6 ways to cut car commuting costs
6 ways to cut car commuting costs

You work to earn a paycheck. So why spend more than you have to on your daily commute to and from the office?

The cost of gas, insurance, car maintenance and other auto-related expenses can eat into your weekly take-home pay.

Fortunately, there are ways to trim those transportation bills that also offer other perks, including improved health, reduced stress and a savings of the most precious commodity of all: time.

Follow are six ways to trim your commuting costs.

Share your ride

Share your ride

Sharing a ride to and from work allows you to split your driving duties and expenses by at least half. The more people you carpool with, the greater your savings.

“Ridesharing programs like vanpools or even informal carpools are the cheapest and most efficient method for people to commute to and from work,” says Michael Ennis, director of the Center for Transportation at the Washington Policy Center in Seattle.

“In the Seattle region, our research shows vanpools are 28 percent cheaper than taking a bus, 48 percent cheaper than using commuter rail and 61 percent cheaper than driving alone,” he says.

In addition to saving money on gasoline and parking fees, ridesharing allows you to reduce the mileage and wear-and-tear on your auto — both of which will save you even more green in the long run.

An added bonus — ridesharing is also good for your mental health. It affords you an opportunity to relax while someone else takes the wheel for a change. It’s also “green,” giving you the added peace of mind that comes from doing your part to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion.

Take public transportation

Take public transportation

Keep costs — and your vehicle’s mileage — down by taking advantage of public transportation.

Whether you “park and ride” a commuter train or hop on the city bus, these options are generally less expensive than driving to and from work in a personal vehicle.

Like ridesharing, public transportation also offers benefits that stretch beyond your wallet. Time spent commuting can be put to good use catching up on current events or prepping for a morning meeting.

Bike to work

Bike to work

Biking to work is an option that will earn a big “thank you” from your wallet and cardiovascular system. And it’s getting trendier.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced the government will give bicycles the same importance as cars when it comes to transportation planning and selecting projects that will receive federal funding.

“There has been a lot of attention recently on bicycles,” Ennis says.

Biking to the workplace is not for everyone. It makes the most sense for those who are in good physical health and who live relatively close to the office. In addition, it’s important to have an on-site facility where you can “freshen up” before beginning the workday.

Those who pedal to work may benefit from improved physical and mental health — you can use your commute time to clear your head and reduce stress levels. Plus, you’ll be able to check your daily workout off the list, which translates to more free time to devote to other interests and activities.

Telecommute

Telecommute

Save money on your daily commute by putting down the car keys and firing up your computer. Telecommuting — at least a few days a week – is an option that can save you time and money.

The expense of driving to work — gas, tolls, wear and tear on your car — can add up quickly. So, it should come as no surprise that telecommuting is growing in popularity.

“Telecommuting is obviously the cheapest form of travel for commuters,” Ennis says. “The federal government actually considers telecommuting a travel mode and in terms of demand, it is one of the fastest-growing sectors.”

Looking beyond finances, less time on the road means reduced risk of tardiness and automotive accidents. Plus, you’ll have more time to spend working or engaging in other activities.

Get flexible

Get flexible

The 9-to-5 work day is becoming less standard as more companies allow employees to work flexible schedules. A big benefit of flex time is that you’ll spend less time on the road burning gas during stop-and-go rush hour traffic.

Some companies are taking flexible scheduling to the next level.

“Large companies like Boeing and Microsoft work with regional transportation planners to create shifts that begin before or after peak travel times,” Ennis says.

This flexibility helps distribute demand over a longer time period and reduces the pressure on the traditional peak commute hours, he says.

“Even small businesses and freight distribution companies can take advantage of staggered work times,” he says.

Working a flexible schedule offers other benefits. For example, employees can run errands during “typical” work hours instead of on weekends, thereby avoiding the crowds. And parents can alter their schedules so they can be home when school lets out.

Check into employer programs

Check into employer programs

Federal tax law allows employers to provide transit, vanpool and parking benefits to employees on a tax-free basis. The law allows up to $230 per month for transit and vanpool, and another $230 per month for parking benefits.

Some companies are taking flexible scheduling to the next level.

“Employees can receive both benefits if, for example, they park at a commuter train station and take the train into work,” says Dan Corbett, vice president for transportation development of WageWorks in San Mateo, Calif., which bills itself as “the nation’s largest independent provider of consumer-directed spending solutions and services.”

Employers can provide the benefit as direct in-kind benefit or allow employees to pay for the benefit through a pretax payroll deduction similar to a 401(k) deduction, Corbett says.

“The exact savings will vary based on the particular tax brackets and state you live in, but typically customers save 30 (percent) to 40 percent of their costs up to the pretax limits,” he says.

For example, a customer spending $100 per month on transit would save about $500 per year.

“A customer spending up to the limit of $230 per month, for monthly parking or a commuter train ticket, could save $1,100 per year,” he says.

More tips for frugal living

Check into employer programs

Looking for more ways to cut costs? Read these Bankrate.com stories for ideas on how to live more frugally.

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