A weak economy has many Americans struggling to earn income, pay bills and have financial security. Such a business climate necessitates an efficient approach to work that saves costs and time. Though commuting is often a necessity, it takes up many hours per week that could be used more effectively. Consider alternative arrangements that can increase both productivity and cash flow.

Commute Solutions incorporates anticipated and hidden costs of commuting in a calculator. This particular commuting calculator estimates costs based on the following variables:

  • Fuel
  • Depreciation
  • Insurance
  • Wear and tear/maintenance
  • Pollution
  • Taxes
  • Tolls
  • And other indirect costs

For example, a commuter who drives 10 work-related miles per day, 5 days a week and additionally 5 daily non-work miles, incurs over 4,400 miles annually. Assuming fuel prices of $2.36 per gallon, the commuter pays over $5,800 in expenses. (To find out how much your car is really costing you, check out The True Cost Of Owning A Car.)

Here are some ways in which you can save on your commuting costs and avoid fuel and car maintenance expenses:

1. Carpool
This option will only work if you can find co-workers or professionals working near your building that live reasonably close to you. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 9 out of 10 Americans drive to work and about 3 out of 4 drive alone. Most commuters have room for realizing efficiency and cost savings. Carpooling can save both money and time.

For example, four workers who carpool together can reduce their work-related commuting costs by approximately 75%. Assuming a worker spends about $300 a month in work-related commuting costs, carpooling can reduce such expenses by as much as $225. The passengers in a carpool arrangement can also gain several hours per week in additional productivity by conducting work in a laptop or reviewing work documents while on the road.

2. Public Transit
The use of public transit is limited to availability but it can cost a lot less than driving. According to the American Public Transportation Association, since 1995, mass transit use is up by 32% which is more than double the population growth rate. Public transit can save commuting costs especially in large cities like San Francisco or New York. These cities are known to have heavy rush hour traffic as well as high parking costs. The additional hours spent in the car per week translate to high opportunity costs for professionals in the form of less productivity. Large metro areas typically also have highly competitive work settings in which productivity itself is a key differentiator for the protection of one's job as well as the advancement of one's career.

3. Bicycling
Bicycling is an option where weather, roads and physical fitness permit (and as a bonus, biking to work is an efficient way to get your exercise time in without losing billable hours). This can be an attractive and effective option for those that live reasonably close to work, especially if there are bike routes in between.

Considering that a good bike can cost less than $200, even if you have to buy a new bike you will probably spend less than an entire month's fuel expenses for drivers. The U.S. Congress also passed The Bicycle Commuter Act of 2008 which provides a $20 monthly bike benefit for commuters. Employers may reimburse reasonable expenses related to the bike commute including equipment purchases, bike purchases, repairs and storage. Bike commuters can replace a lot of their gym time with their bicycling regimen as they ride to work, accomplishing three goals with one task: commuting, cost saving, and staying fit. (Find out how to get more than money from your employer by reading Negotiating For Employment Perks.)

4. Telecommute
According to WorldatWork Telework, the number of Americans who worked from home or remotely at least one day per month increased from approximately 12.4 million in 2006 to 17.2 million in 2008, which represents a 74% increase since 2005. More workers are attracted to telecommuting as it saves both time and money. A professional can save car and fuel expenses as well as have a few extra hours per week that would additionally have been spent driving on the road. Such savings can typically amount to several hundred dollars a week.

The telecommuter would have to ensure that he has adequate internet access as well as office supplies at home, which are generally considered as deductible business expenses for tax purposes. Working from home can also reduce office and parking-related expenses for the employer. The downside to telecommuting is that the professional has less visibility within the organization and may be at a disadvantage when it comes time for year-end bonuses and promotions.

Each of these options has the added benefit of helping the environment so whichever is right for you, you can feel good about alleviating your commuting costs, becoming more efficient and reducing your carbon footprint. Won't you look smart! (Learn about more about American commuting trends by reading Extreme Commuting: Is It For You?.)

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