Managing commuting costs

by Broke Professional on March 9, 2012 · 9 comments

Marissa at Thirty-Six Months recently gave a breakdown of how much her commute is costing her. There’s no denying it—commuting is a killer expense. It’s something my family is all too familiar with.

For over 6 years, my husband commuted 80 miles round trip, every day, 5 days a week to his job. We entertained the idea of moving closer to his job but that would put me further away from my job, and even if we did move, the savings on gas would be negligible. So we opted to stay in our house and make adjustments to our budget to accommodate the increasing gas prices, increasing toll costs and the substantial maintenance to the car (commutes like that are brutal on a car). I don’t even want to go back and add up all that we spent on his commute during that time. I fear I might cry.

Given the circumstances of his job, we did the best we could. However, there are many ways to manage the cost of a commute:

  • Use public transportation. I did this for the first year that I worked (I was living in a different state). It was wonderful to not have to contend with traffic, to be able to read or nap, and it was substantially cheaper. Parking, gas, and maintenance would have cost me about $400 or a month. Taking the train cost me roughly $30 out of pocket (my employer gave a public transportation voucher every month, up to exceed $100). Even without the voucher, I would have saved $270. Not too bad.
  • Vanpools. My employer offers vanpool options for all employees. Since I live in a small state with few public transportation options, commuting from one county and to another is difficult for many people. So, vanpools are offered. An employee can sign up for one and the cost comes out of the employee’s paycheck. Because it’s a communal van, each member of the vanpool contributes the same and the cost is approximately $60 for the month. This covers maintenance and gas and the best part is that driving responsibilities are split among the members.
  • Carpools. My neighbor carpools with a co-worker. It’s a smart option especially if you live close to a co-worker and stand being around him or her for more than 5 minutes at a time. If you do this, I suggest you draw up a schedule for who drives when, how costs are split and what kind (and what type—text, phone call, email, etc) of notice you give the other in the event of an unplanned or planned day off.
  • Telecommuting. Many employers are now offering telecommuting options. If you can seize this opportunity, then do so as long as you know you can be productive at home. There’s no sense in getting into hot water at work to save a few dollars. If my husband had been permitted to telecommute, the difference would have been him filling up once per week instead of twice. That’s pretty significant.
  • Work an alternative schedule. If your work doesn’t have telecommuting, investigate whether or not you have the option of an alternative work schedule. For instance, where I work, people can work on a compressed schedule, fitting their required hours into 4 days per week, giving them a day off each week. There’s also the option of extending each day a little bit (1/2-one hour) and getting one day off every two weeks. You will still receive the same pay but that savings on gas once a week or once every two weeks may be worth it.

For many of us, commuting is unavoidable. I know I dream of the day my commute is walking from my bedroom to my home office. It’s cheap and efficient, which I like. But for now, I’ll just have to stick with managing my and my husband’s commutes as frugally as possible.

How do you save money on commuting costs?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dollar D @ The Dollar Disciple March 9, 2012 at 11:13 am

I work 7 miles away from my house so my costs are already fairly low.
But to cut them further, I work from home 2 days a week. Soon, I’m going to start riding my bike!

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2 Jana March 12, 2012 at 9:32 am

That’s a pretty sweet deal. My job does not allow me to telecommute but my husband’s does…it really is a huge money saver.

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3 Money Beagle March 9, 2012 at 11:35 am

I work only 2-3 miles from home so it’s a relatively pain free commute, but I did just put up a blog post this week discussing the virtues of riding my bike back and forth a couple of times a week once it warms up.

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4 Jana March 12, 2012 at 9:33 am

I admire people who ride their bike to work. I really do. Cars make me so nervous when I’m in a car that being around them while I’m only on a bike would freak me out.

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5 Robert @ The College Investor March 11, 2012 at 10:43 pm

This may sound counter-intuitive, but I take the toll road to save on gas. Taking the toll road cuts 13 miles off my trip. The toll is $2.00. Gas is $4.20/gallon, and I get 20 miles to the gallon. So, that 13 miles costs me $2.73. I save with the toll road!

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6 Jana March 12, 2012 at 9:35 am

This logic actually makes a lot of sense. It’s interesting, too, how paying a toll can save money. I never thought of it that way!

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7 Harri @ TotallyMoney March 16, 2012 at 10:50 am

Great to see so many people praising the virtues of the bike as a commute cost cutter!

Public transport in London is prohibitively expensive and you’d have to have a death wish to drive in the capital. Biking is definitely the way forward!

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