The Real Cost of Commuting

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You’ve landed your dream job and have never been happier. After perfecting your morning routine and finding the best route to work, you’ve settled into the company culture quite well. The only downside is the long commute.

Before you said “yes” to this new position, you considered how much impact the added driving time would have on you. It was an excellent opportunity and you thought driving 40 minutes to work wasn’t such a bad idea. But now you’re not so sure.

Your long commute is racking up mileage on your car, you’re getting stuck in traffic on the way in and on the way home, and you’ve missed a few of your kid’s games. Suddenly, the job you thought checked all the boxes — fun perks, opportunities for advancement, a great salary and fulfilling work — doesn’t seem like such a good decision.

What is the real cost of commuting, including the time you lose on a long commute, the cost of gas and tolls, traffic and wear-and-tear on your car? If you understand, it might make you think of ways you can control those costs and change your lifestyle.

Calculating Commuting Costs

There are a few ways to calculate the cost of commuting. The money you spend on gas, vehicle maintenance, car insurance, public transportation and parking does add up. Plus, there’s the opportunity cost of the time you spend commuting.There’s also an impact on our communities and the environment from driving.

The cost of car ownership

It’s likely that owning a car costs more money than you think. Considering what you spend on fuel, maintenance, insurance, license and registration, taxes and depreciation, it adds up to quite a bit.

Carpooling

Though it isn’t always a popular option, you can cut the cost of commuting in half by having two people share a vehicle instead of driving yourself each day.

Public transportation

If you live in an area that offers public transportation, you may spend less than you would commuting by car. But there is the added inconvenience of planning around transit schedules, and you’ll have limited space and privacy on crowded buses or trains.

On the other hand, public transport cuts down on you environmental impact by lessening your carbon footprint. And it gives you more time to work, read or relax during your commute.

The cost to your community

Commuting puts more pressure on your community and environment by increasing pollution, wear and tear on roads, congestion and the risk of a crash. With 86 percent of U.S. workers opting to drive themselves to work, it’s clear that the majority of people choose their own car to commute despite these concerns.

Walking and biking

Riding a bike or walking could cost you less money, and it would have less of an impact on the environment. But it’s rare for workers to live close enough to their place of employment that walking or biking would be an option.

The value of time

Choosing to live further away from your workplace doesn’t only take money out of your pocket, it also takes up a significant portion of your day. The time you spend in the car driving to and from work can’t be spent doing anything else. Understanding the value of your time helps in your decision-making process.

Is it Really that Bad?

The short answer is yes, it really is that bad.

The trouble is, when “everyone is doing it,” you think it’s normal. For instance, if everyone in your neighborhood drives 40 minutes to work each day, you think it’s an acceptable thing to do. And if you accept it as a regular part of living, then you start to think it’s unavoidable.

But just because something is average doesn’t mean it’s normal.

It’s easy to find yourself caught in this trap of thinking something is normal and discounting the effects it has on your life. Considering the two most valuable resources in life are time and money, you shouldn’t be so quick to think that spending them on your commute is a reasonable and acceptable thing to do.

The Value of Money

According to a AAA study in 2018, the average cost to own and operate a new vehicle was $8,849 a year. That’s $737 a month. Considering the Census Bureau reports a median household income of $61,372 and most households have two cars, that’s 28 percent of your income going toward the cost of car ownership.

You could buy a decent used vehicle to cut down on the cost of ownership. Even though a used car could potentially lower your average monthly costs, you’d have to allocate more money to cover irregular expenses like maintenance and repair bills.

But whether you’re driving a new or used car, let’s break down the monetary cost of commuting to see what it’s costing you.

Let’s say your drive is 19 miles one-way. The IRS standard mileage rate for 2019 to account for the cost of gas and wear and tear on your vehicle is 58 cents per mile. That means your commute to work costs you $11.02.

If you multiply that by two to cover your drive there and back, you’ll find it takes $22.04 a day, or $110.20 every week, to commute back and forth to work. But that’s just for one car, and most households have two people driving separate cars to work. When you calculate $110.20 a week for two vehicles, that’s $114,608 you spend on commuting over 10 years.

That’s a lot of money.

What if you saved that money instead? If you put that money into an investment account each week and let it grow over the same 10-year period with a reasonable return rate of 4%, you’d have $140,924 in your account.

Not only would you save the $114,608 that you’d otherwise spend on commuting, but you’d also earn more than $26,000 in interest.

The Value of Time

You already know your time is valuable, but not all uses of time are equal. If you spend more time doing profitable work, you’ll make more money. Spending time with others builds better relationships. Using your time to create a flexible career will give you more freedom.

Whether you want more money, better relationships or more freedom, it all depends on how you spend your time.

This is known as opportunity cost. It compares how you are spending your time to how you could be spending your time. For instance, if you spend time commuting, you can’t spend that time to invest in better relationships or use it to do more profitable work.

Since you’re spending time driving back and forth to work, let’s see what your commute is costing you.

Figuring out how much your time is worth is more than whatever wage you’d earn if you spent that hour working. You’ll need to add up the total amount of time you invest to earn money, not just the time you’re physically at work.

Let’s go back to your 19-mile commute. Now let’s say you live in a regular neighborhood but encounter high-traffic areas that slow down your drive, so your commute takes about 40 minutes one way.

In this example, you spend eight hours working and an hour and 20 minutes driving. That means it costs you nine hours and 20 minutes to earn money that day.

When you add it up over a five-day work week, your commute will take up an extra 6.5 hours of your week. That’s almost a full day’s work added to your already busy schedule, and that’s time that you could have spent on something more meaningful in your life.

If you work a five-day work week, you’re spending 346 hours throughout a year, the equivalent of 14.5 days, commuting. What could you do with an extra two weeks’ time every year?

If we look at the time you spend in monetary terms, let’s see how much cash it costs to commute. Determining the worth of an hour of your time is easily done by comparing it to your hourly wage.

As previously mentioned, the median household income in 2017 was $61,372. Using that average, the typical U.S. worker makes $29.50 per hour. So, those 346 hours you spend commuting would cost you $10,207 every year. Since most households have two people that drive to work every day, you’re losing $20,414 in cash every year by driving to work.

If you’re spending $114,608 in actual costs and the equivalent of $20,414 in lost time, the real cost of your commute is $135,022 a year for your household. Does that make you think about ways to take back your time and money?

How to Save on Commuting

You can’t always make drastic changes to cut out your commute right away. But there are a few changes you could make to reduce or eliminate the wasted time and money. Whether you’re spending 10 minutes or two hours, here are some ways to save on the cost of commuting.

  • Carpool. Doubling up on your drive will save you money on gas and the effects of wear and tear on your vehicle. Plus, you can make time for personal growth or catch up on your email on the days you’re not driving.
  • Check your route. You’ll burn through more gas and spend more time driving if you’re going through congested traffic. Knowing alternative routes to avoid dense traffic patterns can save money and reduce your commuting time.
  • Skip the warm-up. Getting into a warm car is nice, but you’re using extra gas and adding more pollution to the environment by letting your car run before you leave in the morning.
  • Flexible schedule. Talk with your boss about the possibility of changing your work hours to avoid rush hour traffic. If you have the flexibility, changing your hours by as little as 30 minutes could have a huge impact.
  • Public transit. Taking advantage of public transportation if it’s available is an excellent way to cut down on the cost of commuting. It’s also helpful to the environment and gives you more free time to make business calls or catch up on the news.
  • Regular maintenance. Making sure your tire pressure is at the proper level and that you have new air filters and get frequent oil changes will increase your gas mileage and keep your car running smoothly.
  • Be a better driver. Driving over the speed limit and quickly accelerating after stopping will use more gas than if you practice more conservative driving habits.
  • Relocate to a closer area.  It isn’t always possible to move right away but relocating closer to your workplace can save significant amounts of money on commuting costs.
  • Work remotely. Telecommuting is becoming increasingly popular. Find out if you can work from home for a couple of days each week.
  • Walk or ride a bike. If you’re already living reasonably close to work, you can save money and help the environment by walking or riding a bike to work a few times a week.
  • Maximize your time. Even if you’re the one driving, there are ways to start enjoying your commute. You can use this time to listen to your favorite music or find a new podcast that you like, and that can add productive time to your already busy day.

What is Commuting Worth to You?

When you consider the value of your time, is your commute worth the cost? After all, it’s the quality of the time we have and the amount of money at our disposal that impacts the most important decisions we make.

If the cost of commuting is draining your budget, moving closer to your place of employment might be the best option. Considering you and your spouse may be spending $135,022 every year on your commute, it’s something you should think about.

Even if the area is more expensive than where you’re living now, you could afford a pricier home with the added savings you get by reducing your commute time. If you move close enough, you could save huge amounts of money by cutting out the cost of commuting altogether.

How much time do you spend commuting each day?

4 COMMENTS

4 responses to “The Real Cost of Commuting”

  1. steveark says:

    I had it made in my 9 to 5 life. They gave me a car as a perk and let me fill it up at the company gas pump for free. It was unlimited personal use and they paid for all the maintenance, tires, etc. Every few years they brought me a new one, and on top of that, my commute was only 8 minutes. I could drive home for lunch! All I had to do was count the value of my personal use as income and pay taxes on it. Even if I hadn’t had that great deal my commute costs would have still been minimal due to the short distance. I could never understand why city people put up with the time and money suck of long commutes. It is just crazy!

    • Deacon says:

      Yes, being close to home for lunch is great. Commutes do cost. Of course, sometimes, it’s necessary. Thanks for your comments!

  2. Mike says:

    The best thing we ever did was downsize our home and move closer to my work! I don’t understand why some trade a bigger home and all it’s hassles for a shorter commute. Soon, I’ll start riding a bike to work which will be good for me in so many ways.

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