As a guy who commutes 100 miles a day round trip, Josh Bisson is acutely aware of the ups and downs of gasoline prices. But what he’s seeing now is startling: Average pump prices in Maine early last week were down 37 cents from the same time a year ago, crashing 31 cents in the past month alone.

Bisson drives from Limerick, in the western hills of York County, to his job as business manager at Evergreen Subaru in Auburn. He has gone from spending $65 to top off his new Subaru Legacy to $55 now, saving $20 a week at his twice-weekly gas stops.

The savings are adding up for his wife’s Ford Flex SUV: More than $14 a week.

Relief also is being felt at the family’s house, which is heated with oil. At current prices, Bisson figures he’ll save $490 this season.

Taken together, the collapse of crude oil prices is keeping an extra $43.50 a week in the Bisson family budget, freeing up extra money for children’s medical and dental expenses, and for occasional family outings.

“We don’t make the choice all the time, but there’s far more ability today than 12 months ago to take the family out to dinner or go to a movie,” he said.

Plummeting oil prices are saving the typical Maine household that heats with oil and fills up a car roughly $22 a week, compared to what it paid this time last fall, a Maine Sunday Telegram analysis shows.

It’s a welcome windfall in a rural state that remains overly dependent on heating oil to stay warm, and where residents use more gasoline than the national average to get around.

The extra cash is a rare piece of good financial news for middle-class families, such as the Bisson household, but it can make a critical difference for lower-income Mainers, who fork over a larger share of their earnings for energy purchases.

In the bigger picture, fast-falling oil prices can be a form of economic stimulus. They put more money into consumer wallets statewide, during the biggest spending period of the year.

“The timing is great, having prices decline before the heating season and the holiday shopping season,” said Amanda Rector, Maine’s state economist. “It eases the pinch on the pocketbook. It’s money that can be spent somewhere else.”

Rector was reacting to the Telegram’s figures, as wholesale oil prices slumped last week to three-year lows. The calculations were done with data supplied by GasBuddy.com, the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Maine Governor’s Energy Office.

For heating oil, the analysis looked at the year-to-date change in statewide average prices. They fell 43 cents from Nov. 10, 2013, to last Monday, from $3.52 to $3.09. Assuming the average home burns 800 gallons, that’s a savings of $344, or $12.28 a week, during a 28-week heating season.

For gasoline, the review used annual per-household consumption and divided it by 52 weeks. Prices for regular gas fell 37 cents from Nov. 10, 2013, to last Monday, from $3.40 a gallon to $3.03. That’s a savings of $9.62 a week, based on typical household consumption.

Taken together, the heating oil and gasoline savings add up to $21.90 a week.

FUELING OTHER SPENDING

Gasoline spending is a burden in Maine, a rural state where some people drive long distances to work or appointments. On average, a Maine household uses 26 gallons a week, compared to 22 gallons nationally.

Gasoline also costs more in Maine than the national average, 9 cents per gallon more last week. The state’s median household income is $5,276 below the national average, at $46,974, according to U.S. Census data.

Mainers also spend more for heat. Despite its rapid move to alternative fuels, Maine still tops the nation in heating-oil dependence, with roughly six of 10 homes burning oil as their primary heat source.

For these reasons, Maine households part with a higher percentage of their earnings to drive and keep warm. Falling prices, then, can ripple through the economy.

“Anytime there’s a big swing in liquid fuel prices, there are winners and losers,” said Joel Johnson, an economist at the Maine Center for Economic Policy. “As a heavy user of heating oil and gasoline, we should expect to see a stimulative effect on the economy.”

Johnson and Rector were asked how falling oil prices compare to government tax rebates and tax cuts meant to stimulate the economy. A notable example was the $1,200-per-married-household federal rebate given in the midst of the Great Recession, in 2009.

Both economists expressed the opinion that weekly savings can be a more powerful stimulant than a one-time check, which might go to a major purchase or to pay down debt. That’s because the oil-savings money is more likely to be spent each week locally for goods and services.

Johnson also pointed out that the 2009 tax rebate came as the national economy slowed and people feared losing their jobs. By contrast, the ongoing recovery, while uneven, is creating more consumer confidence.

That’s the hope of Maine retailers, with the holiday shopping season in gear.

Curtis Picard, executive director of the 400-member Retail Association of Maine, said he noticed the savings in his own life, when he filled his car recently for less than $50.

“It just makes me feel better about the money I have to spend,” he said.

To Picard, cheaper heating oil may be more significant to holiday spending than gasoline, because it represents a larger, one-time savings. For instance: A near-empty oil tank could need 200 gallons. Based on the year-to-date price difference, the savings adds up to $86.

“If you couple that with a gasoline fill-up, you’re going to feel that in your pocket this holiday season,” he said.

TURNING A CORNER?

Average gasoline prices are at their lowest point since Dec. 4, 2010, according to GasBuddy.com. But unless wholesale crude prices continue their slide, analysts at the fuel-tracking website say, retail prices may be near bottom, for now. Last week, for example, the site was reporting some stations in Maine at $2.81 for regular.

Bisson filled his vehicle in Auburn early last week for $2.96 per gallon. In Limerick, he paid $2.99 at the J.P. Carroll station and $2.79 recently for the company’s heating oil.

The extra cash is becoming available at a good time for the family. One of the three children just got braces. Another has a medical condition, so there are bills to pay.

Even so, lower energy costs have freed up money for entertainment.

“We like to keep money locally in businesses such as J.P. Carroll Fuel, the Hungry Hollow Cafe and Sofia’s Pizza in Cornish,” Bisson said. “We do travel to (South) Portland regularly and we are far more apt to stop and get Mexican food at On the Border, or get a family meal at Cracker Barrel, than we were a year ago.”