Less rubber on the road equals more money in the pocket

The Cost of Commuting

by Steven Burns

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The morning ritual to work has you stopping to buy a cappuccino, mocha, coffee, or something with caffeine in it. You could do without this expense, but we won't discuss that now. The bigger expense is the one you're sitting in, waiting for the person to make that morning drink. You know, I'm talking about the car or truck that you're sitting in that is idling, burning money, as you wait.

The average commuter drives 16 miles to work, each way. That's between one to three gallons of gas a day, depending on what you drive. Right now, where I live, at nearly four dollars a gallon, it adds up quick. If you work fifty weeks a year and consume two gallons of gas a day, you spend $2,000 a year on fuel commuting to work. There has to be a way to cut the cost of commuting, and there is.

Some offices allow their employees to work different schedules. If your office is one of these, take advantage of it. Working nine-hour days and getting every other Friday off saves you $200 a year. Working ten-hour days and getting every Friday off saves you $400 a year.

What about carpooling to work? It was popular in the 80s, but in today's world, we claim our lives have become too hectic or make up some lame excuse. Most of our hectic lives we have brought on ourselves. Take a hard look at what you do each day, along with where you drive. If you were like me, I found ways to reduce my hectic life. Adjusting your schedule and/or lifestyle, even one day a week, to allow you to carpool will save you money.

If you live in a place that has mass transit, and it is accessible, use it. Most cities provide a monthly pass and some even provide yearly passes at a discount. Where I live, a monthly pass is $30. It may sound like a lot, but remember that you get to use it for something other than commuting to work. Some companies even subsidize their employees for using mass transit, which means you would be riding at a reduced cost or free.

When I organized my life, I figured out I could bike to work. There was an upfront cost (buying cargo bags to carry my change of clothes and lunchbox), but the savings quickly paid for them. My commute is 7.2 miles round trip and I save around $200 a year. This year, it's going to be close to $250. I ride by a gas station each day and know how much I'm saving. There are even incentives for employers to compensate their employees to ride their bikes to work. My office provides up to $20 per month subsidy for bike maintenance, provided you bike to work more than 50% of each month to work.

When I said I saved $200, it was only in gas. What about the cost of maintenance and general wear and tear of a vehicle versus a bicycle? There was an article in our local newspaper that stated a car that gets 20 MPG costs 59 cents per mile to operate. This compares to a bicycle at 3 cents per mile. If these figures are correct, and I rode 1000 miles to work this year, then my real savings was $590. Of course, there was a side benefit of burning 500 calories a day. I didn't lose any weight, but I didn't show any extra either.

The ultimate in savings is walking or running to work. Of course, this requires you living fairly close to work and a place to shower when you get there. One person in our office lives a mile away and walks to work, no matter what the weather. The other option that lands in this category is telecommuting. If you don't have to go to the office to get work done, don't. Make sure the boss is okay with it first, along with knowing you can be productive at home.

Like all offices, ours has those on each extreme. One person has ridden his bike to work every day, including through snow and ice, for the last ten years. Another person lives four blocks from the office, drives a gas-guzzler to work, and complains about gas prices.

No matter what your level of change, you will save something. The first step is to organize your life, or stop making excuses of why you can't. How much you save is up to you.

Updated February 2013

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