Teenagers really can’t afford to drive now

July 28, 2008 at 6:43 pm Leave a comment

Press of Atlantic City

By REGINA SCHAFFER Staff Writer, 609-272-7211

Published: Monday, July 28, 2008

If Rob Mancinelli takes a little longer to get to his job at Jeff’s Steaks in Egg Harbor Township, it’s because he is driving more slowly – on purpose.

Filling up his 1997 GMC truck costs $85. Not that Mancinelli can remember the last time he did that. He usually puts about $20 at a time in his tank. When he goes somewhere with friends, they try to carpool. Friends agree to give the driver gas money – something that wasn’t as big a deal even a year ago.

“I try to make it last as long as I can,” said Mancinelli, 19, of Absecon. “I drive slower. I’m slower to pull away at a red light. Pulling away quicker, that wastes gas.”

With the price of gas teetering at or above the $4 mark, area teens who typically work part-time jobs are realizing that the discretionary income isn’t quite what they expected when they account for the increasing price of fuel. It means teens are changing their driving and spending habits, holding off on the new Nintendo Wii game to pay for those trips to the mall and work.

Dan Branciforti can go through a couple tankfuls of gas a week commuting from Linwood to his summer job in Avalon, where he peddles ice cream to hot sunbathers on the beach. A round trip to work for Branciforti, according to fueleconomy.gov, costs about $8.50.

He hasn’t “filled up” his 1992 Honda Accord since he started driving it a year ago. His car gets about 21 miles to the gallon.

“I’ll put $20 in it, if that,” said Branciforti, 18.

The cost is catching teens off guard.

“Yes, they are driving less. They have to,” said Gary Rudman of GTR Consulting, a San Francisco-based firm that specializes in market research among teens. “They are on their bikes, scooters and skateboards more as parents have to tighten the screws on the budget.”

Rudman said the problem is compounded by a slipping economy, which means teens are having trouble finding part-time or summer work as those jobs are taken by adults who need the extra income.

“And parents don’t have any extra discretionary income to hand over to their teens,” Rudman said. “So teens are in between a rock and a hard place.”

When pollsters asked teens what three issues concern them most this election year, the No. 1 issue was the price of gas, followed by global warming and the war in Iraq, according to a survey conducted in the spring by TRU, a youth-focused market firm in Illinois.

Mike Castellani, 17, works at Cousins Pizza to put gas in his 1997 Buick Century. Sometimes, his dad will graciously fill the car up for him.

“Twenty dollars will get me about three quarters of a tank, so that’s actually not too bad,” Castellani said as he got gas on Saturday afternoon.

Rudman said some teens are turning to Web sites like Craigslist or eBay more to find the items they want at reduced prices as a result of gas eating their discretionary budget. Or, teens are simply buying less.

“With gas prices and food prices skyrocketing, teens are struggling to figure out where the money will come from,” Rudman said. “These (teens) still crave their expensive technology items – like the new iPhone or the latest video game system – but are having more difficulty raising the necessary funds.”

Mark Battisti works at Linwood Gulf on Route 9 to pay for his gas guzzling 1995 Chevy Blazer. He doesn’t know how much it costs to fill it because he’s never had the money to do that. Now when he goes out with friends, they carpool and share the gas expense.

And the joyride around town? Forget it.

“We hate doing that now,” Battisti said. “It’s a waste of money.”

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