When I read stories about people who bike or walk to work, I can't relate. I do walk and bike, but just for exercise. There is nothing to walk to around here — unless you count the post office five miles away.
My husband and I have looked for ways to decrease our transportation costs, but we need to be more creative. For example, we bought our house from a guy who had his own way of hoofing it. He rode his horse four miles to the main highway, tied up the horse for the day, and was picked up by a friend to go to school. Of course, that happened in the early 1950s, and it was a road less traveled then.
But it's not the fifties anymore. And the only horsepower I have is a car, racking up more miles every day.
My commute, like many other rural workers, is high-mileage (100 miles round-trip). Without a doubt, this is costing us. But the question is: How much? Maybe the bigger question is: What can we do about it?
According to a report at AAA.com, driving my medium sedan 20,000 miles annually costs me $9,519 or 47.6 cents per mile. This estimate includes fuel, maintenance, tires, insurance, license, registration, taxes, financing, and depreciation. It may not be completely accurate for me (I drive more, but my insurance costs less), but close enough.
When evaluating the options below, I multiplied every mile I didn't drive by 47.6 cents to see how much money I could save over a 48-week work year.
- Work from home. Working 100% from home is not an option for me in my current position, unfortunately, but I can work from home 24 Fridays a year — and save $1142.
- Work less. Working four longer days and having one day completely off would save $2285.
- Carpool. Another woman I know works for the same employer. She lives on the way (though 15 miles from me) and would be a great carpooling companion. If we each drove two days a week, I would have a 30 mile commute (and save 140 miles) over the two days she drove. This would save me $3199.
- Downsize. Changing to a small sedan drops my per mile cost to 36.6 cents. This change (at 20,000 miles) would save me $2,200.
Then there are the “little wins”: Not speeding, properly inflated tires, an empty trunk, and driving without the air conditioning or heat all save money on fuel costs. Of the 47.6 cents per mile, 11.97 cents are fuel costs. Saving 50% — although I don't know how much these changes would save — of my fuel costs would save me only six cents per mile. Clearly the best option is to concentrate on the big wins and do the little wins if I can (or if I want to…and in the case of no air conditioning or heat, I don't want to).
Additional ways to save
There are some other ways I could save money on transportation.
- Batching errands. Fortunately, almost everywhere I shop is near my workplace or on the way to work. I do my best to do all shopping to and from work.
- Going to one car. My husband's employer provides a vehicle and reimburses him for approximately 50% of his fuel costs. (Very nice.) If we only had one vehicle, I could drop him off to and from work. Inconvenient, but possible.
- Get mileage reimbursement. My job requires some driving during work hours. I can either use an employer car for that time or be reimbursed.
- Mutual mooching. Okay, this method doesn't really save me money on transportation, but I said I needed to be creative, right? Several people often have things they need in the city where I work. At first, I was happy to pick things up for them…but then I started getting cranky. It took extra time to pick up and drop off, etc., etc. My “customers” and I now have an agreement. In return for their item, I get a hot meal. My husband and I eat for free that night. They save time and gas. And everyone is happy.
Taking an in-depth look at our transportation costs (and the financial bite behind them) motivated me to work from home more and seriously consider carpooling. Eventually, I would like to work from home completely, but, for now, this gives me cost-cutting options.
Do you live in a rural area? Or are you somewhere with poor alternative transportation options. If so, what ways have you found to save on commuting?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).