Commuting: The Fool’s Way of Wasting Away Money and Life

17 Oct

commuting costsThe odds are that today you either already have, or are soon going to make a commute by car to work. For most people, that is just a normal thing. Driving to your job, school, or any other daily commitment is a normal thing that all Americans do. It’s just normal.

BUT WHY?

Do you realize what the average commute is? Depending on whose study you look at, it’s typically between 15 and 20 miles each way, and much more if you are talking about big cities. Time wise, that translates to between 25 and 40 minutes each way.

Lets think about that for a minute.

Just to get to work, the average American spends more than an hour in a metal machine, zipping around in hectic traffic, risking their lives behind the wheel. If you take the IRS mileage reimbursement rate of $0.555 per mile, and multiply it by 40 miles per day, that’s $22.20 PER DAY spent on driving to and from work.

Anyone else find this insane?

If you figure that you make that commute 200 times per year, that comes out to $4440 per year in commuting costs. For the average American, that is about 10% of their before tax income. Sure, you can drive cheaper than that if you try, but most Americans don’t, especially once you factor in insurance and interest on loans.

At an hour per day, 200 times per year, they are spending 200 hours behind the wheel. If you are awake 16 hours per day, that means that you spend about 3.5% of your total waking hours just getting to your job. 3.5% of your limited time on this planet is dedicated to mindlessly weaving through traffic full of other corporate drones, listening to horrible FM radio and drinking absurdly overpriced lattes.

Yep, those are the facts.

So, on average, Americans spend 10% of their before tax income and 3.5% of their waking hours driving to and from work in a steel contraption that statistically is fairly likely to kill or injure you at some point, while simultaneously dumping vast amounts of harmful chemicals into our eco-system.

The average American spends 10% of their before tax income getting to and from work. (<– Click to Tweet that)

“But I have to make that commute! I live far away for (insert horrible reasoning here).”

The fact is, there is virtually no excuse in the book that you can make that will make any sort of sense.

You own a house that is far away from your dream job? Well then move.

Housing is more expensive closer to work? I highly doubt it’s THAT much more expensive. Housing would have to be hundreds of dollars per month cheaper to justify it. And that is before you factor in the time.

You don’t want to live that close to where you work and/or your fellow employees? Then you need to seriously analyze your life and make some big changes ASAP.

You drive used cars that get good gas mileage, so it’s cheaper for you? News flash, it still costs a lot of money, still pollutes, still is dangerous, and still, most importantly, wastes away hours of your life.

And while there is always that 1% of the population that has legitimate excuses for that kind of commute, the rest of us need to make some changes.

1. Live closer to your job/school/whatever. This is absolutely critical. Unless living far away means you can make a million dollars per year more and retire after two quick years, commuting by car to work simply isn’t worth it. Moving within a mile or two is ideal, and what you should definitely do if you are wanting to achieve financial independence or just live a happier life in general. After all, when was the last time you actually enjoyed yourself while commuting?

2. Find another way to commute. If you accomplish the first step, this is easy. Walk or ride a bike. That makes it free, or at least very cheap. And the exercise is good for you, which is probably the biggest benefit of all. If you still don’t live close enough, look into public transportation. You’ll be safer, responsible for way less pollution, and save a ton of money by utilizing public transportation when it’s available.

3. If you have to drive, minimize costs. This starts with what you’re driving. Don’t drive a new, financed car just to make your commute less painful. Studies have shown that beyond the first two weeks of ownership, the age of a car has no discernible effect on your happiness while driving it, which makes perfect sense. When the car is first new, it’s very exciting. But a few weeks later the excitement has worn off and you’re stuck in the same traffic. Not to mention the fact that a car loses a huge chunk of it’s value the second you drive it off the lot. Oh, and loans suck. Buying a compact, used car that gets good gas mileage will allow you to stretch your transportation dollar as far as possible.

Sound like a rough life? It really isn’t. Not at all in fact. When I was searching for apartments, I had quite a few options in my price range. Some were slightly bigger, newer, or cheaper than others, as you’ve no doubt experienced in your own searches for housing. However, the factor that ended up weighing in the most was the proximity to my school. I ended up in a place that is only two blocks from campus, and it’s on the same side as the business building. I work from a home office, so I thankfully didn’t have to worry about that.

This place ended up costing me thirty or so more dollars per month than some other places I could have been just as happy in. However, those places were at least five miles of in-town-driving from campus. I would have had to drive to campus at least half a dozen times per week instead of walking, like I do now, for free. I drive a used Honda Civic, but my cost per mile is still probably in the range of $0.25 per mile, if not more. Using that number, driving 60 miles per week just to school and back, that would be $15 per week, or $60 per month in driving expenses. And that doesn’t include the time I would be wasting behind the wheel, turning into the average lazy consumer of modern America. Being further from campus would have meant I would be even further from the opportunities around campus, as well as the social scene. In short, living closer was a total no-brainer.

So why do Americans waste away their precious time and money operating a dangerous machine that pollutes the earth? Because that is what is expected of the average middle-class corporate-world citizen. But that line of BS isn’t for me, and it shouldn’t be for you either.

11 Responses to “Commuting: The Fool’s Way of Wasting Away Money and Life”

  1. Sean @ One Smart Dollar October 17, 2012 at 7:07 am #

    Both my wife and I work from home so it is nice that we don;t need to spend the money on gas or put the miles on the cars. We even save money on our car insurance because we keep the miles below 7,000 per year usually. Most businesses could also save a lot of money on overhead costs if they allowed employees to work from home. They would just need to make sure they have the right employees so productivity wouldn’t drop.

    • James October 17, 2012 at 9:33 am #

      Yeah working from home is definitely the ultimate way to save money on transportation. The savings are unreal when compared to a long commute.

  2. Matt Greco (aka UglyBigNoseMatt) October 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    Like you mention in the article I highly doubt this would work for MOST normal people. Most normal people are already settled down with a girlfriend or wife, they have a job and an apartment or house they may have put a lot of money down for. Not to mention the hassle of moving. This article is nice for someone like me who is young and unencumbered by a woman, but I highly doubt most people could do this.

    I also hate the idea of everyone doing this, because it increases the population in our urban centers even further (where most jobs are), and further increases the control system’s hold over us. We need to be spread out for other reasons than simply cost and time, namely exercise of freedom. Then again, it is inevitable that we will all live in cities within the next 50 years, so your article will come true.

    The true answer is employers wake up and use the internet and allow people to work from home! Which your little article did not mention once, hmm.

    Final note, personally, the ideal for me would be to live in the country away from most people and use internet to “get” to work. Now that’s MY solution. Less people, less commute, more land, less government, and work flows where it is needed. Problem solved.

    • James October 17, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

      I totally agree with you on the working from home front, it is definitely the way to go when possible, like Sean and I discussed above.
      I absolutely hated the idea of living downtown in a big city until I did it, and now I actually kind of enjoy it. I definitely don’t plan on doing it long term, but for now it’s really nice to be so close to the resources here and all of the things happening on a regular basis.

  3. Canadian Budget Binder October 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    I commute to work but it takes me 15 minutes which is pretty darn good. If we had bought a house in the east end of our city the commute would have been almost 40 minutes. Isn’t that crazy. Depending on where you move in the city and where you work can make a big difference even if your commute is a short one. I know people that commute to Toronto every day from over an hour away. I don’t know the reasoning but for most it’s likely because it’s a job, it’s good money-more than they would make in their own city, for the experience. Many factors I guess but either way time and petrol costs big time. MR.CBB

  4. MomofTwoPreciousGirls October 20, 2012 at 5:00 am #

    This is just not reality for most people. I live in Georgia, and prior to moving here I invested 15 years in the financial services industry (fully licensed an such). I’m married with two small children who will enter school starting next fall. The financial jobs are all in the Atlanta/Buckhead area. Buckhead is a very nice hip urban area, but the average employee cannot afford to live there. Then you could go to Atlanta, but crime rates are high and the schools suck. Sadly regardless which side you live on here, since most jobs are in Atlanta and most commute, 15 miles from any direction takes an hour of travel each way! We live 20 miles north, in an area with affordable homes and excellent schools. We work flex hours to avoid traffic which lessens the commute time.

    The trains are only located in the heart of the city so that s not an option.

    To carpool you need people from the same area working in the same area with similar hours, which s tough to find. Also hard for parents, because if my kids get sick I have to rush to pick them up…if I’m not driving I would be stranded or I would be stranding someone else.

    These are great ideals, just not necessarily attainable for most.

    • James October 20, 2012 at 10:20 am #

      You’re right, for the average person it isn’t doable. But if you want to live a fuller, happier, more financially sound life, then living close to where you work is a must. Driving an overly expensive polluting hunk of metal through crazy traffic from day to day is no way to live life.

  5. Nancy Jones November 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    I am a computer tech and my husband is a maintenance supervisor, so our jobs are hands-on, and our commutes are about 30 miles each way. We know that there are options that may save money but there are quality-of-life issues that make the commute costs worth it. We live on a huge tract –50-some acres– of woodland, fields and pastureland. We don’t intend to be full-time farmers, and we enjoy our work. But we garden, hunt, and raise a little bit of livestock. We drive paid-for Toyota trucks, shop insurance, and don’t hire out what we can do ourselves–which is quite a lot. Additionally, we use the commute time to listen to books and podcasts that entertain and educate us. There is no area close to our workplaces that could provide the lifestyle that is important to us, and we live in a very small town with very little industry. Because of the money we save growing so much of our food, and the lessons we are able to teach our children, we are okay with the dollars the commutes cost us, but if we had a boatload of debt, things would undoubtedly look very different.

  6. Osman March 2, 2013 at 7:04 am #

    It is cheaper to commute than to rent a place near work/school.

    Try renting an apartment in London. Will cost minimum £100 a week. On the other hand, commuting (via public transport) costs £40 weekly.

    • James March 2, 2013 at 8:57 am #

      It totally depends on where you live, but in most places it is far cheaper to live closer, especially once you factor in the time spent commuting. Would you be able to rent a place outside London for less than 60? Unless it was a lot less, that trade off would not be worthwhile.

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