13 Sneaky Costs of Commuting
Even in the digital age, some companies and some jobs require employees to be physically present. Companies might need you on site, or they simply value face-to-face time.
If your company is open to remote work, though, consider requesting that option. Or, you might even search for a job that explicitly allows you to work remotely.
Why? Because it could save you money. A lot of money.
Transportation costs money, of course, but you may not realize just how much commuting really costs. And it’s not just about gas prices.
Here are 13 of the sneakiest costs of commuting.
You Can’t Work in Your Jammies
When you work at home, you have a do-it-all wardrobe. Maybe it’s what you rolled out of bed in.
When you commute to an office, though, there’s generally a dress code that leads you to your local store or online retailer for an upgrade. You may even have a recurring dry cleaning bill.
Are things business casual? Great, but that still requires button-up shirts and nice slacks or jeans (if your office permits denim). It gets quite a bit pricier if more formal business attire is essential.
According to Business News Daily, 35 percent of workers spend $250 to $749 per year on their wardrobes, and 5 percent spend $1,000 to $2,000 a year.
Caring for the Kiddos
Kids are downright expensive. I know, because I have two wallet drainers myself.
But I work from home and my wife is a stay-at-home mom, so we save on daycare. If I were a single dad and working from home, I could probably still pull off getting all my work done while the kids are home, so daycare would likely remain an unnecessary luxury I’d pass on.
If you commute, well, that’s a different story.
You’ve got to secure a care solution for the kids, be it a babysitter or a daycare provider. Both can be expensive, as a babysitter for two kiddos on Care.com runs from $10 to $25 per hour and full-time daycare runs about $384 a week for two kids in my area.
If you work 40 hours a week and have a 25-minute commute each way, you’ll need the sitter for 44.2 hours a week or 191.4 hours a month. That comes to a grand total of $1,914 to $4,785 a month. Even the cheaper option, which is daycare, will set you back $1,664 a month. You can also go with a full-time nanny, which Care.com estimates at $615 per week or $2,665 a month.
No matter what way you slice it, that’s a serious draw on anyone’s paycheck.
Furry Kids Need Love, Too
It’s not just human kids who need care while you’re at work. Your dogs need some human help, too.
So, why does your dog need a caretaker when you’re at work? Well, can you “hold it” for eight to 10 hours? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be pleasant. What makes you think Fido enjoys it?
According to CareerBuilder, those who pay to have a caretaker stop by and relieve Fido spend less than $10 a week on it. Let’s be conservative and say that’s $5 a week. That would be more than $20 a month, or about $260 a year.
Also note that 33 percent of respondents said they spend $10 to $25 a week, so this can vary.
Time Is Money
Working from home means my commute is from my bedroom to my office – it’s an agonizing 20 feet or so.
But when you head to an office, you’ll waste a lot of time in the car. Time is money, folks.
Conservatively, someone working from home can make $15 an hour. If you’re stuck in the car for 20 minutes to and from work, you’re looking at 3.3 hours of time wasted per week and 14.4 hours per month. At our conservative estimate, you’re losing out on more than $200 a month by not working remotely. And the gap grows if you have a marketable work-from-home talent that can earn you even more per hour.
Then there’s the dreaded traffic. If you consistently hit traffic, the potential earnings you miss out on skyrocket.
It’s About More Than Just Fuel
You already know that you must feed that beast you saddle up and ride to work every day. But did you consider all the other costs associated with that machine?
Cars are filled with many moving parts, and they require a lot of care to stay running. Then there’s also the general wearable items, like air filters, fuel filters, tires and brakes. So, how much will all this cost? Let’s see.
In 2018, the IRS allows businesses to deduct 54.5 cents per business mile driven to cover fuel, maintenance and repairs. Let’s say you have a car with a fuel economy rating of 25 miles per gallon combined. The average regular fuel prices at the time of this writing are $2.65 per gallon, so that means 10.6 cents ($2.65 per gallon/25 mpg) of that 54.5 cents is for fuel. This means the IRS assumes you’ll spend 43.9 cents in maintenance and repairs for every single mile you drive. Talk about tossing money out the window!
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average American’s one-way commute is 15 miles, so we’ll double that to 30 miles. That’s 650 miles per month, which would be worth $285.35, according to our 43.9-cent estimate.
Replacing a Dying Car
The aforementioned 43.9 cents per mile you set aside for your car is purely for maintenance and repairs. So what if you need a replacement?
Sometimes a car is beyond repair or just too far gone to ever hold up to a 30-mile-a-day commute. It’s time to take that old buggy behind the shop and put it out of its misery.
But now you need a new car.
OK, if you planned this replacement, then you likely have a few grand saved up. If not, well, you’re going to learn a quick lesson in the importance of planning.
Either way, there’s a good chance you’re going to need to finance a car to get something that’ll hold up to your daily commute. Let’s say you stick to the lower end of the price spectrum and get an $18,000 new car, and you have $2,500 for a down payment. Financing this $15,500 balance at 5 percent interest for 60 months would put you at $293 per month.
The (Higher) Costs of Car Insurance
Every month you religiously pay your car insurance, and it generally stays the same. But one month it suddenly jumps by $50.
The insurance company noticed your commute is longer than normal and put you in a higher-risk category. Sure, you can adjust your policy in an attempt to reduce your monthly premium, but that could cost you big later.
If you cut that commute, generally the only way your insurance will go up significantly is if you smash your car. Otherwise, you should only see small increases each renewal period.
Taking a Toll on Your Wallet
So, we’ve got fuel, maintenance and insurance all covered.
We’re good, right?
Nope, not even close. You’re forgetting about tolls. Not every route will have them, but you need to count these quiet wallet drainers if you encounter them regularly.
Sometimes, alternate routes exist around toll roads, but these may be longer in mileage or riddled with traffic that will cost you more time or money than just paying the toll. At my last commuter job, I had two options: pay a $1.50 toll and drive 23 miles in 25 minutes or avoid the toll and travel 67 miles in 1 hour and 25 minutes.
My math and sanity saw the toll road as the better route.
It’s hard to say just what the average toll is per commuter, as there isn’t much reliable research in this area, but let’s just use my situation as an example. So, if I commuted five days a week at $3 per day, I would shell out $15 a week or more than $60 a month.
The Toll on Your Health
While this isn’t necessarily a monetary thing, it is the biggest cost of all: your life. Commuting is terrible for your health in many ways.
A study by the University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas found blood sugar rises in those who commute more than 10 miles each direction. As we all know, high blood sugar can lead to diabetes, which costs thousands each year to maintain.
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine also found that the same 10-mile commute can result in higher cholesterol. And cholesterol levels indicate? Heart disease. That’s reason enough to stop the daily commute.
These health issues, as well as things like lower back pain and decreased cardiovascular fitness, can cost you thousands per year to maintain.
You’ve Gotta Eat
When you wake in the morning for your commute, are you making and bringing lunch every day? I did, but my amazing wife handled packing it for me.
If I was single, I’d just hit a burger joint and shell out a few bucks. According to a 2015 study by Visa, the average American spent more than $11 every time they ate out for lunch, whereas making their own costs just $6.30 a day.
That’s a cost difference of $4.70 per day. If you eat out every day, it could cost you $23.50 a week or $101.83 a month.
If you work from home, there’s no reason to get in your car and drive to get lunch, except on certain occasions.
The Limitations of Public Transportation
So, you’re going as green as you possibly can and trying to avoid the stress of driving by taking public transportation? Great idea. But it’s not a fix-all solution.
First of all, Time magazine notes that a 30-minute commute on a bus results in some of the lowest levels of life satisfaction and happiness. I could see this being a major drag – especially in large, crowded cities. Also, not every city has an effective public transportation network.
In addition to that, a CareerBuilder survey notes that 47 percent of public transit commuters spend at least $25 a week on fares.
That’s $108 a month tossed into that finicky bill taker that never takes my bills! Arrrgh!
Need a Pick-Me-Up?
Most offices these days provide coffee, but some stingy workplaces do not.
Actually, a surprising number must not, as 49 percent of respondents to CareerBuilder’s survey said they buy coffee during the work week. Of those, the majority spend less than $10 a week.
We’ll again be conservative and say you spend $5 a week on java. That’s more than $20 a month, or $260 a year. At home, you can pick up a can of cheapo coffee and spend just 2 to 3 cents per cup.
And if you’re feeling fancy, you can pick up some Starbucks ground coffee and still pay just 20 cents per cup.
Things That Just Pop Up
We can predict tons of commuting costs, but random things will pop up that no one can accurately envision.
Got a sudden case of the munchies? There’s $3 on chips and a drink. Just can’t resist those strawberry vendors on the side of the road? There’s $15 on a flat of strawberries. Forgot your charger and your phone’s almost dead? There’s another $10 on a new car charger. And so on.
Your Mileage May Vary
When you add all this, it could end up being more than $30,000 drained from your pay just for commuting to a job every day. Now this, of course, goes well beyond just driving. So, your mileage may vary depending on your situation.
For example, if you have a family member who can watch the kids or maybe your kids are already in school and don’t need a sitter, you can trim from this estimate. If you buy an electric car, you can offset some of the costs associated with maintaining a gasoline-fueled car. Keep in mind, though, you’ll eat up some of those savings with a higher car payment.
Alternatively, you can dig in and find an amazing remote job, and leave the commuter world altogether.