Is Your Commute Worth It?

By Linsey Knerl | July 19, 2011 AAA
Is Your Commute Worth It?

Bedroom communities certainly have their appeal. In fact, as more and more professionals flee the city to live in towns outside of where they work, it may seem that this popular lifestyle choice is an easy one to make. With more careful consideration, however, there are some obvious - and expensive - downsides. Is the price of becoming a suburbanite too high for some? (These two major ways to obtain a car have very different advantages and drawbacks. Find out which is best for you. See New Wheels: Lease Or Buy?)

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The Payoff
Living just thirty minutes from the city can bring big benefits to commuters. The cost of real estate can be considerably lower, and with that comes a more affordable property tax bill. In addition to getting more square footage for your rental or mortgage dollar, commuters can usually enjoy amenities that aren't available to city slickers. These can include bigger lot sizes, smaller schools and access to rural recreation areas.

Many professionals find that while living where they work is practical for a time, once they start a family or need to upgrade the size of their home commuting is the only suitable alternative. Trying to cram two kids, the dog and a spouse into an affordable studio apartment just isn't a possibility. Moving to the 'burbs may be the only choice.

A Costly Choice
If it was simply a matter of living where the grass is greener, most everyone would leave town for living in the outskirts. Unfortunately, there are several not-so-obvious expenses that can creep up on a commuter, many of which are much more costly than the price of living within city limits.

One clear example is the cost of a vehicle. In addition to the payments, insurance and maintenance, there are licensing fees and the motor vehicle taxes. Edmunds features a True Cost to Own calculator that reveals just how much more you'll be paying for that vehicle, which you can then compare against the price of cab fare, bus passes or walking to work from your in-city locale.

If you believe that "time is money," then the minute or hours you spend each day in your vehicle making the drive to and from work can have a value as well. For the person with few personal commitments, it may be fine to spend 1-2 hours in a car each day, learning a language or enjoying new music. If you are a busy person, perhaps committed to a family, volunteer activities and/or a lively social calendar, however, that ten hours a week may not be something you are willing to give up.

Effects on Your Health
In addition, the chronically tardy employee may find it stressful to get to work each day, even with a 10-minute walk to the office. In the case of a commuter with 30 miles or more between their home and work, however, the anxiety that can come from trying to arrive on time may be detrimental to their health and mental well-being. Even those who have been punctual all their lives can dread the unexpected events that a longer commute may bring.

There is also the issue of a virtual separation between work and personal communities. While some welcome the idea of keeping their "work friends" and their "real friends" in separate geographical segments, others will have a hard time forming real communities with their time divided so harshly. Those that find it hard to make friends or who find it difficult to join social groups can struggle with a commute that pulls them from one world to the other each day.

The Bottom Line
Deciding to commute is an intensely personal matter, one that finance experts can lightly suggest as an option to a strained budget. Putting the costs of housing aside, however, it's not always a dollar vs. dollar verdict. Be sure that your choice primarily represents your priorities, whether they are of economics or some other measure of the quality of life. (Find out what to consider before taking a ride with stocks from this industry. Check out Analyzing Auto Stocks.)

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