Costs of Commuting, and Nine Ways To Reduce Them

This is a guest post submitted by Ramsay who writes for needmoneytips.com, a blog about personal finance and supplemental income.

Have you ever figured out how much you are spending just to go to and from work everyday? There are a lot of things to consider like gas, tolls, parking and even wear and tear on your car. Your commute might be costing you more than you think.

Most of these costs are unavoidable. You have to go to work and it costs you money to get there. But, you may be able to save a considerable amount of money by making some small changes to your commute.

I live in the Washington DC area and I have a friend that commutes into the city every day. It costs her $18 a day to go to and from work. When you take out weekends, holidays and vacation time there are about 235 work days in a year. $18 a day times 235 work days is $4,230 per year, or just over $350 per month. Ouch! Her situation is a little extreme, but I’m it’s a familiar story to many of us.

To save money on your commute to work you should reconsider your entire approach. Convenience and feeling entitled are budget killers. Here are a few ideas on cutting the costs of getting to work every day.

Parking discounts

If you work in the city you probably have to pay for parking. Many garages have early bird specials and monthly discounts. Pay for your parking spot by the month to cut down on parking costs.

Tolls

Tolls add up. In Northern Virginia it’s easy to pay $2-$6 just to go one way to work. Try taking the long way to work one or two days a week or avoid just one of the many toll booths you have to travel through.

Bus

A bus, yuck! Yeah I know, buses aren’t cool but they do save people lot’s of money. Taking the bus means you don’t pay for any of those troubling commuter expenses like gas, tolls, parking, and car repair. Your commute time may even be shortened because the bus get’s to use those special bus or HOV lanes. Plus, you get to avoid the stress of driving and you can spend time reading or working. The biggest downside to taking the bus is that you are stuck conforming to the bus schedule.

High Gas Mileage Vehicle

If you have a short commute then you probably don’t worry much about gas mileage. The difference in getting 10 more miles to the gallon is only going to save you a few dollars a week. For others, like my wife that drives 80 miles every day, gas mileage makes a big difference. Using my wife as an example, driving a car that get’s 30 miles to the gallon instead of 20 means she saves $75 a month.

Change your work hours

Many offices will allow you to start early and leave early. If you go in at 7am and leave at 3:30pm there will be less traffic on the road giving you a faster commute. You’ll use less gas and have more of your time back.

Carpool

I don’t like to carpool. I’d rather ride to work by myself than with someone I don’t know very well. Most people feel the same way but there are so many good reasons to carpool.

1. HOV (High occupancy vehicle) Lanes – Faster means cheaper.

2. Cut everything in half – You don’t just save on gas. You get 50% off on tolls and parking too. Maybe more if you carpool with more than one person.

3. Less frustrating – Traffic is stressful. Let someone else bare the burden every other day.

Use Pre Tax Dollars

Check with your HR department to see if your company has any commuter benefits. Some companies will allow you to pay for parking or metro fee’s with pre tax dollars. Paying with pre tax dollars is the same as being able to write off your expense which could save you $50-$100 a month.

Plan ahead on gas

Gas is always more expensive in the city. Make sure you plan ahead and always fill up at the cheaper gas station. Will it save you a lot of money? No, but why pay $3-$5 more to fill up your tank when you don’t have to.

Relocate

It may not be as expensive as you think to relocate. Consider the reduced costs of getting to work every day when you are looking for a new apartment. A home that is 5 miles from work might cost you $300 more per month in rent (or mortgage) but you might save more than that in your commuting costs. Count up the difference after you don’t have to pay for parking, tolls and gas. You might be able to save money by relocating.

Run Gas Charges Through a Gas Rebate Card

One way to combat high gas prices is to run all gas purchases through a gas rebate card like the Discover Open Road card. The card offers a $10 cash rebate on your first five fill-ups, a 0% intro purchase and balance transfer APR for the first 12 months, and has no annual fee.

Comments

  1. I love my bike! I ride in all types of weather — and have lost 80 lbs as a result. Too bad bikes weren’t mentioned. I watched a show on PBS last night about how the US was built to discourage public transit in favor of highways and automobiles so as to empower the auto/gas industry. It used Spain as an example of investing in infrastructure such as high speed trains and how they are light years ahead of the US in this regard. It’s too bad the US can’t get over the special interests and invest in what is best for people and the environment: more clean, high speed transportation such as trains, and more bicycle-friendly options.

  2. $18 a day for commuting in the D.C. area? D.C. is one of the very few metropolitan areas in the US with high quality mass transit.

    I could understand spending that kind of money in a place like Miami or L.A. where mass transit can only be described as execrable, but D.C?

    Tell your friend to get on the bus or the metro.

  3. The guest poster forgot to mention commuting by bike. The bus is now $4.50 round trip to get to work (in downtown Seattle) every day. It would cost, at the very least, a couple hundred every month in parking costs, not to mention gas and intangibles, if I were to drive. Biking is free (after the purchase of the bike of course) and if I ride to work, I spend 30 minutes each way exercising, so I don’t have to go to the gym and I get to blow off steam after work.

    And yes it’s Seattle and yes I do get wet, but clothes dry, especially if you put them in a server room and our building has a shower room, so it’s easy to be a bike commuter.

    PS–Seattle has an “employee hours” tax that is waived if more than 80% of a company’s employees commute to work by means other than single passenger vehicle, so biking, or taking the bus, or light rail, can save a company money too.

  4. If your employer is amiable to it the best way to cut down on your commuing costs is to work from home. I average goin into the office one to two times per month right now unless I have meetings. I am able to, and ecouraged to, work from home. This cuts down on commuting costs as well as health care costs because I am not around all those people who didn’t have the common sense to key their sick butts home.

  5. Nice post, A couple of other things like cycling to work or walking for part of your commute if you normally take a bus to the train station or whatever….

  6. I second the work from home. It’s the ultimate way to cut the costs. I also go in only a couple of times a month. I not only save the gas as I expected, but I’m not temped to pick up a coffee, buy lunch if I forgot to pack one, and there’s no wear and tear on my work wardrobe. In addition my husband now drives my fuel efficient car most days and leaves his SUV at home. I find that because I’m rarely on the road, I don’t run erands on the way home and run up extra costs. I keep lists and do all my errands in one run on the weekend. One trip = less opportunity to be tempted, plus the gas savings.

  7. Ramsay needs to learn that apostrophes make words possessive, not plural. I’m not being mean or a grammar snob, but gosh…I honestly had a hard time getting through the article.

    As far as gas mileage is concerned (assuming that no alternative modes of transportation are available), it would be prudent to compare the ownership costs of vehicles before jumping into another car just to get better mpg. I only say this because a friend of mine recently got rid of a five-year-old, paid-for car that got 25 mpg in favor of a slightly newer car that would get around 33 mpg. He did pay cash for the car, but with a $7,000 price tag, I’m not sure the gas savings (at $2.59/gal here)on his 60-mile round-trip commute are going to make up the difference any time soon.

    As a matter of fact, ignoring repairs and time-value of money, it will take him almost 20 years to make up that $7,000 in gas savings alone, assuming he only drives to work and back.

  8. Most buslines are a joke. My daughter uses the bus system in a major metro area. She lives 5.1 miles from her job. She has to take two transfers and 1.5 hours to get there. Her 8.5 hour day is now an 11 hour day. D.C. has a wonderful metro system, however; your friend should try it.

  9. I’ve been a fan of your blog for awhile, but have to say that I was irked by this article. I also live in the DC area, and the bus is a great way to get around. I haven’t found anything “ick” about it. Not only is it the most environmentally friendly option on your list, but it gives me time to read or work (unlike metro, there are no signal dead spots). With buses coming every 10 or 15 minutes, conforming to their schedule isn’t much of a hardship. This attitude is fine if you live somewhere rural without adequate public transportation, but I think it’s a bit closed minded to “ick” one of the better transit systems in the country, and high gas/toll/parking costs are the price people pay for maintaining that attitude.

  10. Get your employer to pay most of your costs… :)
    I am fortunate, because I pick up the mail, have to go to job sites, and work out of 3 different offices, that my employer puts all the gas in my rig – ALL THE GAS – and all my commutes are short – within 4 miles of my home. The local bus only goes by the main office – none of the others – so not an option.

    While I realize there’s a trade off for the wear and tear on my truck, the gas is nice. And as my total mileage for the year was Under 10,000 miles, I’m not too worried about it. It works for us.

  11. I have to agree with DC Commuter. I work in the DC area and the buses are actually quite convenient. Most come every 10-15 minutes if you are on a busy route and every 30 minutes on less busy routes. I enjoy the ride, bring a good book and don’t worry about the traffic.

    I also have pretty flexible hours so that’s why I take the scenic route but for those with tight schedules… like almost everyone I know in the service industries, driving is your best bet.

  12. I live outside Toronto and have to commute 1.5 hours each way daily. Unfortunately, the free highway 401 (busiest highway in North America) is not an option during rush hour. As a result, I must pay $20 each way to commute via 407ETR (a private highway) gas time.

    Therefore, it’s a no brainer as to why I’m moving my family closer this summer.

  13. Have to agree with the folks above who suggested biking as an alternative (and cheaper) way to get around metro areas. We relocated to be closer to work and the urban area around Denver and shortly after started riding as one of our primary sources of transportation. We got rid of one car, cut down on our mileage reported to the insurance company which saved us and aren’t hamstrung by gas prices should they go up in the summer. It certainly doesn’t work for everyone, but biking probably could work as an option for more than who already take advantage of it.

  14. I live in the D.C. area as well.

    Although I don’t live far enough to slug to work, I’ve heard of people doing it. Slugging (http://www.slug-lines.com/) allows you greater flexibility than car pooling. You pick someone up in a slug-line so that you can use the HOV lane during rush hour. And yes, the passengers are generally complete strangers. The process can save even more money in reverse where you’re the passenger and not the driver.

    During the warmer months, I’ll take a 7 to 10 minute bus ride to work. It’s really convenient since the bus drops me off directly in front of my office building. I’ll also drive to work and park far enough from the office so that I can park on the street for free. The walk from my car to the office is only about 1/2 mile. During the time periods when I actually park in a garage, I have my employer take out the monthly parking fee pre-tax from my paycheck.

  15. After over a decade of commuting 50 miles roundtrip, we moved 3 miles from the office.

    Yes, I save on gas and car wear and tear. More importantly has been the improved quality of life.

    I can run home and have lunch with my husband. I leave the office and am in the door in 8 minutes (10 if I hit red lights).

  16. One thing I did in the summer is to park in a free lot 3 miles away. I kept my bike in the back of my truck and rode my bike down a trail. This not only saved me 10 miles a day driving (it was closer down the bike path than city streets) it saved me parking fees.
    I take the tail gate off the back of my truck in the winter which brings the MPG up from 26 to 27.

  17. If you live in San Diego, go to http://www.iCommuteSD.com and check out the tools…you can calculate the cost of your commute, track your trips, find a partner for carpooling, get a bike locker, and best of all, enroll in the Guaranteed Ride Home program…where if your carpool ride gets sick or it starts snowing and you ride your bike or you get stuck with overtime, you can get a ride home. And it’s all free.

  18. BIKES !! BIKES !! BIKES !!
    That’s the REAL way to go, all the rest are just compromises, not the real thing.
    If you are fit, you ride your bike.
    If you are not… you really should.
    I do 13Km per day, anybody can. No excuses.

    I Ride my bike to work 3/4 times a week. I get to work FASTER than with a car or the subway: no jams, no strikes. I spend far less money, I have fun, need to drink one coffe less, and when I get home all the stress of the day has gone away.

    Cars and Oil are in the PAST. Think in the future.

  19. See if you can find a park-and-ride location. If you can find a shopping center or other public lot which allows you to park your vehicle and take the bus from that location to work and back, it definitely will shave dollars and nerves off your commute.
    Note: check first. WalMart was not friendly to commuters, despite their huge lot and bus stop at the front door. You do not want your ride towed.

  20. @EmcySquare – It’s not an excuse for a lot of people but rather REALITY that a bike is NOT a feasible option…. How do you drop the kids off at the sitter’s, or have an emergency pickup of a sick child or grandchild at school, or transport kids to activities? How do you get the 4H animal to the fair? How do you take your survey equipment to the site? How do you arrive clean and dry (when it rains 300 days a year here) for work or an interview? How do you bring the hay bale or the chicken feed home from the feed store? How do you take a sick child to the doctor or emergency room in the rain or a windstorm?

    And in my area, it is NOT faster to ride a bike – it’s much slower. There are no traffic jams – just a lot of miles to contend with. And no, public transportation is not an option in many rural areas either.

    While I think it’s great that some folks have nothing but themselves to worry about on a bike, there are others who have to TOTE stuff or kids around, and when it blows 50 mph or rains so much, it’s just not a feasible alternative. That’s reality – not an excuse. A bike will not work for everyone.

  21. So biking and telecommuting have been added by commenters. And commenter, Bucksome, said that they relocated to within 3 miles of work and it, “More importantly has been the improved quality of life.”
    What about the other way around? What about relocating your job? Isn’t it possible to find a job closer to where you live in order to improve the quality of your life?
    This is exactly what Jobcinity.com is trying to help unsatisfied commuters or job seekers answer. Disclaimer: I am a co-founder for Jobcinity, and it’s currently in Beta. But not many people consider this, and I’d like to know if people would really consider changing their jobs at a certain time in their career based on it’s vicinity to where one lives.

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