The Cost of Your Daily Commute – Is It Making You Broke?

CommuteAmerica is unique from the rest of the world in the sense that we associate driving with freedom. From speeding to the movies at sixteen, to road trips in college, to a comfortable family life in the suburbs, it is almost un-American to minimize your driving. Throughout the rest of the world, even the wealthy live close to work – commuting via train, bus, or bicycle.

But not in America! Staying true to our wild west, roaming cowboy heritage, we embrace the mobile lifestyle. From our first car, to our retirement motorhome, travel seems to be one of the foundational pillars of the American way.

Don’t get me wrong, spending money on travel is almost always worth it – as the adventures and stories last far longer than any material object. But a financial dilemma arises; not from the money you deliberately put into travel, but from the unknown cost associated with your daily commute.

Most people in the United States commute 15 to 90 minutes to work – each way, every day. If this is you, these following paragraphs may inspire you to make a few lifestyle changes.

Commuting Cost #1: Your Car

According to the IRS, every mile driven is worth $0.51. This amount includes fuel prices, regular wear-and-tear to your vehicle, and the cost of insurance and registration. Depending on where you live, you may be paying more or less than this amount. However, this government-approved mileage fee makes doing the math easy – because it implies that you pay just over $1 (roundtrip) for every mile that your house is from your office.

Therefore, a twenty mile commute costs you $20 every day. A forty mile commute racks up to $40 a day in car expenses. Multiply this dollar amount by 5 days a week, or 250 days a year, and the true cost of your commute becomes very apparent. That 20 mile commute costs $5,000 a year. Meanwhile, if you commute 40 miles each way, you’re spending $10,000 each and every year!

Commuting Cost #2: Your Time

Commute timeSadly, the cost associated with your vehicle isn’t half of it. Most people completely forget to incorporate their time into their commuting costs. Someone who drives 30 minutes each way loses 5 hours of time every week. Meanwhile, a 60 minute commute results in 10 hours of unproductive time each week – or an entire workweek every month. This 30 minute commute adds up to 250 hours every year, while the 60 minute commute sums to 500 hours a year.

If you take these numbers and multiply them by your hourly wage you can discover the true cost of your commute. Of course, you probably wouldn’t spend this extra commuting time working for your company, but it is still valuable time that could be spent with family, on hobbies, or doing freelance work on the side.

The Annual Cost of Your 20 Mile Commute – $11,250

If you make $25 an hour, your 20 mile, 30 minute commute costs you $11,250 a year.

So, before you take that job in the next town over, or decide to move your family out to the country, do some quick math to discover the costs associated with your new commute. It would be miserable to realize that your new job is resulting in less time at home, less money being saved, and more problems.

Do you consider your commuting costs when looking for a new job or home? What are you spending on your current commute? You may discover that you could save more by living closer to work – even if housing was $100 more a month.

What do you think? I would love to hear your input on this topic! Please share in the comments section below.

Photo Credit: here and here

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Rob is enthusiastic about everything related to money and investing. A financial analyst and instructor, he enjoys using what he’s learned from 10 years of studying business and money to help others achieve financial stability. He founded Money Nomad in 2014!

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  1. I figure if you can get your distance between you and work down to 10 miles one way than you can move to a bike and put that money into your wallet. Riding a bike is good excercise too, and no stress.

    I did a blog post on this recently, and came up with similar numbers


    1. That’s a great idea! If you spend your commute on bike, even if it takes longer, that time is going into making you healthier. Definitely a worthwhile goal! I will check out your post.

  2. Couldn’t agree more! We recently relocated from a metropolitan area to a smaller city for a promotion in my work. I was averaging about 30 minutes each way for my commute, while my wife’s was taking about ~50 minutes. The stress of traffic is one ‘cost’ that is hard to enumerate but certainly takes a toll on one’s quality of life. In our new city, my commute is on the order of 5 minutes, while my wife is working from home. Our collective stress level is greatly reduced, not to mention the fact that we’re only making 1/3 of the trips we used to take to the pump!

    1. Thanks for sharing Darren – the stress is something worth including. A long battle with traffic can make a difficult day even worse. Congrats on the move and I hope it makes life that much more enjoyable – for both you and your wife.

    1. The goal of the $0.51 is to include the cost of your car (assuming that you will be able to sell it for something when you move on). But you are right – the car payment can easily bump your annual costs significantly above the $5000 mark.

  3. We definitely took commuting costs into consideration when we moved recently. We were relocating for my boyfriend’s job, and I was adamant about getting an apartment nearby. He has a 10 minute commute now. If we didn’t visit my parents (3.5 hours away), we would probably get away with getting gas once or twice a month.

    1. I suppose visiting family is a worthwhile expense. 🙂 But a 10 minute commute is fantastic – just enough time to wind down. Thanks for commenting!

  4. When we were looking for our house in Chicago one of the criterias was to be close to public transportation, of course it’s a little easier in Chicago, we didn’t need to stretch our budget for the difference, but it certainly helped our decision to be close to public transport and at the time a highway for Mrs. Even Steven.

  5. Hi Rob!
    You basically wrote about my commute from Willits to Ukiah, CA. I had a little over 20 miles. I did the commute for about 6 yrs; except I paid $5k for my car. So, I depreciated several times the price of my Focus. 🙂

  6. I’m fortunate in that my commute is usually to the other side of my house. I have a 50% travel job, so I’m either working from my home office or am on a plane on the company’s dime. Once upon a time I commuted 55 miles a day — can’t say that I miss that. 🙂

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