Credit card rewards, employer reimbursement and other commuter tips can help you save money.
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According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the average American spends the equivalent of two workdays per month commuting to and from work.
While that may not sound like an impressive statistic, that time can mean losing an average of $460 per month in potential earnings. When you factor in gas prices, ridesharing or public transit costs, your commute could end up costing you well over $600 per month.
How to save money on your commute
Commute times and gas prices may continue to raise the cost of your commute, but there are a few things you can do to help you save money and reap rewards from your daily drive to the office.
Get a gas credit card
Some credit cards offer rewards for gas purchases, with a few even giving cardholders 2x or 3x the points on gas. While the standard cash back savings on standard gas purchases isn’t astronomical, you can rack up a decent amount of rewards points you can use towards travel or your monthly credit card bill.
A lot of gas stations also offer co-branded rewards cards, which are another option if you tend fill your tank at the same gas station.
Employers in major urban areas have started offering pre-tax commuter benefit programs as a way to increase job satisfaction and retention. New York City, D.C. and cities in the San Francisco Bay area have even passed legislation requiring businesses with more than 20 employees to offer these benefits programs.
Employees can use pre-tax earnings in order to pay for commuting expenses up to a maximum of $260 per month. These commuter benefits programs can be used for mass transit expenses such as bus, train, subway or vanpool between your home and office. They do not cover expenses for your personal vehicle, but you can put aside pre-tax earnings to pay for parking in employer granted parking facilities at or near the business or at or near a mass transit rideshare lot.
Although 2018 tax law changes no longer allow employers to claim a business deduction for providing commuter benefits programs, employees can still use their pre-tax earnings to pay for qualifying commuter benefits.
Another way to save time and money on your commute is to ride with someone else and use the HOV lanes. Nineteen states have HOV lanes, which allow commuters with two or three occupants to bypass the regular highway lanes during peak commute times. Most have exceptions that allow single occupants in hybrid or electric vehicles to also use the HOV lanes. Ten states have recently made these lanes accessible to single occupancy vehicles for a price as High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. The price of the toll allowing single-occupancy vehicles to enter these lanes is a dynamic system that changes the price based on traffic conditions. Tolls typically range from $0.25 per mile to $4 per mile.
Map it out
Consider trying a new route to or from work. The way you have been driving may be the shortest and the fastest when there is no traffic, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better route during your commute times. A longer route with less traffic could mean less time wasted and less gas used on your daily drive to work.
Consider your car
Is your car helping or hurting your commuting costs? Hybrid and electric cars have the benefit of saving you money on gas and letting you travel in the HOV lanes. Take a look at how fuel efficient your vehicle is compared to others on the market. Big, heavy trucks and SUVs are generally less fuel efficient than smaller, lighter cars and SUVs, and that difference can add up to a significantly higher gas bill each year.
The type of gas your car takes can also leave you spending more on gas each year. The national average for regular gas is $2.86 per gallon. Medium octane gas is $3.154 per gallon, and premium gas is $3.406 per gallon. If you drive a car that needs premium gas, you are paying an extra $0.55 per gallon every time you fill up your tank. Over the course of the year, that could add up to almost $750.
Your car’s fuel efficiency also depends on how diligent you are about its maintenance. Sitting in traffic for long periods of time can be hard on your vehicle’s systems, so you want to make sure you get regular servicing on your vehicle. It’s also important not to delay routine maintenance services; it will end up costing you more in the long run.
For example, a routine oil change might cost around $73. When you delay the oil change, you can have damage in more parts of your car and end up with a bill closer to $3,500. Similarly, on-time brake service might cost around $300, but delaying your brake service can cause more damage and end up costing you over $1,200.
What you need to know about your commute
Distance, travel time and gas prices each impact your annual commuting costs. People living in major metropolitan areas have the longest commute times and higher average gas prices. So, they easily spend between $1,000 and $1,500 per year on gas.
Commute times and distances are a little lower in more suburban locations, and gas prices also tend to be a little lower there. Commuters save in an average of 10-20 minutes per day on the road and pay around $900 per year on gas towards their commute.
Although commute distances in rural areas are not much different than suburban and urban locations, the lack of heavy urban traffic allows them to save 20-30 minutes per day when compared to urban commuters. Gas prices also tend to be lowest in these states, meaning rural commuters may spend $700-$800 per year on gas for their commute.
Urban commuters, however, have a benefit that others in suburban and rural locations don’t have. While commuters who use mass transit options, such as subways and trains, generally have longer overall commute times, they save on commuting costs like gas, tolls, parking and car maintenance. Mass transit also gives workers the chance to do something productive with their time and get back some of the lost opportunity costs.
Urban commuters may also find that they have more options for ways they can save money on their commute through railway loyalty programs, commuter passes and more.
Workers outside of major urban areas are much more dependent upon their cars and can be more sensitive to changes in gas prices. Finding the right cash back credit card with extra rewards on gas purchases can be especially helpful.