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The Cost of a Long Distance Commute

Have you every considered taking a long distance commute for a better job or to live where you want? If so, exactly how much would that long distance commute cost?

Have you every considered a long distance commute to take a better job or to live where you want? If so, exactly how much would that long distance commute cost?

Believe it or not, I have occasionally pondered moving further away from my job to be closer to friends. I am crazy enough to consider it; hopefully sane enough not to do it.

When I do think about a long distance commute, reality sets in. The move would mean trading a 10 mile commute for a 90 mile haul each way to work.

There are lots of reasons to avoid a long commute: the stress of traffic, rising gas prices, the environmental impact, not to mention the lost hours of your life.

Yet so many people put up with it for a higher-paying job, to live in more rural areas, to find cheaper housing, or to be closer to family and friends.

Why Am I Considering a Long Distance Commute?

I have considered it because in the last year every one of my close friends has moved out of my area, leaving me alone with my job.

And, while I once had roommates, I now live alone, spending too much on rent for space I don’t need.

Even with the calculations below, I could break even financially by lengthening my commute. What I can’t yet find, however, is a way to justify the lost time.

It seems to me that unless you are going the distance for a very high-paying job, long distance commuting is not a rational decision. Why?

The Cost of a 3 Hour Daily Commute

Consider a 3-hour, 180-mile round trip commute done for 255 days a year. This is five days a week for forty-nine weeks; I subtracted three weeks for vacation and holidays.

This commute would mean you would drive 45,900 miles a year. Consider that the distance once around the entire earth is 24,900 miles.

Also consider that at this rate, you will probably go through a car every four years. Assuming an average car cost of $15,000, the commute will cost you $312.50 a month just to cover the car.

The cost of gas for this commute, assuming $3 a gallon and a car getting 25 mpg, would be $5,508 a year or $459 a month.

Since you’ll be driving more than 3,000 miles a month, you’ll need at least an oil change a month. Tack on $20. Keep in mind maintenance costs will be much more over the long-run.

From a purely financial point of view, this commute will cost $791.50 a month; $9,498 a year.

In my opinion, however, the money is hardly the worst of it.

Environmental Impact

Consider this: According to carbon offset broker TerraPass, a 2005 Toyota Camry driving 50,000 miles a year will emit 33,728 lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon offset passes for the year would add $159.90 to your annual commuting cost.

Time Wasted

Last, not least, is the time: Your time. This commute, roughly 3 hours a day, means you will spend 735 hours a year in the car. That, my friends, is 30.625 days. One month.

One month out of every year in your car.

Assuming you kept your job and your commute for 24 years, you would spend 2 years of your life just driving to and from work.

We will always have internal conflicts when where we want to work and where we want to live are not in the same place. Many people call long distance commuters crazy, yet some of those long distance commuters would call people paying million dollar mortgages to live in a city or shopping-mall-studded suburb equally crazy.

In an ideal world we would be able to choose where we want to live and find a local job that we enjoy and that will make ends meet. Someday I hope to.

Until then I will continue sacrificing my location for my career – or perhaps wasting my time and money driving around in circles in attempt to get a little bit of both.

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. Can you take public transportation? Then you can use the commuting time for something more productive (like blogging ;) ) and save the wear and tear on your car. It’s still a lot of time during the day, though. I personally would probably look for a smaller place to live, hopefully saving money on rent, and would try to be efficient during the week so I could hang out with my friends on weekends.

  2. Unfortunately public transit is out — the commute would be from a small city to an office building in the burbs.

    I did a long commute one summer for an internship that involved a 20 minute drive, hour commuter train ride into Boston and a ten minute walk, and I wouldn’t think twice about doing that again if my job allowed.

    The time on the train wasn’t nearly as bad as driving, as you can read, write, or sleep! Plus it’s not as bad financially or environmentally.

    I think I will end up taking your advice — scaling down my living space a bit and being super efficient during the week to free up my weekends.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

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