NEW YORK — If you had any doubt about whether lower oil prices are benefiting American households, then you probably aren’t one of the 6.5 million homeowners who use heating oil.
Nationwide, the average price of heating oil has fallen to around $2 a gallon, half the price it was at in early 2014. Natural gas has dropped even more.
It’s all been precipitated by the dramatic collapse of crude oil prices from over $100 a barrel two years ago to about $30 today.
For homeowners like Matt Coffy, who owns a small advertising business in New Jersey, it’s been a windfall.
On a snowy afternoon earlier this month, he welcomed the heating oil delivery guy with open arms. The price per gallon on this day: just $1.52. He dug out an older bill from April 2013 when it was $3.45.
“I mean down to $1.50 is just insane,” says Coffy. “(Heating oil prices are) not a concern anymore, it’s a regular bill.”
With a 1,000-gallon tank to refill every few months, he estimates he’s saving up to $10,000 per year. He plans to reinvest some of those savings in his business and perhaps hire more people. He’s also taking his kids, Sean, 11, and Kristen, 9, on a surprise trip to Disneyland.
What a difference a year makes — this time last year he was planning to sell his second car, a gas-guzzling 2005 Nissan Armada. Now he’s hanging onto it. It helps that he’s also paying less for gasoline at the pump.
The Coffys are doing exactly what many economic experts want them to — Spending the money they save from lower oil prices.
In her testimony before the U.S. Congress earlier this month, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said despite an uncertain outlook, there is a “possibility that low oil prices will boost U.S. economic growth more than we expect.”
The problem is that not even Janet Yellen can predict how long oil prices will stay low.
And many heating oil consumers are worried this is too good to last. Ariba Oil, the delivery company the Coffy family uses says many of its customers are trying to stockpile now while its cheap. Some even lament the fact that they don’t have larger tanks.
Coffy says he plans to enjoy the savings while he can. He does admit though that he won’t be spending like he did before the financial crisis.
“The reality is that we’re in a different environment,” Coffy said. “I think differently, we don’t spend the way we used to spend before the recession, we have a completely different attitude.”