Analysts like Cohen do concede that the $3 mark does make drivers notice and can influence spending habits.
"It stinks," said stockbroker Jack Landers, 64, as he paid $3.11 at a service station in a suburb of Albany, N.Y. earlier this week. He estimated that a fill-up now costs him an extra $6 that "I'm not gonna spend on coffee at Starbucks or getting the extra bag of chips at lunch."
Analysts expect most Americans will similarly choose to forgo those smaller things instead of gifts.
"For this holiday season, I think consumers are kind of holding the course," says David Portalatin, director of industry analysis for the NPD Group. After two years of severe recession, "they're trying to get back to normal."
Still, some people will have to make steep concessions.
In Hartford, Conn., Michael Hardaway, 54, paid $3.10 a gallon for gas for his Chevy Silverado. He said he will reduce his spending on Christmas gifts and his charitable donations. He'll even skip a trip to visit his daughters in New Jersey.
"What's the reason for it going up? Our economy is still at a standstill," he said.
The lackluster U.S. economy is in fact a reason that gas is high. It isn't growing enough to get unemployed Americans back to work in meaningful numbers. The Federal Reserve's plans to boost growth have decreased the value of the U.S. dollar. That made oil, priced in dollars, more attractive to holders of foreign currencies like the euro.
Add strong demand from China and emerging markets like India, and oil rose from about $72 a barrel in early September to just above $88 a barrel earlier this month.