Updated on 02.09.12

Carpool (39/365)

Trent Hamm

Yesterday, I wrote about how taking public transportation can save you money even if you just let a car sit in the driveway while taking the bus.

For quite a lot of us, though, public transportation isn’t an option. Even those who have a public transportation line near their home often find themselves without a place to depart that’s anywhere close to their place of work.

That leaves the door wide open to another option: carpooling. It’s one Sarah used for several years with great success.

Carpool (39/365)

When we moved to our current home, both Sarah and I had about a thirty minute commute to our respective jobs. The house we selected was pretty close to a midway point between our places of employment.

Both of us looked for coworkers who lived near us that we could carpool with to save money. I didn’t find one. Sarah did.

Sarah started carpooling with a much older fellow who was very close to retirement, and they carpooled together almost every day for the last two years of his working career.

After the first year, Sarah sat down and calculated how much money she saved due to carpooling. According to her best estimates, she saved about $1,200 a year.

Not only that, carpooling saved her time, too. She would spend a significant portion of most of the rides doing additional work, which would free her to spend more time with the family at home. Every other day, she could get an hour of work done that she would otherwise be doing at home.

That time would often result in better meals prepared at home, preparation of leftovers for lunch the following day, more effective creation of grocery lists, and other such little things that would save us additional money beyond mere carpooling.

If you can find three or four people to carpool with, even better. That reduces your driving time (and wear on your vehicle) even more and adds more “backup driver” redundancy to your carpool.

How much can this save you? It depends on how you calcuate this, but when you add up all of the little costs, every mile you drive costs you at least $0.50 in fuel, maintenance, wear and tear, depreciation, tolls, and other such factors. If you’re commuting 10 miles each way every day, for example, that’s $10 a day, whether you directly see it or not.

Carpooling spreads out that cost. If you’re carpooling with two other people, that cuts your annual commuting days down from 240 to 80 (approximately). If you’re commuting that ten mile stretch mentioned above, you’re saving $1,600 a year just by carpooling.

That can be an enormous savings. That’s half a year’s worth of car payments on a reliable used car.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Josh says:

    Yellow neon guy is not very happy about owning a red caravan either.

  2. Mister E says:

    Mr. Excitement is back and brought his very happy looking family with him.

  3. Julie says:

    I’ve had two experiences carpooling.

    The first one was in high school. A friend lived about 8 minutes away. I picked her up, and she gave me gas money. I didn’t like this because she lived in the opposite direction that I would take to school. I had to take a different way after picking her up, and it took longer. Sometimes she did not give me the amount of money we agreed upon. I was so happy when she finally got a car of her own.

    In college, my roommate and I had classes at the same times. We would take turns driving on class days. I liked this method more because we didn’t have to figure out how much to pay in gas, and it was a nice to get a break in driving. This seemed like a fair situation.

  4. Andrew says:

    Ex-yellow Neon guy is probably calculating the difference between what he saves by carpooling and what he spends by having the excess weight in his car, factoring in whether or not he steps on the gas while going uphill.

  5. I never found anyone to car pool with. I’m taking public transportation a couple of times a week though.

  6. Luke says:

    Some people will find the carpools save time if they can find something time saving to do during the ride. If you can’t do that, then carpooling is likely going to cost you time. I carpooled for a couple years and was often waiting for my carpool mates in the morning and evening. For me, the cost savings certainly made up for any lost time.

    Finding something productive to do during a car ride is hard if you’re prone to motion sickness, preventing you from doing much reading or writing.

  7. Andrew says:

    Carpooling only works if your day at work starts and ends at a predictable, consistent time and if your route doesn’t vary.

    If you leave at 5 on Monday, get stuck until 7:30 on Tuesday, go to night school or the gym on Wednesday, and oversleep on Thursday, you can’t expect anyone else to adjust to your schedule.

    I would guess that most salaried jobs are unfriendly to carpooling, particularly in an economy when many businesses are deliberately understaffed and each employee is expected to do more work than ever before.

  8. valleycat1 says:

    If you can make it work for you, great. Surprising how many people don’t even consider car pooling as a possible option, or reconsider when their circumstances/schedule changes.

  9. CNP76 says:

    What no one wants to carpool in a yellow Neon?

  10. Tracy says:

    Those expressions are priceless. Sometimes family is just *hard*.

  11. Angie says:

    da fawk is wrong with those people? lol.

    and the other comments regarding them thus far have been hilarious; I especially liked Mister E’s.

  12. Nick says:

    Do these people know they are being photographed and put on a website read by thousands?

    I’m so confused!

  13. Vanessa says:

    Don’t blame the people, blame the photographer.

  14. kc says:

    These are clearly not carpooling commuters, but Brittany’s family pressed into service for a quick photo. It just doesn’t work.

  15. Raya says:

    #3 Julie @ 2:20 pm February 9th, 2012

    I understand completely. The second example sounds really fair and optimized, while your high-school experience seems like something you did because you were uncomfortable saying “no”. And sometimes it IS hard to say no, esp. when you’re afraid you may come off as rude or selfish.

    #7 Andrew @ 2:51 pm February 9th, 2012

    I agree, absolutely. It’s so hard to organize a carpool when your schedule is chaotic.


    Also, I think that to have a fair carpool, there needs to be some rotation set about who drives and whose car is used.

    Oh, and let’s not forget how tough it could get when the person you pick up “forgets” to give you gas money or gives you less than what you agreed on. Once you’ve been picking them up for a while, and suddenly they start “forgetting” to pay, you can’t really get out of the situation without hurting the relationship or stressing over it.

  16. Annie says:

    I don’t enjoy carpooling, it takes away from my space while driving to work and back. I know that sounds strange but just giving a friend rides to work was annoying for me, she wants a different radio station, more heat, they want to talk when you don’t, eat in the car,etc… overall experience was not good. I love my drives to work solo with my choice of music and controlling the temperature to what i like and having peace and quiet. I know people that carpool that enjoy it and save money. I guess its not for everyone.

  17. Michael says:

    Someone needs to make an Unhappy Hipsters tumblr, except it’s just this guy.

  18. Jane says:

    We’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years on carpooling. My husband has carpooled to work 30 miles away for about ten years. He started once his company decided to move another 20 miles farther from where he lived. He found two co-workers who lived in the near vicinity of him. That meant he drove every three weeks. Since then one friend has dropped out of the carpool and moved closer to work. He still carpools with the other.

    They have had offers for others to join the carpool, but they have declined. This is mainly because a carpool is a delicate balance, and they don’t want to disrupt it. Now they have become good friends who know each other’s quirks. They go out to lunch together as well.

    Of course you have to have a pretty set schedule to do this. Sometimes my husband has to come home from work early because his carpool mate is sick. Other times he drives by himself because he has a doctor’s appointment. A few times he has had to stay at work longer because of the other guy’s meeting. But that’s a small price to pay to save so much gas and wear and tear on our car.

  19. getagrip says:

    Carpooling has worked for me in the past. Helped me in college though I had to be at school at 8 am and didn’t have class until 11 am, but used the time for work rather than sleeping or being bored.

    It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing consideration either. Once every other week or so my wife has to travel to a remote office and she generally carpools with some folks to do that.
    She likes it because she enjoys the company on the longer drive.

    We’ve carpooled for kids sport games and practices, scouts, etc. So many times folks just don’t consider it an option, even if only for a few times, being so used to driving yourself or yours. I think it’s worth considering in many aspects besides just work, particularly as gas prices keep climbing.

  20. Tom says:

    I think carpooling certainly saves a lot of gas money, and actually you pointed out something that must be great for the non-driving carpooling teacher – the ability to grade papers or get work done you might have otherwise stayed late to complete. I work with biohazards, so this really wouldn’t work for me, but its a good point nonetheless.
    I would like to point out that part of that $0.50 per mile figure from the government, or whatever source, includes insurance costs and depreciation, things that are likely unchanged if you drive 8,000 miles a year to work or 15,000 miles a year.

  21. Laundry Lady says:

    The one obvious choice this tip didn’t touch on is carpooling with a spouse (if it works for you, obviously). For a year and half after we were first married my husband and I only had one car. He would drop me off at college on his way to work. (I was still a full time student at the time and my college was on his route to work). I didn’t have a class that started before 7:30 AM and he worked for a bank and therefore kept banker’s hours. I was often finished with classes for the day before he was done with work, but that gave me time to study in the library rather than do all my work at home before he picked me up. There were annoying occasions where he had to go home and return for me if I had a late night class or meeting, but that was rare. It saved us a lot of time and money over the course of two years, plus we enjoyed spending time together on the commute. I realize this doesn’t work for everyone, but for us it was great.
    We actually missed this a few years later when we worked at the same company but kept such different hours that we couldn’t commute together.

  22. Raya says:

    #16 Annie @ 6:31 am February 10th, 2012

    Well said, Annie. It is not for everyone. Nothing wrong with wanting peace and quite and comfort your way.

    But I’d say, for those who CAN do it, do it. It helps overall traffic and it helps the environment.

  23. Lori says:

    When I started working for the state, I van pooled. This was an interesting situation as there were 3 women and 6 men on the van pool. The men, save one, all worked for DOT and were very opinionated. I am a moderate and would sleep on the drive down and back. The other women were liberals and there was always some sort of personality clash and bickering. It sucked. I had a MP3 player and headphones, so I would listen to music and sleep.
    A year and a half of this nonsense and my husband got a job with the state also. That was a God-send. We have carpooled together for 4 years now and it is HEAVEN. We really like each other and get along. THAT IS VERY IMPORTANT. For us, carpooling is a “date” as we have 6 kids and a very busy extracurricular life with sports and church (he coaches) and we have a farm. We catch up on each other or just sit and hold hands quietly. Sometimes I read him the news. It saves us about $2000.00 a year but the time together is priceless.

  24. Roberta says:

    Lori at #23 – that’s so sweet that your carpool time is date time!

  25. Rebecca says:

    I carpool with 4 other ladies as we all work in the same office & it’s a 23 mile one way trip. We live near each other, and meet at a central location. I hate it. The only thing I like is the part about saving gas money. One woman smokes cheap cigarettes (not in the car but before she gets in), and many times I arrive at work with a queasy stomach and a headache from the smell. When it’s her turn to drive, her vehicle smells like a rolling ashtray. The worst part is one of the ladies told her she could ride with us without asking, and now the three of us who dread each trip can’t figure out how to get out of this.

    If gas costs drop significantly, like well under $3/gallon, I’m going to just drive myself.

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