Optimizing the Value of Your Commute

Kelly writes in:

For the first time in my life, I have a daily commute to work. I drive about 45 minutes each way to work each day of the week. According to my math, I’m going to be spending about $125 a month just on gas, let alone maintenance, upkeep, and so on. When I look at it that way, my new job isn’t as awesome as I thought it was! What can I do to trim that amount?

Here are ten things I would suggest for anyone who is seeking to optimize their commute and minimize the financial cost of it.

10 Ways to Minimize the Cost of Your Commute

1. Start (or join) a carpool

I wrote an article recently on how to start a carpool, but if you can find one that already exists, join that one instead. It not only reduces the number of days per week that you have to drive, it also allows you to use the more efficient HOV lanes during the commute.

2. Properly inflate your tires each month

Few things damage your gas mileage than poorly inflated tires. Think of a bicycle and how much extra effort you have to exert when your tire is even a little bit flat. The same is true for your car – it might be plenty inflated to make the trip, but if it’s even a bit under the recommended maximum level, your car is working harder to go the same distance, and that eats gas.

3. Find the optimum route

Unless the route to your job is incredibly straightforward, there are several different routes you could potentially take to your job. Spend some time to figure out the optimum route – the one that eats the least amount of gas, in other words. Use Google Maps to help you in this regard. Finding a more efficient route will simply shave transportation costs (and possibly time) off of your daily commute.

4. Identify the low-priced gas stations along your route

Take note of the gas stations available to you along the route and identify the ones that consistently have the best prices (if there is variance – usually, there is). Then, make that station (or stations) your regular stop to fill up your tank.

5. Use a “gas card” for that chain of stations

Once you’ve identified the inexpensive station, sign up for their gas card. Use it just for gas – nothing else – and pay the card off in full each month. The rewards on such cards are often quite nice and can add up to a free tank of gas every few months or so.

6. Examine public transportation options for all or part of your commute

Just because there isn’t a train straight from your home to your place of employment doesn’t mean public transportation isn’t an option. Perhaps you can drive to a nearby station and take a train/bus combination to your place of work. If there is a combination that can strongly reduce (or even eliminate) your commute, you should take it.

7. Use your A/C and heater less

Just use them to get your car to the right temperature then turn them off. You don’t need to leave them running during your entire commute – they just eat fuel. If you find the temperature getting uncomfortable again, just flip the A/C or heat back on.

8. Ask about subsidies at work for commuters

Some places of employment offer benefits for commuters, such as reimbursement for miles driven. Don’t be afraid to ask your human resources contact about it, just to see if it’s available. If it is, it’s cash in hand for you.

9. Leave a bit early to avoid the rush and to avoid the need to speed

In the morning, get in the swing of leaving a little bit earlier. This way, you can avoid speeding (which conserves gas and also helps to ensure you don’t get a ticket) and also potentially avoid the worst part of the rush hour traffic.

10. Look into telecommuting

If your job allows it (and the workplace allows it), consider telecommuting a day or two a week. Those are days where you’re not commuting at all, which means a nice net savings for you.

Beyond these tips (which are things you can do right now), I would suggest car shopping with fuel efficiency in mind when you go car shopping the next time. It’s okay to pay more for a more fuel-efficient car. For example, let’s say your commute is 40 miles each way, which totals up to 2,000 miles a month. Assuming gas is $3 a gallon, if you get a car that gets 20 miles to the gallon, you’ll be spending $300 a month on gas. On the other hand, if you buy a car that gets 40 miles to the gallon, you’ll only be spending $150 a month on gas. That’s a $150 savings each month, more than enough to make up for even a sizeable difference in car payments.

Good luck with your new job!

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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