Many people are back into the full-time commuting groove again and finding that it can be a major cost. And by cost, it can mean the impact it has on both money and mood.
Some people spend 30 minutes commuting each way; others two or three times that. Some get on an express train while others drive their own car and deal with traffic woes and gas prices.
One way to lessen the burden of commuting (beyond listening to terrific podcasts while en route) is to lower the cost. Here, learn smart ways to do just that.
How Much Does It Cost To Commute?
First, there’s the per-mile cost of gasoline. Commuting to work is a major portion of all driving in the United States. But a hidden cost of driving is depreciation, a car’s loss in value over time. It’s the largest annual cost of car ownership, according to AAA, accounting for more than a third of the average annual cost. Add increased maintenance and repair costs of cars as they age and are driven more frequently.
AAA pegged maintenance and repair costs at almost 9.68 cents per mile and fuel costs at 17.99 cents per mile, meaning that beyond fixed costs of car ownership, a 15-mile one-way commute would cost about $8.30 a day and, at around 250 days of work a year, $2,075.25 annually, before expenses like auto depreciation, tolls, and insurance.
The easiest way to reduce these costs is to minimize or eliminate a commute to work.
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1. Aiming for a ‘Remote First’ Culture
Working remotely part- or full-time is a surefire way to cut commuting time and costs. The easiest way to maximize working from home is to find a job at a company where it’s standard. This option has become popular since the pandemic.
If your work makes it possible to work from home sometimes, you may want to try to make it a regular occurrence. That way you can more easily optimize your time spent in the office and save tasks best for home for the day you regularly work from home.
If you work from home regularly, it also means you can get better at it, from setting up a home office that truly works to figuring out how working at home can make you more productive than working in the office, not merely save you the time and money of a long commute — although that’s important, too. There are also possible home office tax deductions.
Of course, the easiest way to save money commuting to work is not to do it at all. This not only spares the cost of gas, maintenance, subway tickets, or bus fare, but it also saves precious time.
The money that would have been spent on a commute to work can be put in a savings account to hit other savings goals.
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2. Living Closer to the Job
One of the most obvious ways to reduce commute time is to make it so your car is less expensive.
There are roughly two ways to do this: Drive less or drive less expensively.
The easiest way to drive less is to live closer to work. While that may save money on gas and maintenance, it could end up being more expensive to live closer to work, especially in a large city.
One of the main amenities people seek when deciding where to live is distance from their job. If you work near where a lot of other people work, trying to live near that job is likely to be pricey as the cost of living may be higher.
So how to make driving less expensive if you can’t reduce the amount of driving necessary to get work? Get someone else to drive, at least some of the time, or drive cheaply.
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3. Giving Carpooling a Spin
Carpooling means a shared ride to and from work, typically with someone who works in the same area or nearby.
Carpooling doesn’t magically get rid of the costs of commuting to work, but it can distribute them among riders or reduce them. Gas costs can be split, and maintenance costs can be reduced as the car is operated less frequently.
Even if you’re the one driving, you can often get access to high-occupancy-vehicle lanes, which means less time on the road and less time stalled in traffic.
4. Getting a Cheaper Car
Let’s say you have no choice about how far you have to drive and how frequently you have to do it. That may be a bummer, but it doesn’t mean you’re out of options for saving money. Some cars are cheaper to operate than others, and there are wide variations between them. Basically, smaller is better.
For new cars, according to AAA, a small sedan is the cheapest to own, costing $54.56 per mile, even less than hybrids (64.61 cents) and electric (60.32 cents) vehicles.
More numbers to know: the costs for small SUVs (62.17 cents per mile) and medium sedans (69.01 cents).
There are, of course, other ways to get around besides a car.
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5. Taking Public Transportation
About 5% of commuters are straphangers, bus riders, and other transit users, according to U.S. Census data. While a mass-transit commute to work is not costless, it can certainly save money on a per-trip basis.
Even if you own a car, using mass transit (or driving to a transit stop) won’t spare you from insurance, the cost of a new car, or depreciation, but the costs of car ownership associated with actual driving (gas, maintenance, etc.) will go down.
The only downside is that the ability to commute to work by public transit is often largely determined by locale. Someone who works in an area with a public transit system that serves the office can choose to live somewhere with efficient access to that system.
This will likely be in or near a large city, where the share of commuters who use public transit is far higher than the 5% national average.
If you work in a city like New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, or Baltimore, public transit might be an efficient commuting option.
And although public transit may not entirely remove the need for a car, it could make it so a household with two adults only needs a single car, vastly reducing the cost of car ownership.
Finally, some companies offer commuter benefits, such as pretax income to be spent on costs related to the commute.
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6. Doing the Legwork
Often the most affordable way to get to work is without a car; that means by foot, bicycle, or some other non-internal-combustion vehicle. Biking may be impractical or stressful in many parts of the country.
Still, some commuters are up for the challenge. Cycling provides an aerobic workout and triggers the release of endorphins, builds muscle, and increases bone density.
Rolling road warriors may want to invest in a variety of gear (safety and comfort can be enhanced), whose price tags are mitigated by a lack of car-related bills.
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7. Tracking Expenses
To reduce costs, commuters have to first get a handle on their spending, whether for gas, maintenance, or mass transit — or even coffees, snacks, and lunches on the job. Creating a budget and accounting for where your money goes is an important step.
This can help you see where your money is spent and make adjustments to maximize your buying and saving power. For instance, you might decide it’s worthwhile to buy your gas from a lower-priced gas station or apply for a gas credit card.
By better understanding the cost of commuting, you can make wise decisions about lowering your costs and saving money on this often-daily expense. From working from home when possible to carpooling and beyond, there are ways to keep your costs down.
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