Change of plans for July 4 - gas too pricey

Three in ten Americans say record prices will alter their holiday weekend plans, according to a new poll.

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By David Goldman, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Many Americans will watch fireworks at home instead of hitting the road this July 4, according to a new poll released Wednesday, as record gasoline prices force people to make major changes in their daily lives.

According to a CNN/Opinion Research poll, 31% of Americans have canceled or shortened their planned holiday weekend vacation because of the recent increase in the price of gas.

"When consumers talk about their thinning wallets, high fuel expenses is the reason they would point to first," said Wachovia economist Tim Quinlan.

The average price of a gallon of gas rose to an all-time high above $4.09 a gallon Wednesday, according to a survey from motorist group AAA. Gas prices are now about 3% higher than last month and 38.5% higher than year-ago levels.

Of the more than 1,000 Americans surveyed from June 26 to 29, 72% said record gas prices have caused them to make changes in their daily lives, and 30% said those changes were major ones.

"If consumers are spending more on gas and other items that are inflated by high fuel prices, that leaves them less to spend on products in other areas," said Quinlan.

The problem is affecting Americans everywhere and of varying incomes. Though 78% of rural and 73% of suburban consumers said gas prices have had an effect on their routines, 61% of urban Americans are feeling the impact as well.

For those who earned more than $50,000 a year, 69% said they had made changes to their daily lives. That compares to 66% of those who earned less than $50,000. However, those with lower incomes were more likely to say that gas prices had forced them to make major changes to their routine.

The impact of high gas prices may help decide the vote in November.

In a section of the poll released Tuesday, 77% of those surveyed felt gas prices were "extremely" or "very" important to their vote. That makes fuel costs the third most important issue for American voters, behind the economy and the war in Iraq.

Experts say consumers may soon adjust to gas prices at the current level, but the economy will take longer to adjust.

"It's gotten to the point where if someone saw $3.50 a gallon, they'd be excited," said Quinlan. "The question is will consumers have enough left over when they get used to these prices."

Fuel costs have driven down consumer spending and confidence, helping to send the U.S. economy into a near standstill. In order to restore spending habits to what they were before the current economic slowdown, analysts say Americans will need to get paid more.

"Personal income growth will have to pick up for personal consumption to return to their previous levels if gas prices stay high," Quinlan said. To top of page

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