Teens cope with high gasoline prices

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 7, 2008

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Last summer, Derek Elsey and his friends still drove to malls or other destinations alone and in their own cars.

Gasoline cost only about $2.90 a gallon then.

‘‘Now, if we go to the mall, or movies or to a party, we’ll take turns driving,’’ he said.

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The soaring gas prices aren’t just a concern for parents and businesses, national news outlets report. Many teens such as Elsey, 18, are being forced to scale back on recreational activities, do more carpooling and limit their spending on clothes and electronic gadgets.

Elsey, who graduated from Northeast High School in May, is recognizing from daily personal experience just how challenging rising fuel prices can be.

As a full-time summer student worker in the accounting department for Turner Industries off Essen Lane, he drives about 60 miles a day back and forth from Zachary to Baton Rouge in his 2000 model Mazda 626.

He spends a large chunk of his paycheck on gas, about $230 a month, he estimated.

‘‘It’s putting a strain on my paycheck,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve cut back on a lot of social activities.’’

He also stopped spending his money on electronic gadgets or even clothes. ‘‘I haven’t shopped since I’ve been working. I’ve been saving and paying for gas,’’ he said.

Elsey remains uncertain about the future of gas prices, but figures they will continue to rise and expects he will continue to keep his car parked on weekends.

‘‘I don’t see gas going down and I don’t think it’s fair to the public that oil companies make ridiculous profits, but we’re still paying these high prices,’’ Elsey complained.

He is already anticipating the lifestyle changes that will come this fall when he attends LSU, where he plans to live on campus.

‘‘I plan to walk a lot, and I’ll have to make cutbacks on a lot of social activities that require driving,’’ he said. ‘‘No more sightseeing.’’

He also would consider riding his bike or even buying a motor bike to help him conserve on fuel.

Elsey said the gas crunch provides him with further evidence that it will take more than minimum wage jobs for members of the class of 2008 to live a comfortable life. ‘‘It makes me realize how important an education is,’’ Elsey said.

North Baton Rouge teenager Portia Washington, 18, who graduated in May from Scotlandville Magnet High, is also trying to cope with rising fuel prices.

She fills her tank halfway to keep extra change in her pocket.

‘‘By filling up halfway, I can still have money to buy a blouse or still buy a burger or a pizza,’’ she said.

She spends about $23 to put a half tank in her Chevrolet Impala.

The prices at the pump are ‘‘scary because it’s getting higher and higher. In the past, we’d go to the mall for fun throughout the week. Now we just wait until Saturday to get out, and we limit our outings to one or two cars,’’ she said.

When gas reached about $3 earlier this year, Washington started charging her friends for gas money. They understood and wanted to help, she said. ‘‘You’ll see teenagers driving less on the road, because they’re not able to afford gas prices right now.’’

She’s not optimistic.

‘‘I think things might get worse,’’ Washington said.