Apartment Tips, Homeownership

The True Cost of Commuting: How to Calculate

July 31, 2018
calculate commuter costs before the move

Choosing where to move is undoubtedly one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in life. It could drastically affect things like your overall outlook and access to medical, education and leisure facilities. You’ll weigh the pros and cons of certain areas on your short list before reaching the ultimate conclusion. But did you find the true cost of commuting?

More than likely, you or someone in the household will go back and forth to work at least every weekday. That means you might want to measure all aspects of this expense well before you take the plunge. From the monetary to the mental, here’s what you’re really sacrificing with a long commute.


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People Spend More Than 100 Hours Commuting Per Year

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates commuting takes up more than 100 hours in the average American’s life each year. Sure, you can do things to make that time a bit more pleasant — such as listening to music, podcasts or foreign language learning materials — but that’s still a lot of time on the road.

When deciding where to move, think carefully about how far you’d live from work and whether you can do things to minimize commuting time and the expenses it brings. The true cost of commuting includes opportunity cost, so it’s important to allocate your time wisely.

driving to work

The Effect of Fuel Prices on Consumer Spending

If you want to calculate commuter costs before moving to a new place, this partially involves figuring out how many miles your car gets per gallon of gas. You’ll then be looking at fuel price trends. If your car is a gas guzzler and you might move to a place requiring a lengthy commute, buying a new — or at least new-to-you —automobile might be in order.

Historical statistics about rising gas prices indicate steep price hikes made Americans look for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars while doing away with larger vehicles, including trucks. Data also shows increased gas prices make people stop spending as much on non-essentials, such as dining out and shopping for pleasure.

true cost of commuting

So, consider that if your commuter costs are too high once you move somewhere new, you might feel so strapped for cash that you don’t get much enjoyment out of life. That’s especially true if you hadn’t factored the possibility of getting a fuel-efficient vehicle into your moving expenses.

Need a reminder of how to calculate your car’s gas mileage? Just divide the number of miles traveled by the number of gallons required to fill up your tank.

Carpooling Could Lower the Cost of Commuting

When researching potential relocation destinations, see if those places have established carpooling programs. If no local options exist, your future employer might have a company-wide program.

Data suggests if your commute is 12 miles or longer per day and you commute 250 or more days per year, the costs saved by carpooling could total $1,500.

A feature article about carpooling in the United Kingdom also revealed an unexpected benefit of the practice: making new friends. Getting to know people is particularly important when you settle into a new place. The individuals you meet could advise you on the best places to eat, socialize and spend time in nature. Plus, they might help you feel less lonely and overwhelmed while adjusting to your unfamiliar environs.

MIT researchers developed an algorithm that found carpooling could substantially reduce the burden on taxi drivers and their riders. Specifically, they realized 3,000 four-passenger cars would accommodate 98 percent of the taxi demand in New York City. Plus, the average waiting time for an empty taxi would become less than three minutes.

Don’t Forget About Alternative Transportation

true cost of commuting

The primary transportation expenses — such as fuel or taxi fares — must factor into the equation when you calculate commuter costs. Spend time learning about alternative transportation in the places you might move, too. If you’re thinking about buying a home in a major city instead of a small town, light rail networks, subway systems and bike paths could help you save more money than expected during your commute.

There’s also commuting by bicycle. One benefit of biking to work is it helps you stay active while traveling. That’s crucial, especially since long commutes adversely affect physical fitness and mental well-being. Biking, walking, jogging or even rollerblading could help you keep a good health-related balance.

Multiple studies show as commute times go up, so do blood sugar levels, amounts of stress, blood pressure and general unhappiness. Plus, people who spend long hours in the car are less likely to find the willpower to eat well and exercise compared with those who have shorter commutes.

Are you open to using public transportation and close to accepting a job offer in a new place? Ask your employer if workplace-sponsored programs exist that provide discounted travel passes or other incentives for embracing alternative transportation.

Some Costs Are Difficult to Calculate

It’s easy to use a commuting cost calculator that requires inputting information about fuel costs, gas mileage, miles driven per week, whether or not you share your ride and if you pay to park your car. However, other potential costs of a commute aren’t neatly expressed on a calculator’s interface. Take the impact of a long-distance commute on your family life, for example.

A study of households with five and six-year-old children in Germany — a country where the average commute length is 44 minutes each way — examined the emotional well-being of the youngsters concerning their dads’ commutes. It discovered when fathers had long commute times, their kids were more likely to have problems interacting with peers and exhibited more anti-social behaviors than children whose fathers commuted for shorter distances.

The True Cost of Commuting

You might consider moving to certain places because they have low crime rates, excellent school districts, leading medical facilities and fun entertainment. Those are all valid reasons.

But, you must also consider both the most evident and not-so-obvious costs of your commute. How might a lengthier-than-average drive be detrimental to your life and bank account? Carpooling and alternative transportation may help when long commutes are unavoidable.

commuting pinterest

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