This article is by staff writer Honey Smith.

In recent posts exploring job searches and the cost of jobs in general, the subject of commute came up in a number of the comments. Readers pointed out that a commute makes a huge difference in whether a job is desirable or not because it has a significant impact on quality of life. I couldn’t agree more.

When Jake and I were looking to buy a house, I wanted to be within five miles of my work. As far as I’m concerned, my commute is part of my job, only I don’t get paid for it. Oh, the humanity! #firstworldproblems

Commuting is a significant factor for many. According to the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) conducted by the U.S. Census, approximately 86 percent of Americans commute to work by car, truck, or van. How do you determine the cost of your commute? Here are some things to take into consideration:

1. The cost of driving your vehicle.

There are several factors here, as J.D. Roth discussed previously when he experimented with a biking vs. driving calculator. To determine your driving costs, you have to take into account:

  • Your monthly payment, if you have one

  • Depreciation

  • Insurance

  • Registration

  • Gas

  • Maintenance and repairs

One way to figure out the cost of driving your car is to add up your annual costs in these categories, then divide by the number of miles you drive in a year. Now you have a cost per mile. However, the ACS points out that only 20 percent of all trips taken are for the purposes of commuting. This seems REALLY low to me. (But then again, I hate to drive.)

The reason this is important for calculating your commuting costs is because if you pay to park at work like I do, then your commuting miles are more expensive than the other miles that you drive. To figure out how much more, you’ll have to add up the annual cost of parking and divide that by the number of miles you drive in a year for commuting purposes. Then add that extra expense to your cost per mile.

2. The cost of your time and your sanity.

In addition to the actual cold, hard cash it takes to operate your vehicle, it is also important to consider other factors such as your time. Your time has value, too, and every minute you spend driving to and from work is a minute you can’t spend doing other things. To a certain extent, you can add value to that time by listening to the news or books on tape.

However, the longer your commute becomes, the less value you may derive from those activities, especially if they don’t interest you. If you are able to bike or walk to work, like approximately 3.5 percent of Americans do (according to the ACS survey), then that time counts as both exercise and commute, which may add value. However, hoofing it isn’t convenient for everyone and isn’t possible year-round in many places.

If driving is your best option — or your only option — then your sanity may also be a factor. When I first moved to my city, Jake had already rented a place that ended up being 45 minutes to an hour each way from the job I ended up getting. For someone who had been walking and biking to work for years, this was intolerable. What was extra frustrating is that making the same drive during non-rush hour times took 15 to 20 minutes!

Jake, on the other hand, doesn’t mind commuting. In his high-stress job, he finds that living a little farther from his work actually gives him time to distance himself mentally from his job. Then by the time he gets home he’s calmed down enough to actually relax.

How far do you commute to work and what do you think it costs? What do you do to make the best use of that time? If you were looking for a new job, would you try to minimize your commute?

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