Driving by local gas stations lately makes for a cringe worthy moment as one sees fuel prices jumping dramatically yet again.

Blame the price increase this past month on surging crude oil costs and refinery calamities such as the Aug. 6 fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, Calif. Adding further fuel to the price spike fire is the continual unrest in the Middle East coupled with the burgeoning worldwide demand for crude oil. Even with an ebb in fuel consumption expected after the peak summer driving season, the year 2012 will likely be the costliest ever at the pump.

A survey of local gas stations finds prices this week hovering at $3.56 for regular unleaded gas, which places us below the national average of $3.70. But that brings little comfort to Stephenville patrons.

Nevertheless, Nancy Gonzalez doesn't blame the cost of gas for keeping her home most days.

“I hardly go out as much as I used to. It's way too hot,” she admitted with a laugh.

But she did confess she shops differently as a result of gas pump pain.

“I would say that I spend differently at the grocery store because of having to spend more on gas,” she said.

John Ditto is blunt about the economy affecting how he buys fuel.

“I don't ever buy much gas at one time because I just don't have the money. I buy a few gallons at a time. No matter what the cost of it is, it doesn't really affect me that much because I buy so little,” he explained.

If prices continue to wreak havoc with consumers' pockets, the resultant backlash will inevitably slow the economy that is struggling to regain its footing in less than energetic circumstances. Despite the Commerce Department’s report of consumer spending rising 0.8% in July, the largest gain in five months, fear of the rise in fuel costs is likely to reverse that trend as consumers put more cash into their gas tanks and keep less at their disposal.

There will likely be another surge of financial discomfort until fall approaches. Some energy experts expect prices to top out at nearly $4 a gallon before dropping back down in September.

According to the National Resources Defense Council’s website, the only way to lessen the amount of money one shells out for gasoline is to reduce how much gasoline is actually used. And this means Americans might have to rely upon some old fashioned ingenuity and be more creative in addressing their need to be mobile in a country rapidly demanding more oil.

Go to the E-T's Facebook page to share your ideas for conserving fuel usage.