Family changes routines to reduce fuel costs

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(Host) Between high gas prices and long heating seasons, New Englanders face some of the highest fuel bills in the country – and most are feeling the pinch of increasing prices.

VPR’s Steve Zind profiles one family whose daily routines are changing in ways large and small as they try to reduce their fuel bills.

(Zind) Cal Poulin likes to keep all the fuss in perspective. He says people have always kept a wary eye on fuel prices, even when gas was just a few cents a gallon.

Poulin’s grandfather told him about taking his grandmother on dates long ago.

(Cal Poulin) “And he would drive up to the farm and pick up my grandmother and they would coast down West Street. They’d shut it off and coast, all the way downtown to go to the dance.”

(Zind) Poulin may not slip his car into neutral and coast to town to save gas, but like everyone else he’s concerned about rising prices.

(Children) “What about mine? I said I want some, too “

(Zind) Poulin, his wife Donna and their sons – seven year old Jordie and nine year old Cole – live on a quiet dirt road a few miles from Randolph village.

In the summer, Donna Poulin is shuttling the boys back and forth to activities in town – or taking them to visit family and friends. Her SUV gets about 20 miles to the gallon and those frequent trips to town are getting expensive.

(Donna Poulin) “Forty dollars at the pump, as opposed to thirty dollars at the pump filling up. You just notice a fairly big jump in the last three months.”

(Zind) Poulin says these days she just waits in town after she’s dropped the kids at swimming or soccer practice, instead of driving home for a couple of hours and then returning to pick them up. It saves a little bit of gas.

Cal Poulin’s big pickup truck gets even fewer miles to the gallon than his wife’s SUV.

Poulin owns a sheet rocking business and he used to drive the truck to the job every day. Last winter he realized he only needed the truck to carry tools and material on the first day and the last day of a job. The rest of the time he was driving an empty pickup. It was costing him up to five hundred dollars a month.

So Poulin spent a thousand dollars on a little Chevy Cavalier.

(Cal Poulin) “When I first got it I just faithfully drove it just to see. And my bill at the end of the month was $213, $220 from $350 to $500 a month on gas. From January to sometime early July I figured I’d already saved the thousand dollars that I spent on the car.”

(Zind) Donna Poulin plans to replace her SUV with another vehicle and fuel economy will be a big factor in what she decides to get.

(Donna Poulin) “Probably not going to get another 6 cylinder, because it will be a little cheaper if I get a four cylinder, but I still need a little bit bigger vehicle because I have two kids that I have to tow around, and usually you have a friend or two.”

(Zind) Like everyone else, the Poulins know where to find the cheapest gas and they plan their commutes to fill up where they can save a few cents a gallon.

Their other big fuel expense is heating oil. Most fuel dealers offer a variety of payment plans. Paying in advance is the least expensive method, but it requires more money than the Poulins can afford to pay up front. So, they have a budget plan. They pay a certain amount every month. These days the monthly bill is nearly triple what they budgeted for when they bought their house five years ago.

(Cal Poulin) “Winter time seems to be more of a pinch time, just because you’ve got the added bills, you’ve got the heating bill.”

(Donna Poulin) “We have a budget plan through Ferriter and we just noticed that that has gone up. How long have we been here? Five years? And it was 70 dollars when we moved in, now its 200 dollars a month.”

(Zind) Donna Poulin says the couple is thinking of investing in a wood stove to help reduce their heating bill.

Fuel prices are also changing the family’s shopping habits.

Like many people in the area, the Poulins often travel about 35 miles to shop across the border in New Hampshire where there’s no sales tax. Now the higher cost of gasoline is offsetting the savings.

They’re shopping closer to home and making fewer trips to New Hampshire.

The Poulins have never sat down and written out a budget, but Donna Poulin says she plans to because she’s concerned about rising gas and oil prices.

Cal says he’s afraid to know what they’re spending on fuel.

(Cal Poulin) “You know it’s almost that number you don’t want to hear. That would be a scary number, I think, to sit down and really figure it up year’s end.”

(Zind) The Poulins haven’t had to go without to keep up with high fuel prices, but they’ve changed their daily driving habits and buying decisions with an eye toward saving as much as they can. And they’re bracing themselves for even higher prices.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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