MONEY Gas

Gas Prices Will Dip Below $3 Nationally This Weekend

Woman filling gas tank
Image Source—Getty Images

It's been nearly four years since the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline started with a $2. But on Saturday, we'll drop below the $3 mark.

That’s according to AAA, which measured the national average at a flat $3 (actually $3.003) as of Friday, and forecasts that the run of 1,400+ days of $3+ gasoline will end as of Saturday, November 1, 2014. The last time the price of a gallon of regular gas was under $3 nationally was December 2010.

Gas prices have been dropping roughly 1¢ per day lately, and the national average right now is about 70¢ less than the high for 2014, reached in spring. AAA notes that after the steady autumn decline in prices at the pump, more than 6 out of 10 U.S. gas stations are already selling gasoline starting under the $3 mark.

Like the Dow hitting 17,000, the fact that gas prices are dropping below the $3 milestone may sound impressive, but when viewed clinically and dispassionately, it’s not that big of a deal—a tiny incremental shift that’s part of a larger trend, not some big and sudden change—and it probably shouldn’t cause you to alter your behavior in the slightest. Sure, there’s a subconscious mental bump consumers get when gas prices start with the number $2, and perhaps some dollar stores and discount chains will benefit during the holiday season because low-income consumers will be able to spend a little more freely because the cost of fueling up is down. And yes, retailers and the economy in general will fare better when gas prices are in the $3 vicinity rather than the $4 or $5 range.

Overall, however, the effect on the economy of decreasing gas prices—even gas prices dropping below $3—is expected to be minimal, due in part because few anticipate fuel costs staying at such depressed rates for long. “Paying less than $3.00 for gas is a welcome holiday gift that may not last nearly as long as many would hope,” Bob Darbelnet, CEO of AAA, said via press release. “It is possible that lower gas prices will soon be a faded memory, so enjoy it while you can. The days of paying more than $3.00 per gallon for gas have regrettably not gone away.”

MONEY Shopping

Retailers Are Launching Black Friday Sales the Day After Halloween

Customers shop at a Walmart store in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles November 26, 2013. This year, Black Friday starts earlier than ever.
Customers shopping at a Walmart store on Black Friday 2013. Kevork Djansezian—Reuters

Drop the trick-or-treat bag and commence holiday shopping. That's the scenario retailers are hoping for this season, and they're using big sales starting November 1 to make it happen.

There are plenty of Americans who hate the decision made by retailers to roll out Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Thursday. Part of the disgust with stores like Macy’s—and more recently, Kohl’s and Staples—which are opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, is the idea that they’re ruining what was once a blissfully shopping-free holiday.

There is a sizable portion of the population that is also turned off in general by “Christmas creep,” the relentless expansion of the most promotion-heavy, consumerism-crazed of seasons. Kmart has started airing Christmas ads within days of Labor Day weekend for the past two years, and retailers have gotten into the habit of introducing “Black Friday” sales not on the Friday after Thanksgiving, nor on Thanksgiving itself, but often a full week earlier.

For 2014, retailers are pushing Christmas creep to extraordinary new levels, now that Amazon, Walmart, and others have just announced Black Friday-like holiday sales and promotions starting the day after Halloween. Essentially, retailers are asking consumers to shift from orange-and-green spending to green-and-red spending overnight. They want us to go shopping the moment trick-or-treating is done, before there’s even a chance to pack costumes and ghoulish decorations away until next year.

Naturally, many consumers are reluctant to embrace the holiday shopping mentality so early and so abruptly. To get them on board, major retailers are launching sales that they claim are every bit as good as Black Friday’s, only they’re starting them on Saturday, November 1. Amazon, for instance, is calling November 1 “the official start of the holiday shopping season,” with sales on toys, electronics, and other gift items popping up daily beginning on Saturday and picking up the pace as each week passes. Walmart says it is introducing “Rollback” prices on 20,000 items as of November 1, including plenty of popular holiday gifts (Disney “Frozen” toys, Samsung electronics, etc.), and on Monday, November 3, walmart.com is hosting a “cyber savings event” with discounts and free shipping on select items. (Yes, it’s not just Black Friday that’s being imitated and multiplied; stores are doing it with Cyber Monday as well.)

Meanwhile, Target started offering free, no-minimum-purchase shipping for the holiday season one week ago, Office Depot begins “early Black Friday” and “Every Day is Cyber Monday” deals as early as this Sunday, and other players such as QVC promise “better than Black Friday” sales throughout November.

On the one hand, smart shoppers are aware that these early season promotions are likely ploys to get shoppers to pay more than they would have by waiting for even better prices on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or some later day in the season. Considering that retailers overuse the term “Black Friday” to the point of meaninglessness, and that many early season promotions are underwhelming considering the 40%- or 50%-off deals shoppers have come to expect during the holidays, this is surely part of the game.

Yet there’s more to it. Retailers aren’t simply trying to sell merchandise for slightly more money than they’d charge a couple of weeks down the line. More importantly, they’re engaged in a battle to beat the competition and win the business of consumers as early as possible. After all, we’re talking about the shopping dollars of households that, more often than, are suffering from stagnant wages and are operating on limited budgets. Once the holiday gift budget is blown, that’s it for the season whether the household’s holiday shopping is done on November 2 or December 24.

Last week, Bill Martin of the store-traffic research firm ShopperTrak spoke to the Minneapolis StarTribune about why stores are increasingly feeling compelled to open on Thanksgiving, and his insights explain a lot about why retailers are hell-bent on pushing for earlier and earlier shopping in general:

“Retailers say that consumers are clamoring for them to be open on Thanksgiving, but that’s not the case,” he said. “They’re just attempting to get to the wallet before the money is gone. That’s what this holiday creep is all about.”

And that, in a nutshell, is why stores aren’t giving shoppers even a brief moment’s pause between Halloween promotions and Christmas promotions. If retailers took a break and actually allowed consumers time to digest some candy, and perhaps even allowed the weather to start feeling wintery before rolling out winter holiday deals, they run the risk of losing out on tons of sales snagged by competitors that beat them to the punch with early season sales—however absurdly early these sales may seem.

MONEY deals

Free Donuts, $3 Burritos, and 6 More Scary Good Halloween Food Deals

Krispy Kreme Halloween donuts
courtesy of Krispy Kreme

Krispy Kreme, Chipotle, and other restaurant chains are giving customers freebies--or discounts so good they'll give you an excuse not to cook on Halloween.

This year’s Halloween food deals include free bacon and free donuts, as well as several options allowing kids to eat for free. In many cases, getting into the Halloween spirit—by way of wearing a costume—is required, so check the rules and dress accordingly.

Arby’s: No costume is required to take advantage of Arby’s Halloween freebie—instead, all customers need to do is say “Trick or meat” when ordering to get bacon added at no extra charge. Free bacon can be added to burgers and other sandwiches, or even mixed into milkshakes.

Baja Fresh: Click on the link for free kids meals for children in costume, when combined with the purchase of an adult entrée.

Boston Market: Use the linked coupon for a free kids meal with the purchase of any individual meal.

Chipotle: The annual Halloween “Boo-rito” promotion allows each patron in costume to order a burrito, tacos, salad, or bowl for $3, from 5 p.m. until closing only.

IHOP: All children ages 12 and under get a free Scary Face Pancake decorated with Oreos and candy corn (scary indeed!) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Krispy Kreme: All customers in costume can select one donut free of charge today at participating Krispy Kreme locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Olive Garden: Follow the link to get a coupon for a free kid’s meal with the purchase of an adult entrée.

Outback Steakhouse: Kids in costumes eat free on Halloween—presumably also with the purchase of an adult meal, but the offer doesn’t specify.

MONEY Leisure

How Daylight Saving Time Costs You Money

two women looking in shop windows at dusk
Daylight saving: energy conservation measure or Chamber of Commerce conspiracy? Betsie Van Der Meer—Getty Images

The tradeoff for later sunsets during daylight saving time is that you're more likely to be out and about, dropping cash.

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, November 2, the observation of daylight saving time will end and the clocks will “fall back” to the standard time, 1 a.m. Despite the fact that the shift grants the vast majority of Americans a much-welcomed extra hour of sleep, many would prefer to do away with the twice-annual time change.

Arizona and Hawaii already don’t bother with daylight saving time, and it looks like Utah could be next. In an online survey that collected more than 27,000 responses, two-thirds of Utahns favored staying on Mountain Standard Time year-round, like Arizona does. “Convenience really stood out” as a major reason why folks want to get rid of daylight savings, the leader of a government committee studying the topic explained to the Salt Lake Tribune. “People don’t want to move their clocks forward, backward … They just want to set them and leave them.”

OK, so doing away with daylight savings would make life simpler—but only very slightly so, since our computers and smartphones and other gadgets change their clocks automatically. More important, what’s the argument to keep daylight saving observation in place?

Daylight saving time was first embraced during World War I, when the idea was that the spring shift would help conserve coal because people would need less light and heat since they had more daylight during their waking hours. The concept that daylight saving saved on energy costs persisted for decades but has recently been declared patently false. Later sunsets during the warm months mean a higher likelihood that Americans will spend their evenings driving around and doing stuff, meaning more need for gas and air-conditioning during waking hours.

The ability for Americans to be out and about enjoying the later sunset amounts to an economic stimulus, because odds are we’re spending more money when we’re out. Michael Downing, a Tufts University professor and author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Savings, explained to The Takeaway public radio program that the main beneficiaries of daylight saving include the golfing, tourism, and recreation industries—all of which attract more business when there’s more daylight after the traditional work day is done.

For that matter, all manner of shops and small businesses love what’s perceived to be a longer day, because it pushes consumers outside later into the night. “Since 1915, the principal supporter of daylight saving in the United States has been the Chamber of Commerce on behalf of small business and retailers,” said Downing. “The Chamber understood that if you give workers more sunlight at the end of the day they’ll stop and shop on their way home.”

A Tufts blog post noted that in 2005, daylight saving time was expanded from seven to eight months, including the key step of delaying the “fall back” until the first week of November—a move spurred on thanks to pressure from lobbyists supporting candy manufacturers and convenience stores. Why would they want such a change? Kids would get an extra hour of daylight for trick-or-treating, meaning more candy consumption and more candy purchases. Later sunsets for more of the year also mean more people out on the roads needing to swing by convenience stores to gas up or grab snacks.

As a result of these changes, we somewhat bizarrely now observe daylight saving for the vast majority of the year. “Today we have eight months of daylight saving and only four months of standard time,” Downing said. “Can you tell me which time is the standard?”

To some extent, the autumn return to standard time balances things out. With earlier sunsets, we’re out on the roads less, and therefore there’s less need to gas up the car. So there’s some savings there. Still, for much of the country, people wouldn’t be playing golf or having barbecues or visiting national parks anyway at that time of year because it’s just too cold.

And remember: Daylight saving is eight months of the year, versus only four months for “standard” time. Also: While daylight saving serves as an economic stimulus for two-thirds of the calendar year, standard time has its own epic consumer stimulus, in the form of Black Friday and the ever-expanding holiday shopping season.

MONEY halloween

Here’s How to Turn Trick-or-Treat Candy Into Cold Hard Cash

dentures on top of candy
Aleksandar Mijatovic—Alamy

Hey kids, you know your parents aren't going to let you eat all of the candy hauled in on Halloween trick-or-treating rounds. So why not swap some of it for cash money?

The cash payoff isn’t the only reason kids might want to trade in candy soon after Halloween is over. Doing so also supports the troops overseas.

To participate in the annual program, called the Halloween Candy Buy Back, families should start by finding a participating nearby dentist’s office, via a search tool at the link or at the program’s Facebook page. There are thousands of participants around the country–in New Jersey, Ohio, California, and beyond. Chances are, there’s a poster up at your dentist’s office asking locals to join in its Candy Buy Back campaign.

While the particulars of each participating office may differ slightly, they generally all welcome unopened candy donations in the days right after Halloween, and they pay $1 per pound of candy dropped off, with a $5 maximum payout. Some also give treats or goodie bags for kids—toys, stickers, toothbrushes, sometimes pizza or local baked goods—as well as the chance to win iPods, gift cards, and other prizes. It softens the blow inherent in handing over the sweet and chocolatey fruits of one’s labor spent trick-or-treating.

The program was originally envisioned as a means to get massive quantities of Halloween candy “off the streets” and out of the bellies of America’s children, and the campaign truly caught fire when it partnered with Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends care packages to military veterans, new recruits, and most especially troops who are deployed overseas. Some 130+ million tons of candy has been collected over the years, and with the help of Halloween Candy Buy Back participants, Operation Gratitude was able to ship its one millionth care package last December.

As for the more mercenary kids out there—those who are trading candy in for cash at least as much as they are motivated to support the troops—they’re probably trying to figure out what candies weigh the most to maximize their payout.

MONEY

Why Angie’s List Keeps Getting Mixed Reviews

Angela "Angie" Hicks Bowman, co-founder of Angie's List Inc.
Angela "Angie" Hicks Bowman, co-founder of Angie's List Inc. Scott Eells—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Even as the paid-membership review service Angie's List has announced major plans for expansion and increased hiring, investors are bailing on the company.

On Wednesday, the stock price of Angie’s List dropped more than 5%, after a decline of as much as 20% a week ago. Overall, the price of Angie’s List stock is hovering near its 52-week low, and it has fallen nearly 60% over the past 12 months. Last week’s plunge stemmed largely from the release of disappointing third-quarter results. Even as the company decreased marketing expenses by 20% and increased membership revenue by 7%, a slowdown in paid memberships and the failure to meet profit revenue expectations have apparently spooked investors.

Angie’s List watchers have been on a particularly wild rollercoaster ride of late. Roughly one month ago, a report surfaced indicating that the company had hired investment bankers to explore the possibility of putting Angie’s List up for sale. Shares of the stock rose more than 20% on the news but were still down more than 50% compared to a year ago.

A couple weeks later, Angie’s List announced that it was adding 1,000 jobs and expanding its Indianapolis headquarters, leading some to believe there would be much brighter days ahead. One week after that, third-quarter results were released, leading many investors to bail—but also leading opportunistic value investors such as billionaire Ken Griffin, owner of the Citadel Investment Group, to go bullish on Angie’s List.

So what does the future have in hold for a paid membership review service such as Angie’s List? Well, to anyone under the age of 30, the idea of paying for reviews or online content of any sort is probably puzzling. But for nearly two decades, the online review service Angie’s List has built a loyal, paying membership of homeowners and renters who find real value in a network where real-life people can exchange honest, trustworthy recommendations about handymen, contractors, plumbers, electricians, clean-it crews, and other services they’ve used personally.

To these folks, the value proposition is simple: When you’re considering who to hire to do a $50,000 home renovation, forking over $20 or $40 for access to reviews on local contractors is a no-brainer. Indeed, according to the company’s second quarter 2014 results, paid memberships hit 2.8 million at the end of June, up from 2.2 million a year before and just 820,000 as recently as 2011.

So why does Angie’s List appear to be on the ropes?

An in-depth post by the Indianapolis Business Journal suggests why: Angie’s List, founded in 1995, has never turned a profit. A report released last October, for instance, showed the company had a net loss of $13.5 million for the third quarter of 2013, following a loss of $18.5 million for the same period a year prior.

Why hasn’t all its growth translated into profits? Much of it can be attributed to (presumably expensive) expansion into new markets; the service is now available in 253 areas of the country, compared with around 200 in 2012.

More to the point, Angie’s List has been forced to scale back the amount charged for each membership as Yelp, Google+ Local, TripAdvisor, and other user review sites have flourished with an open-to-everyone, completely free business model. The most recent Angie’s List report states that from 2010 onward, the average annual membership fee was just over $12, down from more than $36 a decade earlier.

And the amount members pay continues to drop. A Wall Street Journal post published a year ago detailed Angie’s List’s plans to cut membership fees in several key cities to around $10 annually. Today, it’s a cinch to head over to an online coupon site to find offers for 30% or 40% off, bringing the cost of a one-year subscription down as low as $5.39.

Meanwhile, the company recently agreed to pay a $2.8 million settlement to end a lawsuit alleging it had re-upped members without proper notice and at higher rates than subscribers were led to believe.

Perhaps an even bigger problem is that the trustworthiness of Angie’s List is increasingly being called into question. Critics point out that a growing portion of Angie’s List revenues come from service providers paying for advertising on the site—the same service providers that are supposed to be rated in non-biased fashion by members. “Almost 70 percent of the company’s revenues come from advertising purchased by the service providers being rated,” a 2013 Consumer Reports investigation explained.

CR called out in particular the practice of allowing advertisers with B or better ratings to be pushed to the top of search results as questionable at best. “We think the ability of A- and B-rated companies to buy their way to the top of the default search results skews the results… They get 12 times more profile views than companies that don’t buy ads.”

To be fair, many Angie’s List competitors also actively solicit the businesses reviewed on their sites as advertisers. Yelp is known to flood restaurants, doctors’ offices, and other small businesses with pleas to advertise on the site, to the point that one restaurant in the San Francisco area launched a bizarre “Hate Us on Yelp” campaign to undermine the user-review site. (Despite claims that it engages in what amounts to extortion, Yelp has repeatedly stated that advertising doesn’t affect a business’s ratings in any way.) Porch.com, an online network created to help homeowners find contractors and other home improvement services, launched a partnership referral system with Lowe’s this year. While businesses don’t pay to be listed, the website gives extra visibility to contractors that pay for a premium membership, such as making it easier to see their phone numbers in search results. (Full disclosure: Porch contributes articles on home improvement to Money.com.)

For the time being, Angie’s List seems to have figured out how low it must cut membership fees in order to keep subscriber numbers from falling. But the strategy hardly seems sustainable, especially if the perception that the service’s ratings aren’t trustworthy continues to spread. Convincing consumers it’s worthwhile to pay for a review-and-ratings service when there are free alternatives is tough enough. It’s borderline impossible to convince them that doing so is worth the money when there’s reason to question whether the ratings are entirely legitimate.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described how Porch.com enhances the visibility of contractors who pay for a premium profile on their site.

MONEY

America’s Cheapest Airline Looks to Make Flights Even Cheaper

Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines

Lower fuel costs helped Spirit Airlines' stock soar this week, and may even mean cheaper flights for travelers. Just don't expect Spirit's fees to disappear anytime soon, or ever.

A sizable chunk of travelers hate Spirit Airlines and its cramped-seat, a la carte, fee-crazed business model. In a new MONEY poll, voters prefer the option of flying with snakes on a plane over flying on a Spirit plane. Yet investors sure are loving the company’s third quarter results, which were made public on Wednesday. Spirit’s adjusted net income for the quarter is up 28% year-over-year, while total operating revenue was up 14%. The results bumped the price of Spirit stock up more than 7% on Wednesday, and Morgan Stanley just named Spirit its top growth airline pick for investors.

What’s particularly interesting is that Spirit’s performance and its plans for expansion are likely to benefit non-investors as well. The airline’s sales pitch to travelers is based almost exclusively on the low prices of its “Bare Fare” flights, and analysts see the stars aligning that will allow Spirit to cut base fares even lower. It’s possible that this turn of events could even help out travelers who would never fly with Spirit Airlines—because other carriers may feel forced to scale back fares, or at least slow the pace of fare hikes, in order to compete with Spirit’s cheaper flights.

Only three weeks ago, Spirit stock dipped significantly because of fears that higher company costs—including tax payments and the hiring and training of more pilots—would be headwinds getting in the way of higher profit margins. Yet a Motley Fool post pointed out this week:

Looking ahead to Q4 and 2015, these cost headwinds are likely to turn into tailwinds due to 1) lower jet fuel prices; 2) faster growth; and 3) a shift toward larger, more efficient aircraft.

Airlines typically spend about 30% of their revenue on fuel. So when gas prices drop like they have been lately, it’s a huge deal for the airline industry. For the most part, airlines will simply pocket the fuel-cost savings rather than pass any of it along to travelers in the form of cheaper flight prices.

But there’s reason to believe that Spirit Airlines is different. After all, the airline’s main (only?) selling point is that the base price of flights is cheap, so it will lower fares to attract more customers whenever a price cut can be justified. In addition to lower fuel costs, Spirit is expanding rapidly (28 new routes added between August 2014 and April 2015), and has been getting more productivity out of planes and employees. All of which helps the company lower costs—and enables it to make its product more attractive to customers by lowering prices.

In a conference call with investors yesterday, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza said that’s essentially what the airline plans on doing. “The customers we seek to attract overwhelmingly ranked total price as the most important variable when choosing an airline,” Baldanza said. As Spirit manages to keep the costs of fuel and other expenses low, “that’s a great thing for our model, and that means even lower fares for customers and a good thing for investors.”

And who knows? Spirit’s expansion and low-fare strategy may very well compel the larger airlines to compete more on flight prices as well. Now that fuel prices are shrinking and airlines are enjoying record-high profits, it certainly wouldn’t kill them to do so.

MONEY

S.F. vs. K.C. By the Numbers: How the World Series Teams and Towns Match Up

The World Series championship will be determined by how Wednesday night's Game 7 plays out, but how do San Francisco and Kansas City match up off the ball field?

After the Kansas City Royals stomped the San Francisco Giants in Game 6 of the World Series, the stage is set for an exciting winner-takes-all Game 7. The Royals, who skipped through earlier rounds of the 2014 playoffs without a loss, were named as a slight favorite to win the championship when the World Series began, and the Royals’ run is all the more impressive because the Giants’ payroll is more than 50% higher ($148 million versus the Royals’ $91 million).

For that matter, San Francisco blows away its opponent in terms of global cachet and higher incomes, and the home markets of this year’s World Series contenders couldn’t be more different. San Francisco is a hip, high-powered, and high-priced magnet for tech startups where the average home sells for close to $1 million, compared to a mere $186,000 for the typical house in Kansas City, a low-key, highly livable Midwestern hub famed for top-notch barbecue. Nonetheless, the secondary market price of World Series tickets for Kansas City home games has been roughly 30% higher than games hosted by San Francisco. That somewhat unexpected disparity likely comes as a result of San Francisco owning the edge on most recent World Series title. Giants fans have been spoiled of late with championships in 2010 and 2012, whereas Royals’ fans have been waiting since 1985 for another World Series title.

With the Series wrapping up tonight, click through the gallery above for a look at how the competitors match up, on and off the field.

MONEY

NBA’s Empty Arena Problem Tips Off with $5 Home Opener Tickets

Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies
Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies play their regular season home opener this week, and fans can buy tickets for around $5. Lance Murphey—NBAE/Getty Images

Basketball fans are showing their excitement—or lack thereof—for the start of the NBA regular season in the form of home opener tickets selling for a small fraction of face value.

[Updated Oct. 31 with statement from NBA at bottom of post.]

The 2014-2015 NBA regular season commences on Tuesday, October 28, and clearly, fans in some markets are excited enough to see their teams back in action that they’re willing to pay top dollar for seats. Four of the top five most expensive NBA games this week, as rounded up by the ticket resale and research site TiqIQ, all currently have “get-in” prices starting over $100 and average ticket prices of $300+.

Tonight’s priciest game is, fittingly, the home opener of the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, when there will be a ceremony for the team to receive its championship rings; as of Tuesday, the cheapest tickets were selling for just under $200 on the secondary market, according to StubHub. Overall, the most expensive home opener is, unsurprisingly, Thursday’s game in Cleveland, when the Cavaliers get to officially welcome back the return of prodigal son LeBron James, who is playing once again for his hometown team in regular season action. Earlier this week, TiqIQ data indicated that the average price for tickets to Thursday’s Knicks-Cavaliers game was $753, while as of Tuesday the cheapest seat offered at StubHub was around $900.

It’s a very different story, however, in some of the other NBA arenas around the country. Tickets for the home openers for no fewer than nine NBA teams (Dallas, Denver, Indiana, Memphis, Minnesota, New Orleans, Orlando, Utah, Washington) are going for around $15 or less, according to StubHub, while seats for Wednesday’s matchups of Philadelphia 76ers versus the Indiana Pacers and the Minnesota Timberwolves versus the Memphis Grizzlies are available for around $5. If fans are truly excited about the start of the season, they’re not demonstrating it with a willingness to pay good money to see the games in person.

There’s nothing new about NBA teams struggling to fill arenas, even when special ticket deals and secondary market resale sites cause prices to plunge. What’s noteworthy, however, is that the demand for tickets is so low for teams’ home opener games, when the season is (theoretically) filled with promise and when fan enthusiasm should presumably be high.

Fans are staying home for any number of reasons, including but not limited to: 1) the local team stinks; 2) the local team is not fun to watch; 3) the season is so long that the games don’t seem to matter; and 4) going to games is too much of a hassle and too expensive. Even when ticket prices are low, the cost of going to a game can be high, once parking, souvenirs, and a few $5 hot dogs and $7 beers are added in. Interestingly enough, parking passes for this week’s Indiana Pacers home opener were selling at a higher price than the cheapest tickets ($8.85 vs. $4.95), according to StubHub.

Yet the NBA doesn’t seem particularly concerned about its teams playing in arenas where broad swaths of seats are unfilled, nor about what it means in the grand scheme of things when fans are reluctant to part with a mere $5 to attend games. A big reason why that is so is because the league just signed a $24 billion contract allowing various TV networks to air its games. The new deal nearly triples broadcast revenues for the NBA. Look for broadcasts to focus squarely on the action on the court, with very few shots of the upper sections occupied by … nobody.

[UPDATE: The National Basketball Association took issue with our story, stating that it mischaracterized the state of attendance at games, among other things. An NBA spokesperson pointed out the following:

"The NBA is actually trending UP in attendance. In fact, we’ve had 10 straight years of playing to 90+ percent capacity.

Going into the 2014-15 season, the league set a record number of full season tickets across the league.

There are hundreds of thousands of tickets across the league this season priced at $10 or below. That is face value – and by design.

Last season, the NBA sold out 22 of the 30 home openers. Through information available yesterday, we had sold out 11 of 15 home openers – on pace with last season.

The new TV deals begin in the 2016-17 season. It has nothing to do with this season."]

MONEY Gas

$3 Gas, and Its Impact on What’s Under the Christmas Tree

This week, the national average for a gallon of regular should hit $3, a low that hasn't been reached since 2010. That means consumers will have more money to spend during the holidays, right?

Not so fast.

Yes, gas prices have been plummeting in the U.S., bringing much-welcome relief to household budgets. Average prices around the country reached a new low for 2014 recently, and then just kept on falling, hitting a low not seen since 2010. As of Monday, according to AAA, the national average stood at $3.04 per gallon after falling 32 days in a row, making prices at the pump 25¢ cheaper compared to the same time one year ago. With prices falling roughly 1¢ per day (the average was down to $3.03 on Tuesday), we’re on pace to reach the all-important psychological mark of $3 per gallon by the end of this week.

But let’s step back. Is the $3 mark—and cheaper gas prices in general—really all that important for the economy as a whole?

A GasBuddy post crunched some numbers, and found that Americans are collectively saving $110 million per day on gas compared to what we spent a year ago. The timing of decreasing gas prices would seem to bode well for retailers, which are hoping that some of that money that’s not being spent on gas will be spent instead on holiday purchases in the weeks ahead. Data from the research firm Deloitte indicates that retail holiday sales will rise 4% to 5% this year, or perhaps even higher considering that the average household could spend $260 less on gas for 2014 as a whole.

Retail analyst Mary Epner told CNBC recently that cheaper gas prices could wind up giving a boost to a few categories of retail in particular:

“A drop in gas prices should be great for Ross Stores, Walmart, and dollar stores (for consumers who must live paycheck to paycheck),” she said. “This also helps low-cost teen retailers, as most teens have a finite amount of money and they will usually opt to put gas in their cars before buying other things.”

Overall, however, cheaper gas prices shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a holiday season savior for retail. As a recent Fortune post pointed out, gas prices had already begun their downward trajectory in September, but the month was basically a dud in terms of consumer spending. The effect of cheaper gas on holiday spending is expected to be minimal as well. At the higher end of the income spectrum, shoppers aren’t going to alter holiday spending based on gas prices shifting by 10% or even 20%. For middle- and low-income earners, stagnant wages, weak hiring, and higher costs for housing and health care are likely to far outweigh any “savings” that come via cheaper gas prices.

What’s more, as a Bloomberg News story noted, today’s shoppers have grown so accustomed to huge discounts that they’re programmed to ignore all but the most dramatic price slashings and promotions. Add in that over the past few years, drivers have seen gas prices retreat, rise, then retreat and rise again, so there’s an appropriate level of skepticism concerning the idea that we could be paying less for gas for the long haul.

Few people will head promptly to the mall and splurge because the price of a gallon of gas drops by a few pennies. Nor should they.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser