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WOHMs: How much does your commute cost you?

Categories: Career, The Juggle, Working? Living?


gas.JPGI was re-doing our budget for the umpteenth time the other night when I noticed that we spend more on gas right now than we do on food.

Once I stopped hyperventilating, I did the math again. And again. With gas hovering around $4 a gallon, my 80-mile round-trip commute costs me about $15 a day. My husband makes the same trip (at different times), which means that we pay about $150 a week just for gas for both of us to get to work. Our food budget, for our family of seven, is about $100 a week.

Insert expletive here.

I clip coupons, I buy in bulk, I cook from scratch, I only grocery shop for perishables and to replenish the pantry, I combine errands to save on gas. There has got to be another way to save gas and/or money (and/or my sanity).

Flextime. Telecommuting. Teleworking. The holy grails of the working mom, the mighty tools of work-life balance — now they’re fiscally and environmentally responsible, too!

If my company enouraged teleworking, employees wouldn’t be the only ones reaping the benefits of a more flexible schedule and the ability to work from home. The company itself would benefit, because employee loyalty would skyrocket. According to a September 2007 survey by WorldatWork, flextime is even more important to employees than paid vacation time — and teleworking has been shown to increase productivity and positive competition while reducing stress and absenteeism. My immediate supervisors would benefit, too — instead of spending two-and-a-half to three hours a day commuting to and from the office, I’d spend that time getting more work done for them.

People used to apply for jobs based on how much a commute they could stand, not how much their commute could cost — I know my husband and I were thinking about time and not money when we decided to move 40 miles outside the city. As early as 2006, when gas prices hit $3 a gallon after Hurricane Katrina, the Society for Human Resource Management found that “offering telecommuting options is among the top five approaches being used by companies to help employees deal with gas prices.” And in a recent article in Computer World, Mark Wilson, a managing consultant at Delta Initiative LLC in Chicago, pointed out that some companies are starting to consider the length of a job candidate’s commute in a hiring decision, believing that a long and expensive commute could eventually wear on employees. “Our clients believe attrition is very connected to the amount of miles [employees] have to drive to work,” said Wilson.

Until gas prices start dropping — which isn’t going to be anytime soon — I need a solution. One that doesn’t involve drilling anywhere, or purchasing a hybrid or concocting a frybrid or dusting off my ancient bike. One that doesn’t involve subsidies (though those are always nice), one that would decrease my stress levels along with my gas consumption. One that would work for almost any employee almost anywhere.

Have you done the math? How much is your commute costing you?

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19 comments so far...

  • Gas is officially over $4 here, and I have a 60-mile daily round-trip commute. That doesn’t account for time sitting in traffic, burning gas and not moving.

    A coworker recently moved to my suburb, and we carpool some days - it helps, but we both have personal obligations that mean it’s not an every-day option.

    My employer recently put the technology in place to make telecommuting possible, but it’s not often a reasonable option for my particular job.

    It’s getting nuts. And Lylah, I know just what you mean about considering the cost of commuting literally now - in money, as opposed to time. I’m afraid to calculate just how much money, though.

    Florinda  |  May 29th, 2008 at 12:07 pm

  • Lylah, I am totally in your boat. Right now I’m working through a temp agency, and the commute is very similar to yours. My husband’s is just a little less, and we work on opposite sides of things, at different times.

    I’m seriously wondering if the added pay I’m getting is worth the driving expense, but I can’t say anything to my husband, because Lord only knows we need the two incomes, even with the higher gas costs. I’m looking for ways to cut corners more, but something has to give.

    Kelly O  |  May 29th, 2008 at 12:58 pm

  • So how in the heck do you feed a family of 7 on $100 per week? I spend at LEAST $150 per week for my family of three, granted buying organic. That’s not even including restaurants, don’t get me started.

    As to your actual point, I have maintained for years that the solution to commuter driven global warming is tax incentives to businesses to allow employees, who can, to telecommute. There is simply no reason most office employees actually need to be in the office with the technology available. I truly beleive that the right tax incentives here would solve most congestion problems.

    jlauren  |  May 29th, 2008 at 1:45 pm

  • Florinda: Oh, I didn’t even think about the burning-gas-and-not-moving part of it. Hyperventilation PLUS heart palpitations…

    Kelly O: I’ve been trying to cut corners more, too, but can’t figure out what else to cut. You can’t cut the high-speed internet if you need it to do your job, you know?

    jlauren: I buy milk and eggs and produce weekly, but everything else is to replenish the stuff I use out of my pantry, with the occasional mega trip to Costco factored in. We have a medium-size garden, too, so I can and freeze a lot of that. If I had to build my pantry from scratch, though, I’d be spending waaaaay more than $100 a week!

    Lylah  |  May 29th, 2008 at 2:10 pm

  • I’m spending about $15/day, as well, when I add it up - and I’m allowed to telecommute one day per week.

    Could I telecommute more? Yes, I think I could. The boss has not approved that, though.

    My husband’s commute isn’t that bad - and he isn’t in a position that would allow telecommuting, so we are thankful he isn’t driving a long distance.

    I would love to see more office workers work from their home office, maybe coming into the office one day/week to meet and “dock” at small work stations.

    RC  |  May 29th, 2008 at 2:21 pm

  • Less than $150/month. I spend $75/month for an unlimited public transit pass, about $40/month to park at the train station, and about $20/month on gas to drive to the station. I don’t know what I would do without public transit. I don’t enjoy standing on the train for a couple of hours each day, but it’s cheap and I get to spend that time reading novels. Flextime and telecommuting are not options for me in my current job . . . maybe one day!

    Nancy  |  May 29th, 2008 at 3:50 pm

  • Lylah — I feel your pain! The cheapest gas I’ve found here is $3.99. I have three kids that I need to drive to school (2 different schools), then on to work…. Then do it all over again in the evening. And my kids just don’t seem to understand why once we get home, I want to stay home! Gas and food run about even in my house - becoming less affordable each day. I am blessed that my second job can be done from home. I won’t lie though — some days I have more anxiety than I can handle!

    BlapherMJ  |  May 29th, 2008 at 3:52 pm

  • Looks like it’s a trend! I just saw this Reuters story:

    Lylah  |  May 29th, 2008 at 7:00 pm

  • After being taken completely off guard with salary changes, we had to take a good hard look at our budget. Our house has been on the market for over a year because the cost of commuting is killing us. So we knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. Almost $2K a month on commuting costs! Seriously. That’s gas, tolls and public transportation. Every month. Gas is right about $1300 of that. Sure, if there were jobs closer to home that would be an option, but when there’s not and you’ve gotta make that drive every day, it kinda makes you sick to think about it. It’s so sad and depressing and to hear so many others in the same boat! While that makes me feel less alone, it makes me feel so bad for the people in this situation!

    Kim  |  May 30th, 2008 at 9:17 am

  • I am fortunate that I work from home. However, my husband drives about 100 miles per day. We also live WAY out in the country so going anywhere the miles add up fast! We actually spend more on gas than on our mortgage!! We do get to write off my husband’s miles (he is self-employed) so that helps at tax time… but it still comes out of our pockets each time we fill up!

    Heather  |  May 30th, 2008 at 11:08 am

  • I have always done the math on my commutes.

    I learned years 7 years ago, while in college, cars ain’t what they’re cracked up to be.

    I crunched the numbers and totalled gas, car payments, parking and insurance. I then put that number up against the cost of living within a bicycle commute of my work.

    I currently live downtown. My job is a mile away. Sure, I’m single so I can ride the bus to errands and be fine. But if I wasn’t, then I have also crunched the numbers to live within a bicycle commute and have a safe, reliable used car for weekend and errand use.

    By myself, I save over $10,000 a year over living 15 miles away in the suburbs. With a car right outside of the center of the city, still living within limits and a bicycle commute I save around $5,000 in the same suburbs.

    Stop the sprawl. Less expensive, it is not. Safer? A neighborhood inside the city can be just as safe, it’s all about action. And growing up in the suburbs, I know that drugs and gangs are much more rampant out there. Boredom is an evil thing.

    TroyJMorris  |  June 5th, 2008 at 6:30 pm

  • Hello Ladies
    new here, and I think I’m going to like it. I work from home and have 2 small children (9 and 3). I have a ‘gas guzzling suv’ that I love and gas is (as of my fill up today….)$4.59 (the ‘cheap stuff’). MY husband drives about 30 miles but he is a firefighter so that’s not every single day but still, you can no longer ‘not’ factor gas and traffic time into your commute any longer. I hate to say it but I fear it will only get worse. My company is european based and working from home, I have found, is more the ‘norm’ than not - for which I am truly greatful; I have a 4 year old car with 25K miles on it if that’s any indication that I really don’t go far!!!!

    However….our grocery bill is over $1100 a month - I want more info on Llyah’s miracle budget for THAT!!! Thanks Ladies - just had to chime in, I feel the pain at the pump - and the groceries…(Bread is over $4.00 a loaf for pitty sake)


    Marie  |  June 5th, 2008 at 11:24 pm

  • I work at a state prison that is located in the middle of the desert. I have a commute that is 163 miles round trip. I guess that is the current record here. I was driving in to work until gas went up to 3.61 and then I got on a van pool. It was costing me approx 600/mo. The van pool just went up to 240.00/mo. My wife’s commute is 30 miles round trip. She is spending approx 150.00/mo. The van pool has really helped our gas cost.

    James  |  June 10th, 2008 at 12:19 pm

  • I work as a rural carrier at the post office, rural meaning I deliver mail out of my own personal vehicle. while they do reimburse me for the miles that I drive on my route(40 miles)… I still have 60 miles round trip not covered and thats 6 days a week!!!Gas is killing me. Recently divorced with 3 kids and i’ve reworked my budget 4 times in for months.Groceries, don’t even get me started on that.(LOL) we planted a garden just for fresh veggies without the fresh “pinch” from the store

    Charity  |  June 10th, 2008 at 3:09 pm

  • I can’t afford health care because of my commute. I drive 90 miles round trip 5 days a week and it is killing me. I don’t own a SUV or have kids. I am just an average person wanting to be able to pay my bills and not have to choose between my health and eating. I will have do something but there are very limited jobs where I live so it is very hard. Let’s keep our fingers crossed we will recieve relief, even if it is just a little.

    Lis  |  June 11th, 2008 at 10:54 am

  • I am presently looking at re-entering the “paid” workforce after being a stay-at-home mom, raising two successful young adults. I gave my all and am very proud of how well they turned out. However, no matter how much volunteer work I did, for whom I did it, with whom I did it, and what skills I have, it is still difficult to come up with a paying job that will put a positive spin on the income level. By the time I pay for taxes, doggy day care, and the cost of commuting, I am coming up with a negative entry in my check book. I never thought that it would be the price of gasoline that would be making my re-entry into the workforce even more challenging.

    lynn powers  |  June 12th, 2008 at 4:21 pm

  • Yip, it’s a fact. The price of gas is not going to drop anytime soon. I’ve taken to been more organized when it comes to my family life. I find if I schedule all the kids activities well in advance, I can cut my driving costs. By being in contact with other parents whose kids share the same activities as mine, we carpool more. To make things easier for us we’re using to arrange the carpools. It’s fantastic.

    MickS  |  June 17th, 2008 at 2:23 pm

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