There are several ways expenses can sneak up on you and kill a budget. One that does not get a lot of attention is commuting expenses. Depending on where you live expenses to commute might be small, in other places it can be a significant cost. In this category some of the expenses are obvious but others are secret budget killers.
I used to work in a mid-sized city about 10 miles from my home and I never really gave any thought to how much money I spent just getting to work every day. There was no toll road, no parking fees, gas for the car was minimal, and 10 miles each way is not a lot of wear and tear on my car. In fact, after 6 years of owning the car I had only 50,000 miles on the odometer. I was already accounting for the costs associated with the commute by having a line for gas and a line for regular car maintenance. That is enough right? Just nod yes and play along.
The contract I was working on ended and I found a new job in a bigger city where space is at a premium. I cannot afford to live close to the office…. well live next to the office and have any kind of space. I moved closer to the office but it is still approximately 30 miles each way. Where I work toll roads abound, parking fees add up quick, I spend more on gas, and the wear and tear on the car is sneaking up. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to have a good job, but commuting expenses are a real budget killer that I did not really factor in when I negotiated my salary.
In the previous location I spent maybe $50 total on gas all month, partly because I lived close to work and partly driving a hybrid car. I set aside a small amount for maintenance, which was mostly for oil changes because I was putting less than 10k miles on the car a year. Now I spend about $100 a month on gas driving the same hybrid car, and pay $240.00 a month parking. I actually found a way to avoid the toll roads thank goodness because that was costing me $14- $20 a day depending on the time of day. If you look at the difference, I went from spending maybe $75 a month to drive to work to spending $340.00 a month. If I took the faster toll roads it would be approximately $640.00 a month just to drive to work.
Some of my coworkers from my old job are also coworkers on the new job. They choose to continue living in our mid-sized city and their commute is driving their car to the closest train station and taking the train, some use a van pool. Either of these options are secret budget killers as well. One coworker told me that once he pays for the gas to drive to the train station and then pays for the weekly train ticket, he is paying $200.00 a week in commuting expenses.
Any commuting option when working in a big city like I do is going to cost enough money that one should budget for these items. By sacrificing some of my free time I am at $340.00 a month, my coworker is at $800.00 a month, others are somewhere in the middle. Getting a grip on this expense has been an eye opener when it comes to my budget.
Even if you don’t work in a city that requires you to spend a lot on commuting, it is still worth taking a look at how much you really spend on these types of expense. While it cannot always be avoided, at least we can be more mindful about where our money goes. I wish I had been more aware of these expenses before I negotiated my new salary. To leave on the bright side, at least I travel part of the year and save on some of these costs when I am on the road.