Friday, December 11, 2015

The Cost of Commuting (Or How I Try to Justify My Commute): Part I

Let me just start with this: I would LOVE LOVE LOVE it if I didn't have a commute. I would love it like a glass of water after a trek across a desert. I would love it more than The Donald loves the spotlight.

Despite working for a non-profit that I feel valued and motivated at, in a position that challenges and excites me, occasionally I still find myself when scrolling through job postings just to see if there is anything in my zip code (there never is- so to my boss, if you're reading this, don't worry I'm not going anywhere!).

So what's the deal with commuting anyway? It's a big time waster for me - and can start the day on a really bad note if you get stuck in traffic and are commuting, as some of us northerners do, through bad snow/ice. I've been thinking a lot about the cost of commuting and recently stumbled upon this helpful calculator to do the trick.

This is no fancy website, but the calculator does the job- it takes your daily commute miles, your type of car, mile per gallon, days you work a month, and helps you look up the daily price of gas. It also can factor in other associated commuting costs, such as parking, or even more basic, the cost of your car payment.

For me it broke down this way:

24 miles round trip commute

2012 Kia Soul: 27 miles a gallon

20 days a month

Avg gas price: 2.20 (in the past month)
No parking/No car payment
As a result my monthly commuting costs are $231.59 and my yearly costs are $2,779.08! I was astounded that I pay that much just to get TO and FROM my job. One note on my KIA, I get about $150 in gift cards from Kia every year, due to error they made when initially advertising the miles per gallon on the vehicle, which were advertised as much higher than it actually gets. As a result for every mile, Kia reimburses me the difference ( This would take my yearly commuting cost down to $2,629.08, but it is still WAAAAAAY higher than I would like it to be!

I started to play around with the calculator and found if I worked from home, just one day a week, my monthly cost would go down to $173.68 and yearly $2,084.28- a savings of almost $700 just for working only 4 days a week. So even a small change could make a BIG difference (food for thought when looking for jobs, or navigating work from home or 4 day work weeks). BTW, these numbers do not take into consideration Mr. FRUGAL ROCK's financial cost of commuting. While his commute is shorter than mine, and doesn't involve highway miles, would like put our yearly commute #'s at 4,000+. It makes my stomach hurt just thinking about!

Cost aside- there is also the environmental impact. Stanford uses this calculator to encourage students and faculty to find alternative ways to get to their campus (bus, bike, etc) and allows you to tally your carbon emissions from your commute. This was even more startling than the financial cost. With my mileage, I am putting 17 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions into the air EVERY DAY, 345 lbs a month, and 4,143 lbs a year! While there are still some out there that deny the toll we are taking on our environment- you, discerning reader, are probably not in that camp- but if you are on the fence, feel free to check out the latest news on climate change...

So why did I choose to buy a house where I HAVE to commute? Why do I subject myself of 1 hour of my day in traffic (yes, 1/24th of my time behind the wheel, shaking angry fists at other drivers!). It's not a decision that I'm thrilled with. The problem for me and Mr. Frugal Rock has been necessity. We chose to buy a home, in a good neighborhood, in the middle of our respective commutes. So instead of one of us walking to work, and one commuting an hour- we split the difference an each have about 20-30 minutes to commute. We adore our neighborhood, a small post-world war two neighborhood with a bike trail running through, just outside of our big city limits, for ease of going to cultural events, and more diverse than other area 'suburbs'. It encourages us to get outside, meet our neighbors, and be physically fit. It's much smaller than other friends' homes who have moved outside of the city or who have embraced larger mortgage payments.

What's a frugal person to do?

Instead I've been looking for ways to reduce my carbon footprint/spending/time waste associated with commuting. Busing, for some, is an option. Most transit systems will allow you to put in a starting address and an ending address into a transit mapping system and calculates your quickest route and what buses to take. My city's transit system is, unfortunately, worlds behind most major metro areas. Just to get to work would triple my commute time and need multiple bus transfers. Not exactly the best option for me, despite that it would be my preferred option (reading a book during my commute puts me into ecstasy just thinking about it).

I recently began looking at biking as an option to my workplace. Using I was able to select cycling as an option and with my starting/ending locations entered it was able to determine the best and (hopefully) safest route to and from work for me. While the cycling route is longer than my drive commute, I can take 2 different trails and avoid most road ways. The total mileage is about 14 miles one way, which should take me about an hour. Initially, I thought that was too long, but after checking some forums, seems potentially an average bike commute. As I mentioned committing to cycling to and from, even one day a week, could have a major financial impact. Unfortunately for me, winter is upon us, and it's probably the worst time to commit to commuting by cycle- at least in my cold weather state! I'm also not sure my fitness level is at the point it needs to be to cycle 28 miles a day, but it's definite goal for me to work towards and HOPEFULLY can also help reduce my spending on commuting costs come 2016. Consider it an early new years resolution to up my fitness and work towards becoming a cycling commuter!

But what about those of us who need to deal with the evils of commuting? How can you reduce costs if you must drive to and from work? How can you start and end your work day positively, when you may find yourself stressed or stuck in traffic? Check back next week to continue looking at commuting - and see if there is a positive side!

Leave a comment! Have you looked at the cost of your commute? Have you ever consider alternative transportation to get to and from your job? What are the barriers/positives for you?

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