However, there appears to be a breaking point in gasoline prices that is well-above its current level, $2.10 on 3/30/09, only after which real personal consumption of energy falls as gas prices rise. Before that point, consumers are rather resilient to rising gasoline prices.
The chart below illustrates monthly gasoline prices and real personal spending on energy and services, as measured by the Energy Information Administration and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. There is a nonlinear relationship between the two that peaks around $3/gallon. This means that on average, spending on energy and services - roughly 4% of total real personal spending (RPCE) in February 2009 - rises in response price increases below roughly $3/gallon and falls in response to price increases above $3/gallon.
The nonlinear relationship (the regression equation in the chart) indicates that it would take a jump to about $3.35/gallon to reduce real spending on energy and services below its current level in February 2009 ($341.8 billion).
The regression line has an R^2 = 0.54, which is admittedly weak; but since the price of gasoline has rarely been above $3/gallon, I take this to be a rather good fit. It does suggest, though, that there are factors other than the price of gas that impact real spending on energy and services. But nevertheless, the chart tells us that consumers are unlikely to cut back sharply in response to the 10% bump in gas prices since January.