How Much Does Commuting Cost the Average American?

Plus, strategies to save.

Man riding his bicycle to work

 Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Getty

Chances are, you’re no stranger to a commute. Personally, I’ve had an hour-plus commute for nearly half my career.

And we’re not alone. The average employee in the U.S. spends about 26 minutes commuting each way to work, U.S. Census data found. The Census's 2015 American community survey data shows that the average American's commute to work reached 26.4 minutes in 2015, which is 24 seconds longer than the previous year. The graph below reflects the results of the survey, showing the consistent increase in commuting periods since 1980.

What’s more, more than 10 million Americans commute more than an hour each way and another 600,000-plus travel 90 minutes each way to work.

And it’s not just the time you lose with a long commute. It’s the cost of gasoline and tolls, traffic, wear-and-tear on your car, unexpected delays, even the cost of public transportation, and car servicing and repairs. Some experts estimate that commuting costs you about $2,600 a year.

We explore the cost of commuting in top cities in the U.S., strategies to save, and strategies to avoid commuting altogether.

Commuting Costs

While some of the biggest commuting costs are buying a car, the cost of gas, your car insurance policy, and maintenance like oil changes, the financial impact of commuting goes deeper.

Consider the cost of tolls, unexpected repairs to your car (who hasn’t had a tiny pebble wreak havoc on their windshield?), entertainment costs like books on tape and music streaming services, even your daily coffee. Now consider the time spent commuting and the potential loss of income, plus the effect on the environment.

Really want to get into the nitty-gritty? Calculate how much you spend a year on commuting, whether it be via car, public transportation, or bike. Add in miscellaneous costs like gas, tolls, bike maintenance, and the like. Then, compare it to your income. What percentage of your salary is getting eaten up by simply getting to work?

What’s Your Time Worth?

Let’s say you’ve landed your dream job. The only problem? It’s an hour commute each way. While that hour may not phase you at first, consider this: You’re spending 10 hours a week in the car, which tallies up to more than 500 hours a year spent stuck in traffic, mindlessly scrolling through the radio.

Think what you could do with an extra 500 hours a year. You could use it to relax, recharge, spend more time with family. You could even pursue that side gig you’ve always considered, whether it be dog walking, driving an Uber, or freelancing.

Just think: You could apply your freelance earnings to one of your long-term financial goals, like investing in the stock market, taking a vacation, or saving up a down payment for your first house.

Cut Your Commute Altogether

If the cost of commuting is really putting a damper on your budget, consider cutting your commute altogether. No, we’re not suggesting quitting your job. (That would be terrible financial advice.)

Try asking your current company if they’d allow you to work remotely, even if only for part of the work week. For example, you could work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in the office and Tuesday and Thursday from home.

You also could consider biking to work. While the initial costs may be steep (think buying a bike and all the necessary gear), it could save you money in the long run. Or consider finding a job within walking distance of your home.

Pursue either of these options and your commute would actually serve another purpose: a way to get your daily workout in. This has the potential to save you even more money, since being in good health can cut your medical bills, potentially eliminate costly health issues like diabetes, and maybe even slash your insurance premiums.

You may also consider moving to an area that’s closer to your job, even if the area is more expensive. While this initially might sound like a bigger expense, carefully weigh the costs of increased rent or mortgage increase against your annual cost of commuting.

Strategies to Save

If you absolutely can’t get rid of your commute, there are some other ways to save. First, see if you can utilize public transportation instead of driving your car.

In most cases, public transportation can be vastly cheaper than driving to work, not to mention that time you’ll free up not sitting behind the wheel. You could read a book, the newspaper, or even relax on your commute. How’s that for a shift change?

You also may consider joining a rideshare or setting up a carpool with your coworkers. That way, you can save money on gas, wear-and-tear on your car, oil changes, even tolls.