What does it cost to commute?

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?

More about...Transportation, Health & Fitness, Planning

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Grace @ InvestmentTotal
Grace @ InvestmentTotal
5 years ago

Hi Honey Smith, this is an interesting post at GRS. Commuting might save you a lot money and it has an advantages to our health (exercise).

However, if it will save money, it will cost you time. I prefer to drive my car to save a lot of time rather than proving myself that I am a frugal. Thank you for this post. Have a nice day.

Mr. Frugalwoods
Mr. Frugalwoods
5 years ago

I bike to work year round here in Boston. Cost? I imagine about ~100 / year for gear, parts, and consumables for the bike. Benefits? I get to work faster than if I was to drive or take public transit. I get a workout in addition to getting to work… which means I have more time to do other things in the morning and evenings. Plus, biking to work is a great way to clear my head and prepare for the day. I definitely chose where I live to minimize my commute. I’ve had long car commutes before and was… Read more »

Laura
Laura
5 years ago

Kudos to you! I live in the Boston area, too, and I cannot imagine biking to work year round – particularly if you’re in Boston/Cambridge, etc., where they snow plows barely leave enough room for the cars, let alone for bicyclists.

Laura
Laura
5 years ago

Different Laura here, although I live in the Boston area too. 🙂 Since I’m not going to change either my job or my home, I actually try not to think about what it costs me to commute. Since I have to pay for parking and there’s wear and tear on the car plus gas/mileage, I try to take the MBTA whenever possible. However, “whenever possible” means “when the bus that’s supposed to run every 15 minutes during rush hour shows up within 45 minutes of my reaching the bus stop.” The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority sucks eggs and is the… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago

I actually don’t mind long commutes. I take the scenic routes through downtown (which adds a little more time to the commute) but since I no longer live by myself I enjoy the quiet time to think. It’s only stressful if you’re late lol! The money is something though that I will always dislike. I’m going to have to up my tenants’ rent by $50 next year because it’s gotten to the point (especially with my new job being further than my previous one)that it’s not going to be worth it to continue renting out my house which is less… Read more »

Scooze
Scooze
5 years ago

Many variables affect the cost of commuting – and those variables are different in different cities. I live in an urban center and take the train to work. I know exactly how much I spend – $60/month. Not bad at all. Plus I get to catch up on my GRS and other sites every morning on the train.

Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
5 years ago

I’m a stay at home mom, so no cmmute for me. We live in the suburbs and it takes about an hour for the mr. to get to work on the bus door-to-door. He uses his time to catch up on reading, so it’s not wasted time. It would take as long, but be more frustrating driving bumper to bumper.

Mondo Esteban
Mondo Esteban
5 years ago

I drive an hour each way to work. Its city traffic. Forget about the dollar value, its all about time. An hour each way is: 10 hours a week 40 hours a month (about) 21 full days in a car a year (w/ 2wks vacation) That kind of math only gets thought about when you are seeing brake lights as far as the eye can see. I knew that kind of cost going into the job, and I do like what I do. However, with the family just starting out, time gets new value because its not just my time… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
5 years ago

Another factor to a driving commute could be the cost to park. Where I work its upwards of $120 a month to park.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
5 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

Yes, I mention this specifically in the article. I pay to park as well.

Melody
Melody
5 years ago

Great article. I work from home and I often comment about how much money and time is saved by not commuting into an office every day. Having a job is a considerable investment when you consider all of the costs (commuting, clothing, lunch, etc.) that are involved.

Mike
Mike
5 years ago

I would guess that transportation expenses are the #2 expense for most people after housing. There of course is variation some may have high student loans or super high food bills and share 1 vehicle, etc.. Having 2 cars with 2 long commutes. It costs us about 5k a year in gas alone, so the drop in price has been nice. Insurance and maint is another 3k a year give or take, some years are lighter than others. Car payments vary but are another 5k a year as of this year. Of course depreciation is important. Whatever car you buy… Read more »

Kim
Kim
5 years ago

I work at home too and have the shortest commute possible. But I well remember the many days and years of long commutes. (And worse – when your employer makes you pay for parking, but that’s another topic). I’m spoiled now and would consider any commute over 10 minutes to work as a black hole for precious time.

Johanna
Johanna
5 years ago

Hey, my comments inspired an article. 🙂 Me, I live half a mile from my workplace, so my commute is a 10-minute walk that costs pretty much nothing (other than a little wear and tear on my shoes). That arrangement is by design. I moved to take this job, and I only ever considered apartments within walking distance of the office. The peace of mind from knowing that traffic, bus and train delays, car troubles, and most weather won’t ever keep me from getting to work on time, or home from work at the end of a long day, is… Read more »

BD
BD
5 years ago
Reply to  Johanna

I’m in the same situation. I don’t own a car, so when I did finally get a job, I moved into an apartment complex right next door to my job. I love the fact that it’s a five minute walk…it is totally worth the time saved to live next to work.
If I need to go get groceries or go other places, I take the train or bus.

LennStar
LennStar
5 years ago

Well, isnt that the time to throw this article to you ^^

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/10/06/the-true-cost-of-commuting/

Johanna
Johanna
5 years ago
Reply to  LennStar

I generally agree with about 90% of what Mr. Money Mustache has to say, but I also find his “If you’re not just like me, then you’re WRONG” attitude incredibly irritating. He and his flock remind me of some of the most obnoxious animal rights activists I used to hang around with back in my vegan days.

LennStar
LennStar
5 years ago
Reply to  Johanna

I think you take it too personally. He does it bc most people just dont get it if you say it the nice way.
And I personally like the punches 😀

Laura
Laura
5 years ago
Reply to  Johanna

I refer to him as “Mr. Many Must-Trash.” It’s more accurate, IMHO.

Jeff
Jeff
5 years ago
Reply to  Johanna

Not taking it personal, the man is simply a jerk. It is not an effective way to communicate for the majority of people, it only tends to work against those who are easily bullied. What’s more annoying are his acolytes who believe that somehow they can replicate his results without all of the conditions and resources that he had to start with. Then there was the hypocrisy of that article way back about them all flying to Ecuador to have their summit when it would have been far more frugal to have it somewhere in the US. This from a… Read more »

Jeanne
Jeanne
5 years ago

I live 2 hours door to door (each way) from work. It’s only about 35 miles (it’s 45 minutes into the city on the weekend). I take the commuter train, then the Metro. It takes about as long as driving would, and costs a bit more ($21/day), but is a lot better for my sanity. For about 10 years, I commuted 5 days a week to work, then worked 10 hours a day. That’s 14 hours a day away from my house. It was no biggy, sort of, because I loved my job. I still love my job, but now… Read more »

Zambian Lady
Zambian Lady
5 years ago

It takes me 25 minutes door-to-door to get to the office using public transport. The cost is EUR365 per day within the city limits of Vienna for unlimited trips. A monthly card is EUR48, so I am definitely saving quite a bit.

sarah
sarah
5 years ago

I absolutely despise commuting. Not so much because of the dollar cost but because my time is very valuable to me. If I have to spend it sitting in stop and go traffic, that’s even worse. I quit a higher paying job to take my current job specifically because I went from a 45 minute stuck-in-traffic drive home to a 2 minute drive (or 15 minute walk on nice days). Now instead of leaving home at 6:40, I can leave at 8:25, meaning I can spend the morning chasing chickens with my toddler, eating breakfast at the table, exercising, etc.… Read more »

Adrian
Adrian
5 years ago

I have been with the same company for 23 years, so I’ve done a LOT of commuting. When I worked downtown in the early days, I figure it cost me about an extra $100 a month in parking, shopping, and lunches. For the last 18 years I have been out by the airport. A bit further but free parking and mostly temptation free for shopping and lunches. I do get to work at home for 6-8 days a month and I really treasure those days. I do save money and have much more time on those days, though I will… Read more »

Big-D
Big-D
5 years ago

For me, the cost of commuting almost takes up the entire salary of the job. I love the job so I do it but that really was a cost/benefit ratio humdinger I had to sort through. The job is adjunct college professor, and the commute is 40 miles (an hour in the car) each way, twice a week. My other job more than makes up the salary loss so I am cool with it, but sometimes the 2 hours in the car wears at me (even though I love to drive long distances). The 8 hours working (and 20 minutes… Read more »

LeRainDrop
LeRainDrop
5 years ago

An article about the cost of commuting that doesn’t even mention the option of public transportation? Um, okay.

I live a few blocks from my office and can walk there in five minutes. I love it. There is nothing better than getting home so quickly at the end of a long day. To me, it’s not so much about saving dollar costs as it is about saving time. Having very long work hours makes my free time extremely valuable to me.

Colby
Colby
5 years ago

I commute 50 miles each way to work. It costs me about $0.10/mile in my 1998 Honda Civic. I’ve been doing this for 4 years. Lucky for me, I drive from out-of-town to a suburb for work so I drive 95% interstate and encounter no traffic. I feel that this reduces the stress of commuting. I live in the city for a few years where I commuted less than 15 miles, but the shorter commute was 10x more stressful than my current commute. Traffic plays a big role. Driving through a rural area with no traffic is rather peaceful, so… Read more »

mysticaltyger
mysticaltyger
5 years ago
Reply to  Colby

That .10 per mile cost of commuting can’t be right. There’s more to the cost of commuting than just gas. And even if you’re just including gas, that number still sounds too low.

Tara
Tara
5 years ago
Reply to  mysticaltyger

The IRS mileage rate is 56 cents a mile and takes into account gas, insurance wear and tear, etc.

Colby
Colby
5 years ago
Reply to  mysticaltyger

Annual Expenses:

Fuel (avg 35 mpg @ $2.50/gallon) – $1857
Repair and Maintenance (I do all work myself) – $1200
Insurance – $240
Taxes – $25

600 miles per week = 31,200 annually
3322 / 31200 = $0.10

I didn’t factor in the original purchase price of $2800 4 years ago or depreciation.

Jeff
Jeff
5 years ago
Reply to  Colby

30 minutes on average is what I’ll tolerate and that is what I have with light traffic either way. I could have lived much closer to my work but a decent one-bedroom apartment in that town costs as much as my 4-bedroom house and with the house I have a basement, yard, and 2-car garage as well. Plus we’d still have our cars because there are no apartments within walking distance of my office and she works in another town entirely. Often these “live real close to your work so you can walk” bits of advice only work if you… Read more »

Bill Peters
Bill Peters
5 years ago

I must commute by car, there is no other choice. But then I am provided a Company Car that I have access to 24/7/365. Including after work, vacations and weekends, all paid by my employer. Downside is that I may be on call 1 to 2 weekends per month. But am rarely called. And even if I am, I work by the billable hour as a MultiLine Field Claims Adjuster. In other careers I have used Public Transportation for Buses, Light Rail and Heavy Rail. $5.00 per day covers all hours and places it covers. Metro area is about 1.75… Read more »

Chelsea @ Broke Girl Gets Rich
Chelsea @ Broke Girl Gets Rich
5 years ago

Since I started working from home, I’ve found the time/mental savings to be the most valuable parts – the savings on gas & vehicle expenses are just a nice added bonus.

It may also have something to do with not having to show face or play office politics, but I feel so much more relaxed about my work/life balance now that I don’t have to spend 20-45 in traffic to/from work.

Carla
Carla
5 years ago

I work from home but my husband commutes to work via public transportation.

4 hours per day and about $1300 per year. The time wasted is way more than the cost. 20 hours per week on buses and the MAX is insane. He does read but that’s all you can really do on the bus.

In terms of other costs, he does walk about a mile to and from his last stop to his job. Its a nice, short walk but shoes, umbrellas etc cost as well.

Holly
Holly
5 years ago

Was thinking that we might need to factor health into the equation too! All my previous jobs were a 30 – 40 minute commute by train into the city. And every year without fail I would get at least one cold. Driving into the city was not an option as it would probably take double the time, due to traffic, as well as an obscene amount of money needed for parking. Now, I am driving 30 minutes (against the traffic) to a job with secure, free onsite parking. And I haven’t had a cold since. Those that bike would also… Read more »

leslie
leslie
5 years ago

I recently interviewed for a second part time job (I am primarily a stay at home mom that works part time at one job currently). This second job doesn’t pay a ton but it works out to be advantageous primarily because it is within walking distance of my house. Even if I never walked there, the time and expense to drive is insignificant. And, because it would take me 5 minutes or less to get there, it makes working the additional hours into my family schedule much more doable than a similar job that was even a 20 minute drive… Read more »

Marie
Marie
5 years ago

The prevalence of your field has a huge impact on commuting, and people rarely consider that aspect when choosing a career. A friend of mine entered a very specialized field, and met her husband during her graduate program. It wasn’t until they were married and looking to buy a home that they realized a long commute was inevitable for at least one of them: they were competing with each other for jobs that were scarce to begin with.

Jeff
Jeff
5 years ago
Reply to  Marie

In my field it’s not uncommon to get assigned to client sites for durations of a few months to a few years and these sites are never close to the home office. Within a certain distance you’re expected to drive there every day and while some co-workers who aren’t homeowners try to move to an apartment closer to the site it sometimes backfires when their assignment ends sooner than expected and now they’re far from the home office that they’re expected to report to again.

stellamarina
stellamarina
5 years ago

There is a whole other group of commuters that do not get mentioned here. That is airline pilots and flight attendants. Many of them have to travel across country by air just to get to work at their base city. There are pilots and flight attendants who live in Hawaii but are based out of LAX or Denver etc. That usually means traveling all night the night before just to get to work.

Kasia
Kasia
5 years ago

I’ve had a three hour round trip every day for the past three years. That’s fifteen hours per week of commuting on the train. Cost per week is about $150, and nope, driving would not be cheaper because parking in the city is expensive. I make the most of this time by reading and writing. Hopefully, I all be able to find something closer to home in the near future.

Carol
Carol
5 years ago

My commute: 13 steps down the stairs. I work at home. This allows me to drive a 14 year old car. Got it 12 years ago. It is not the end of the world if it doesn’t start cuz my job doesn’t depend on it. Except it does start cuz there is no wear and tear on it. I am 58 and never had a job farther than 5 minutes away. I lived my teen years on a secluded farm out in the sticks, but found jobs on other farms and a waitressing job at a resort 5 minutes away.… Read more »

carly
carly
5 years ago

I have a 40 mile round trip commute, and it’s not ideal. But there’s no public transit directly to my office, and my office is in a very expensive area. We would pay at least twice as much in property taxes, not to mention mortgage costs, if we lived closer. Living farther away enables my wife to stay home with our son instead of needing two salaries to pay the bills.

Ely
Ely
5 years ago

My employer reimburses my transit pass so my commute is essentially free. Co-workers who drive have parking paid for, so they save some money, but still have costs for gas and wear and tear.

Actually my commuting costs are a net benefit, because I can use the free transit pass for more than just work. Even the cost in time is not really a cost, as I use my commute for reading which I love and don’t do much otherwise.

We did choose our home based on transit options so we could avoid owning a second car.

Allyson
Allyson
5 years ago

Carpooling wasn’t mentioned in the article, nor was simply sucking up the commute for a while because things can change for the better. For the first 8 years of my career with the state, my drive to work was all of 4 miles, taking 10-15 minutes. By year 7, I was burned out in my current position and waiting for a position to open up in my current department so I could apply for it. When it finally opened up, it was two counties over from my home, requiring a 74-mile one-way commute. The new position was right up my… Read more »

Carol
Carol
5 years ago

Just mentioned this article to a friend. She works on the first floor of their two story home, her husband works in the finished basement. They always kid around that HIS commute is double that of HERS! Cute. :-)?

Ben
Ben
5 years ago

I have been commuting 140 miles a day round trip for two and a half years now. First reason was to be near family, second reason same house was 100k cheaper, third is it’s not permenant, waiting my turn to transfer to the city I live in. I get up at 4 am, leave at 5 and get home about 5:20. It’s a ling say but having very other Friday off makes it much more bearable. Dreaming of the day I have a 15 min commute, don’t need to fill up my tank every other day, and don’t spend 300… Read more »

Diva
Diva
5 years ago

I live in NYC and commute an hour each way from Queens to the World Trade Center. I get a monthly unlimited pass for the MTA system, which is deducted from my paycheck each month pre-tax by my company. I think it’s around $120 these days. I love mass transit but I wish I didn’t have such a long commute (and I’m aware that for many others the commute is even longer). My company was previously located in midtown, and my commute was an easy half hour, but doubled when we moved. The ONLY good thing about my commute is… Read more »

Papa Foxtrot
Papa Foxtrot
1 year ago

I always tell people cars are one of the most significant liabilities you will ever have. I walk to work and since it requires a significant amount of time I do not always have time to workout.

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