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10 Extreme Ideas to Cut the Cost of Commuting to Work

By Pat S

car commute blurHow much is your commute costing you? If you’re like most Americans, the amount is probably way too much.

According to ABC News, the average American worker lives 16 miles away from work, and with gas prices rising (currently at around $4 per gallon), your commuting budget is going to start running on fumes. For a normal 40-hour, five-day work week, and with a modern average of 20 MPG, rough math reveals that you’ll spend around $1,600 per year on fuel alone.

And that’s a conservative estimate. As the miles add up, your auto car insurance and maintenance costs will rise more quickly. You’ll need to have preventive maintenance performed more frequently, and your car’s value will depreciate at a faster rate.

Though it’s expensive, having a car and dealing with a commute seems like too much of a “given” in life. Most people don’t consider alternatives. But don’t ignore your options; you can dramatically slash your commuting costs.

Check out these ten extreme tips to cut the cost of your commute, ordered from most extreme (requiring the biggest lifestyle changes) to least disruptive. You’ll be surprised how easy it can be to accommodate some major changes and big savings.

Just Go

1. Move

If you love your job but hate your commute, you may want to consider moving. Living closer to your workplace can dramatically slash the cost of transit. If you can find something within walking distance, you can eliminate the expense completely.

  • It’s not a crazy idea: If you rent your home, then you have the flexibility to find an apartment for rent and try a new place to live, especially if you feel like you have a good level of job security.
  • But it’s extreme: If you own your primary residence, on the other hand, this may be both cost prohibitive and, in this real estate market, extremely difficult. Plus, high moving costs usually mean it’ll be a while before you start noticing a positive change in your bank account. However, you may be eligible for some tax deductible job relocation moving expenses.

2. Find a New Job

If you’re spending your life and your bottom dollar commuting to a job that you hate or you could find something closer to home, quitting for greener pastures is another extreme change you can make.

  • It’s not a crazy idea: If you own a home and have highly portable job skills, this option may be for you. Like moving, changing jobs can save you a great deal of money in commuting costs (without dealing with the hassle of expensive moving costs).
  • But it’s extreme: Though your trip to work is tough, finding a new job can be a lot tougher. Don’t quit because of a commute until you have something else lined up.

Just Stay

3. Work from Home

Believe it or not, many companies are sensitive to the rising cost of commuting, and you can take advantage of programs like flexible hours and the option to work from the comfort of your own home office.

  • It’s not a crazy idea: Even if you need to be in the office most days, your employer may be willing to compromise. Working from home just two days per week can cut your commuting costs by 40% per year.
  • But it’s extreme: Know your audience. If your company has a track record of turning down requests for flexible schedules, or if you know that your supervisor isn’t comfortable with the idea, don’t risk your reputation by bringing it up.

4. Work Longer Days

Working four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour days can save you 20% per year in commuting costs, with the added benefit of three-day weekends.

  • It’s not a crazy idea: Many employers have adopted the “9/80″ schedule, in which staff members work two full weeks in nine business days. For a few more hours a day, you’ll get an extra day off every other week. With a smart schedule, companies can cut internal expenses and save you money without losing an ounce of productivity.
  • But it’s extreme: Obviously this only works if you can make the required arrangements with your employer. Don’t fall in the trap of thinking you can go home early some Fridays just because you worked extra hours earlier in the week.

Change Your Method

5. Bike to Work

Riding your bike to work can save you a great deal of money, and you’ll also get your workout routine in for the day without spending on an expensive gym membership.

  • It’s not a crazy idea: As communities become more bike-friendly, it’s getting a lot easier to find protected bike lanes and safe routes to work, and many office buildings have secure bike parking.
  • But it’s extreme: Hot weather and rain can easily ruin your day, so don’t rely on this plan for 100% savings.

6. Take Mass Transit

If you are fortunate enough to live in a city or town with a well-designed public transportation system, this alternative is a great way to save some money. Not only can you cut commuting costs, but taking mass transit allows you to maximize your commute time to work (e.g. enjoy a cup of coffee and the newspaper while someone else drives you to work). Who wouldn’t love a personal chauffeur?

  • It’s not a crazy idea: Lots of people do it, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and trains and buses are usually faster and cheaper than driving. Plus, you can usually arrange for pre-tax contributions to a transit spending account.
  • But it’s extreme: Fare increases will eventually take their toll on your budget, and you won’t always be in control of your travel schedule. A stopped train or transit emergency can cause a major delay that will catch you by surprise.

7. Carpool

If you’re not interested in very drastic change, consider carpooling. It’s an easy and effective choice that usually only requires a bit of coordination among some colleagues at work.

  • It’s not a crazy idea: Carpooling lets you use HOV lanes, which can drastically cut commuting time in many cities.
  • But it’s extreme: If you feel like you’re picking up the slack when your coworkers are sick or on vacation, just wait until you’re depending on them for a ride. It’s tough to rely on others for your daily commute.

Auto Shop

8. Join a Flex Car Program

Some cities and towns offer flex car arrangements (e.g. Zipcar), which let you share cars with other local participants.

  • It’s not a crazy idea: With the flex car alternative, you can cut maintenance, insurance, and sometimes even gas costs from your regular budget.
  • But it’s extreme: A flex car service is too expensive for everyday use. It’ll only cut your budget if you commute just a few days per week, or if you pair it with another one of the tips on this list.

9. Buy a More Fuel-Efficient Vehicle

If you don’t want to make any significant changes, but wouldn’t mind saving a little bit of money in gas expenses annually, think about investing in one of the most fuel efficient cars.

  • It’s not a crazy idea: A new car comes with a high initial expense, but if you’re in the market for one, look for the most efficient models and you’ll save plenty over the next few years.
  • But it’s extreme: Your commute might be taking its toll on you, but if a new car doesn’t fit your budget, go back and find a more practical tip.

10. Changes Your Driving Habits

Do you love your job, your house, your car, and your lifestyle? You can still save a little bit on your commute without making any drastic changes. Just incorporate some small changes in your driving technique and car care.

First, buy a tire gauge (the Accutire MS-4021B Standard Digital Tire Gauge is a good option). Properly inflating your tires can increase efficiency by up to 5%. When you’re on the road, drive the speed limit, avoid carrying access weight, coast down hills, don’t gun the engine after every red light, and pay attention to regular automotive maintenance. You’ll find that while these little changes won’t save your budget, you’ll slowly cut a few dollars here and there from your usual transit expenses.

  • It’s not a crazy idea: These are practical tips that everyone should incorporate. You don’t have to spend any money to operate your own car a little more efficiently.
  • It’s not too extreme: In this case, there’s nothing extreme, but it’s a challenge to change driving habits that you’ve had for years. Pick one change at a time and ease into it. Before you know it, you’ll be a naturally smarter driver who saves plenty of cash.

Final Word

For many of us, commuting to work is one of our largest recurring costs. The good news is that there are numerous ways to cut the annual expense of your commute down to a more manageable level. Some of these suggestions might be too extreme for you, and others might not make enough of a dent in your budget to bother with. Find your comfort zone, and pick a combination of these ideas, and you’ll be amazed at how much you can save.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to cut commuting costs? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments below!

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Pat S
Pat S is an active duty military officer. On his off time he enjoys working out, reading, writing and spending time with his dog. Pat became interested in personal finance after several costly mistakes early in his military career that could have been avoided by a basic understanding of personal finance.

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  • http://www.savings.com/blog/blog.html Amy Saves

    Working from home is the best! Nowadays, it seems most companies are open to the idea. As long as you work in the office for a majority of the week, asking your boss about telecommuting is not a bad idea.

  • not given

    We live exactly 16 miles from where DH goes to work.
    Most of those would only work in big cities. Even the carpool thing wouldn’t work, the only other guy that lives near here is the CEO and he works different, more regular, hours than my husband.
    The only one that might be feasible for us would be to buy an extra, small used car with really good mileage. If we found one that got 30mpg it would save close to $1000 a year in gas at today’s price. Maybe $1400 if gas goes up to $5. How cheap of a car would we need to find to come out ahead if he retires in 7-8 years?
    Maybe a motorcycle would be better, at least during good weather. A 60 yo riding a bicycle 16 miles to work and 16 miles back in the evening on a state highway, I just can’t see it. In the winter, even during good weather he’s leaving home before dawn and getting back after sundown, too dangerous. He’s complaining about the idiots out on the road in the morning already. Also, too much wear and tear on the old guy’s body as it is.
    Our house is paid off, no way would we be able to sell it and buy something comparable in the other town, also we would have to drive farther to shop or do almost everything but watch TV. The job has really good security and really good benefits, pension and insurance, that we’re counting on for our retirement years, plus he really likes working there.

  • http://financiallyconsumed.com/wordpress/ Hunter

    These are great ideas and , with the exception of moving, I don’t think they are all that extreme.

    Along with the wasted energy, a commute taxes your nervous energy, which is no good for on the job performance.

    Bicycling to work is an awesome way to go. It builds healthier communities in so many ways.

    To most people these are extreme ideas, because we have grown up with the car, and access to cheap energy. Te energy part is rapidly changing, and people are slow to change their ways. Changing social opinion is really tough due to thought inertia.

    Thanks.

  • Amber

    I am a big advocate of some of these suggestions. Especially carsharing, mass transit and biking! And don’t forget walking! The point is that not one of them works alone. You have to be flexible and constantly thinking of how you can do your day more efficiently. I do not own a car but I never miss having one because I have Zipcar. But as you said, Zipcar is expensive, so for close-in trips to the grocery store or errands, I can bike.

  • http://www.compoundingreturns.com Pat S

    Thanks for all of the feedback, everyone! I’m glad to see that taking some of these steps are at the forefront in some of our thought processes. Commuting is a sneaky and significant expense, and I think it’s primarily because people take it as a given. I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess. I live about a mile from where I’m stationed in the military.

  • Hope

    Great article Pat- Commuting is expensive and it’s also stressful! I’m reading “The Happiness Hypothesis” and Haidt mentions that a long commute makes people get to work with their stress hormones high from transit. This past summer I took the bus every morning and not only did I save gas money (had a free bus pass), I also always arrived on time and read the paper on the way. It was actually a relaxing way to start and end the day.

  • Joe

    For many yrs I used to live in North Jersey and commute by train and sometimes bus to work in NYC, I used to enjoy doing it mostly b/c it was way cheaper and much more convenient than say, drive to work in Manhattan every day, (yikes)!

    I also enjoyed the part where I’d get off the train at Penn Station and walk 10-15 min. to work each way and get my work out that way…

    Than my company decided to move to a cheaper location out West and it was the end of it for most of us as public transit isn’t readily available there yet.

  • http://www.4autoinsurancequote.com/ James Shaffer

    Use a motorcycle or scooter. You can find small ones for a few grand, and the gas will make up for the insurance several times over. I full week’s worth of commuting costs me about 12 bucks in gas, and that’s using a Harley. If you have to drive a CAR, check out 4autoinsurancequote for insurance. It’s only $25/month and can definitely help you save at least some money. Every little bit helps, right?

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