Rising fuel costs will hurt consumers' disposable income and could dampen a strong economic recovery next year, said retail consultant Britt Beemer, CEO of America's Research Group.
"You'll be saying, 'Last year, I filled up my tank for $40. This year it's costing $60,' " Beemer said. "You really notice that $20. Gas prices are really going to have an impact."
And even if Americans don't drive, they're likely to see higher fuel costs in other places. Pricier gasoline could drive up the cost of groceries and other consumer goods -- which are universally delivered by truck -- and US Airways is joining some other domestic carriers in adding a $20 round-trip surcharge to help with rising costs.
Purely discretionary purchases that consumers will be able to eliminate quickly will be hit the hardest this year, Beemer said.
"The first thing they'll cut out is they'll go to fewer movies," he said. "The second thing they'll cut out is eating out at restaurants."
Some experts think that we're in for higher-than-ever prices over the coming years.
John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil, has predicted that gas will top $5 a gallon by the end of 2012 as supplies fail to keep up with increasing demand. He heads Citizens for Affordable Energy, a group that advocates for increased domestic energy production from all sources.
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