With ever-expanding suburbs and a difficult job market, long commutes are becoming a normal part of American life. Although long commutes aren’t uncommon, they are costly in numerous ways that should be considered before accepting a distant job, getting that house an hour from work or deciding to live off-base.
Why We Commute
According to a Census study in 2009, the commute time of the average American was over 25 minutes, with those in larger cities fairing far worse. So why is it that so many Americans are choosing to live far from where they work or vice versa? It seems to boil down to higher wages and cheaper housing, but the realities of higher transportation costs can cancel the savings.
Although it seems you should always go with the job that pays a little more or the house that costs a little less, driving an extra five to ten miles a day can add up quickly and stick with you for years.
The annual review of transportation costs by the IRS revealed that each mile traveled costs the average vehicle owner about 55 cents. You may think this runs on the high side, but even if you figure each mile only costing 40 cents, someone traveling 20 miles to work is still spending $16 per day on their transportation.
Even at this conservative estimate you’re spending 4,000 a year driving to work, meaning the costs of driving should definitely factor into a decision to take a job far away from home, especially if the pay increase is small.
Money isn’t the only cost of a long commute. Time is a big expenditure that we tend to gloss over. There are a host of other things, from spending time with your family to working out that you could be doing with the additional time that will make you happier than sitting in traffic.
Even though 30 minutes may not seem like a long commute, consider that you’d lose almost a full 24 hours every month and about 250 hours a year. All spent in the car, just on your way to work.
Although the numbers do suggest that living closer to work can save time and money, there are a lot of ways people exaggerate the benefits or get tricked into scams to avoid a commute at all. The biggest misconception is that living closer to work will result in less time in the car and more time working for a wage.
While this seems like an obvious statement at first, remember that just because you’re spending less time getting to work doesn’t mean you’ll be able to work longer if you are paid salary or aren’t offered overtime. Chances are, no matter how long your commute, you’ll put in 8 paid hours just like everyone else.
People live farther away from work for a host of reasons, and sometimes it really is worth a longer commute to be closer to family or have access to better public schools. That said, the few moments it takes to calculate how much more you’ll spend driving that extra twenty minutes each way can help you make a thrifty decision about your next residence or job offer.
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