It's hard to be optimistic about the economy, and with good reason given the spate of bad news coming out on an almost daily basis. Deteriorating labor market: check. A big slump in consumer spending: check. Lousy guidance from earnings reports: check. Throw in a credit market in flux (though slowly improving) plus The Big Three automakers purportedly on the road to collapse and you have a really hard time seeing anything positive.

Lo and behold, one good piece of news is out there and has offered a sigh of relief for cash-strapped consumers and businesses – declining energy prices. National average retail gasoline prices (including taxes) have collapsed since the summer, falling from a peak of $4.11/gallon in mid-July down to $2.20 this week. What does this mean for consumers exactly? A general rule of thumb suggests that every penny decline in gas prices equals out to savings of approximately $1.5 billion annually. So, assuming these savings held into next year and that no change in driving behavior took place as a result of lower prices (in reality not the strongest assumption, but work with me), consumers could realize a cumulative savings of as much as $300 billion.

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