Memorial Day weekend: (almost) no sticker shock on gas prices

Americans hitting the highways this Memorial Day weekend will have no trouble finding reasonably priced gasoline – as long as they don’t live in the upper Midwest, where prices have soared by as much as 68 cents a gallon in the past two weeks.

Aside from fuel dispensers in such places as Minnesota and North Dakota, gas prices are about the same as at this time last year, averaging $3.66 a gallon nationwide, according to AAA, the national motorists club. In some states, such as South Carolina and Tennessee, the price is in the $3.20 range.

Relatively flat gasoline prices at the start of what is considered the summer driving season will help the wallets of 31.2 million Americans whom AAA expects to use cars to travel to their weekend destinations. But gasoline prices go beyond the Memorial Day weekend: They have a subtle psychological effect on American consumers, because gasoline is a commodity for which buyers often track prices. If gasoline prices are soaring, consumers may hold back on other purchases; if prices are falling, they may be more positive.