23 April 2006

Pennies for the pinching

I filled my car today as I left town to head home, 28 miles back up the mountain.

Regular unleaded was $2.99 per gallon. I have no doubt that by tomorrow, it will be up a couple more cents, at least. In the last two weeks, the price of gasoline has risen an average of 25 cents.

The reason? According to AP:

“Crude-oil prices hit a new record Friday, fueled by concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions and tight U.S. gasoline supplies.”

Hmm. A quick perusal of this evening’s New York Times Online shows nary a word about those rising gasoline prices. I guess oil at $75 per barrel isn’t front page news anymore. Seems to me about this time last year I was reading panicky news stories about how we were about to break the critical $49 per barrel mark. Ahem. I do believe we’ve left those heady days behind. What’s the next critical mark? $80 per barrel? $90?

I live a long way from the city. It was a choice: home prices are lower up here, and we wanted to live in the country, where Mr. Wren could garden and keep chickens to his heart’s content. I wanted the beauty of four seasons, and being of Finnish ancestry, I have this thing for evergreen trees and snow.

But we don’t own a McMansion. Hell, I could fit two or three of my little 70s-era shoeboxes into one of those. They have garages almost as big as my house, and I can’t even imagine trying to heat or cool one of them. We heat our modest little house with a woodstove insert. We discovered the first winter after we moved in that using the old, electric baseboard heat – even if only for a few hours in the evenings during the week, turning it off while we were all away at work and school -- was going to break the bank. We invested in an energy-efficient woodstove and cordwood. And the following winter, we put double-paned vinyl windows in the three main rooms. The bedrooms are still like Outer Siberia, but that’s what goosedown and cuddling are for.

We Wrens are energy misers. We don’t use lights in the rooms we aren’t immediately using. We’ve gone out of our way to get energy-efficient appliances, like the refrigerator and the washer and dryer. We only run the dishwasher when it’s full, and we use the energy-miser setting. We even went so far as to buy and install the first on-demand hot water heater in the area. We had to have a small propane tank installed, but at the time, propane was still relatively cheap.

Until this month. Propane was costing us an average of $50 a month – and yes, it has been going up in tiny increments in the three years since we had it installed. But when Mr. Wren got the bill the other day, it had suddenly jumped up to $60, prompting an irritated grunt from him. For my part, I did more than grunt when the electric bill also made a sharp leap up this month to over $230, about twice what I usually pay. Yikes.

I drive a 1988 Toyota Celica to work. It gets great mileage, and I don’t do any unnecessary driving. Still, $3-plus per gallon gasoline at 56 miles per day, just to get to work and back, is going to hurt.

Gonna have to start looking for other ways to pinch pennies. Thank goodness for the hens! And now that it looks like the snow is over for the year, we can plant the vegetable gardens.

There's a gift in this somewhere, I just know it.