Opinion

Saving real money gets expensive

When I started riding Island Transit I decided to save the money I saved, which may have been a mistake.

The idea was to take the money I didn’t put in the tank of my pickup and save it, so I could see all the green stuff I wasn’t handing over to the oil companies.

It was easy enough the first week, when I made three round trips, saving three gallons of gas each day. At $3 a gallon, that’s $9 a day or $27 for the week. Friday evening when I got home, I fished a twenty, a five and two ones out of my wallet and stuck the money in a coffee cup on the top shelf of the cupboard. I like saving money in a cup. It pays the same interest as a bank checking account and doesn’t keep sending me junk mail all the time.

The second week I made four round trips, and that Friday night I opened my wallet and found I was short of cash. I owed the cup $36 but only had $25. I put it all in the cup along with four quarters from the change jar so I’d owe the cup an even ten. I figured I could remember that.

The next week I made another four round trips and owed the cup another $36. I was starting to think of the cup as my enemy, always trying to drain me of money, just like the oil companies. Then I remembered that I still owed it $10 from the week before, so I was into the cup for a total of $46 after only three weeks of riding Island Transit. And my wallet was empty.

I was beginning to see what the problem was. When I used to drive to work all the time, I’d fill up the truck’s 12 gallon tank with gas and pay with a debit card. It was pretty painless, regardless of how much the sign outside the gas station said gas was costing that day. Whether a gallon was $1.25 or $2.50 or $3.00, the process was the same. I never really saw the money I was spending.

I remembered the gas crisis of 1973 or thereabouts, when the Arabs wouldn’t send us any oil. People were really mad then, because 30 cent gas rose to 65 cents overnight. And in those days almost everyone paid with real money, so instead of forking over $3.60 for 12 gallons they were paying $7.80 in cold, hard cash. They could feel the pain as they handed the money over to the cashier because $7.80 in those days would buy you a night on the town or keep the baby in food for a week. It hurt to see that money going for gas.

The reason people aren’t complaining much about $3 a gallon gas today is that they’re not seeing their money go away, thanks to the debit or credit cards they’re using. Sure, poor people who don’t have credit are probably hurting a lot, but we never seen them anymore unless they’re exposed by a hurricane or something. Then it only takes a week or two before they disappear again. I suspect that if Congress passed a bill saying everyone had to pay cash at the pump, we’d have a middle class riot on our hands.

Last week I made three more round trips to work on Island Transit, bringing my cup debt to $73. That weekend, I stopped by the cash machine at the bank and paid off the cup, which is already stuffed with money after only one month of riding the bus.

I’ll ride the bus a few days again this week, but I’m getting a little concerned about how long I can afford to keep saving all this money.

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