The Cost of Commuting


April 14, 2017 • Latest, Madness • Views: 2016

There’s something wicked in how we think about money, isn’t there? I got charged 99.99 bucks a couple weeks ago for my New Yorker subscription. I threw a brief fit but decided the deal was worth it for a magazine I read every week. Meanwhile, I was jubilant when I convinced The New York Times to reduce my payment to $7.50/month for a newspaper I just don’t read all that often. For those that haven’t done the math, I was happy to pay $90/year for a newspaper I don’t read vs upset that I paid $99/year for a magazine I read every week. 1

Something wicked indeed.

Since October I’ve been commuting from Thousand Oaks to Los Angeles. Round trip that comes out to about 95 miles a day. Starting Monday I’ll be working at a store 1.8 miles away. You can read some more in depth angry yet charming analysis over at the MrMoneyMustache blog about the true cost of commuting, but that’s written by a smart guy talking to other people about how to live. This is by a dumb guy (me) confessing to ill financial choices and my many failed attempts to ratify them. So let’s get to it.

I drive a Ford Focus that gets around 36 miles per gallon. My commute is 95 miles 2. That means I drive around 475 miles/week which costs me roughly $40 in gas alone. $40 doesn’t seem like a terrible number. It essentially sounds like the cost of filling up your tank, which so many of us take for granted as a built in necessity for being alive.

But there’s something wicked in how we think about money isn’t there?

Take that 475 miles/week and that $40/week and stretch it out over a whole year. Now we’re talking $24,700 miles/year, or a little over $2,000/year.

And just in case that hasn’t hit you I’ll type it one more time: $2,000/year.

Things I could do with $2,000: Fly to Tanzania, nearly throw-up during a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, go on two safaris, backpack the Sierra for a month, or finally treat myself to that Batman costume I’ve always wanted.

That cost doesn’t include other costs. Maintenance, car payments, car insurance. Let’s add those up as well.

My car payment is $170/month3, and my car insurance is a wopping $190/month4.  Those costs come out to $2,040 and $2280/year respectively. Tack on around $300/year of maintenance costs and I’m spending as followed on simply driving to and from work:

  • $6,678/year
  • $556.5/month
  • $128.42/week

Or put another way: I pay as much to drive to work as I did to live in my old cabin in Highland Park.

But even THAT simple calculation isn’t even the proper way to calculate the cost of commuting. The IRS puts the cost at 53.5 cents/mile. This includes everything else I DIDN’T mention5. At 53.5 cents per miles that brings my new cost of commuting to:

  • $13,214.5/year.
  • $1,101/month
  • $254/week

In case you didn’t read my last post, I made $33,505.68 last year. Which means if I did this commute over an entire year I’d be spending 39% of my income on driving alone.

In spending an extra two hours in my car every day I’ve been blasting through audiobooks6. What I have not been doing is walking, hiking, riding my bike, eating as well as I could, getting sunshine7 8 These are much more difficult to measure.

But let’s try.

My new job is 1.8 miles from my house. That’s 3.6 miles/day, or 18 miles/week, or 936 miles per year. Estimated calories it takes to walk a mile: 100. You can do that math.

In the end the final math is this: I’d rather walk to work and drive to see friends and lovers.



I paid $240 to my car bill to bring me within $81 of it being paid off. I sent $123 over to my credit card to cover half the minimum. $99 went to the New Yorker. Another 60 to cover the costs of of Playstation plus account (an article for another day). And another $50 on top of that to pay for music9. And the day after doing my finances I drove to Arizona to scope out Prescott as a possible future living destinations. My conclusion? TBD

© 2017 Christopher Dart  // facebook // instagram

  1. Or near $200/year to read. Not included: books.
  2. Despite driving into Los Angeles, my odd hours mean that I mostly avoid traffic. The threat of an accident on the 5 is enough to make my palms sweaty.
  3. $81 left and it’s paid off.
  4. Cost went up when I moved 45 miles from home. Not unrelated: my license was suspended years ago because I received two fix-it tickets for a broken taillight and only “fixed” one of the tickets. Don’t fix a fix-it ticket for long enough and they suspend your license. Enough time has passed that according to the DMV I am officially a good driver again (yay!) and my insurance will drop.
  5. New car within four years, a new butt within two, better audio books, more and more music, sunglasses, yoga classes to untangle my long legs from the knot they get into after sitting for two hours, romantic partners (cause why not mention that here?), pants that don’t wrinkle, undershirts without pit stains, and other costs of being a human being who is trying to not fall apart while still holding on to some semblance of joie de vivre
  6. I’ve also become quite protective over my free time. The people I’ve been spending time with, the dates I’ve had, have all been with people I really value, or at least WANT to really value.
  7. Vitamin D!
  8. I generally seem to get a minor cold once a year. I’ve had three colds and one major flu in the six months since I began this commute. This is the most unscientific and unquantifiable part of this entire article, so you should probably just discard this entire last sentence.
  9. My ideas behind how we pay for art is an article for another day

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