What $2 Gas Means to You

This article was originally published by Msn.com on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008.

The cost of driving has plunged since gasoline topped $4 a gallon in July. But if fuel is cheaper, why are airfares still so high? And can you lock in today's low prices?

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Falling gas prices offer a glimmer of hope amid the relentless bad news about the U.S. economy.

The nationwide average for a gallon of regular was $1.90 on Monday. Drivers in Kansas City, Mo., are enjoying what looks to be the nation's cheapest fuel at the moment, rapidly approaching $1.40 a gallon.

A $1 drop in the price of gas puts about $1,250 a year back into a typical family's wallet, said Scott Bernstein, the president of the nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology, and prices have fallen twice that much since their $4.11 peak in July. They're even a buck below where they were last Thanksgiving. "It's good news for cash out of pocket," Bernstein said.

The biggest winners? Poor and middle-class households that spend a disproportionate share of their incomes on energy.

"Those are the folks who are the most stretched, and in percentage terms, they'll get the biggest benefit," said Gus Faucher, the director of macroeconomics at Moody's Economy.com.

The respite at the pump buoyed consumer confidence in November despite persistent fears about a recession and job losses. "When gas prices went up, consumers really pulled back," said Dianne Kremer, an analyst at BIGresearch, a consumer research company.