finger, just a little; it hurt and it bled and it scared me. But then the bleeding stopped and I didn't need stitches and it healed and now the knife is looking all shiny and pretty again. If I ignore the painful but relatively gentle warning and play with the knife again, will I cut my finger off next time, or fall on the blade and impale myself on my own stubborn refusal to behave?

When gas went to $4.00 a gallon, I heard the warning and put the shiny toy down. We drove so much less and so much slower. I didn't run to the store every time I had a creative urge to cook something and needed just one more ingredient. My employer was gracious enough to let me start working from home part of the time, cutting another 45 mile round trip out of every day. Not only did we save money, but I could almost feel the trees on our hilltop property breathing easier, saying, "Thanks!"

Ah, but as soon as gas went down again, I saw the shiny and started reaching for it. Filling my tank for $30 instead of $80 made me feel all healed up. With giddy, guilty glee, I pointed my full to the brim mechanical chariot toward unnecessary destinations at unduly high speeds because it only cost me $30 and it was shiny and pretty and fun.

I'm getting the same warnings about my hard-earned weight loss. I've put back just a few pounds of it and I can feel the effects. Not good. Not good at all. I lost all that weight and got to feeling good and in control and smart enough to know I could splurge a little now and then...and then again...and now...and now and again. Now I'm struggling to get back into a healthy eating pattern again before I have to go wrestle my friends for all the too-big clothes I gave away. That would not be pretty.

Everything about my life right now feels like I'm at the, "Ok, I warned you!" stage, that split second of decision time just before your common sense takes over and pulls you back or you go for it anyway and the tale, should you live to tell it, starts with, "See, what had happened was..."

The gas spike had a domino effect at our house. At nearly $80 a tankful at peak prices, our budget took a hit. Prices on some items we buy regularly, like diet soda, went up and have stayed up. We made adjustments, switched to store brands, bought less. We didn't suffer, mind you...just shifted to a more conservative spending pattern. Same with the weight loss. We didn't suffer. I cooked more at home, made healthier meals, smarter snack choices, exercised more. Because we went out less, we spent more time at home getting stuff done and being together.

It probably comes as no surprise that we actually enjoyed ourselves. Driving slower is less stressful; driving less is bliss. Spending less wasn't painful; it was kind of fun to see how creative we could be. Healthy food is delicious, fresh and light and tasty. I looked forward to my daily walks. So why oh why would we go back to the old ways?

For that matter, why would any of us? Did you make adjustments when gas was so pricey? Have you kept them up? At $4.00 a gallon or $1.45, driving is no bargain. You could make gasoline free and it wouldn't reduce the damage we do every time we fire up Bessie in the driveway. And just because I have the money back in my budget now that gas has gone back down doesn't mean I have to spend it. If we were happy and healthy on less, why spend more? I have plenty of bills and debt that would benefit from the application of a little more cash each month. And before you raise the, "We need to spend to stimulate the economy!" flag, I'm not talking about hording money under my mattress (though I really wish my 401K had been under my mattress); I'm talking about spending wisely and paying down debt. Reducing debt is good for any economy, and environmental and health concerns don't experience recession.

This is my public commitment to not going back to my pre-warning ways. I'm going to drive less, spend less, eat better, and exercise more. I'm going to start right now by walking away from the computer and getting in a light workout before I start work. I'm working from home, keeping one vehicle off the road today.

We've all been given plenty of warning and now the warnings are getting dire. I challenge you to look at where you are now. Are you playing with the shiny knife again? Put it down! Walk away! There are lots of fun things to do without impaling ourselves on our bad habits.

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