The Cost of Commuting is Higher Than You Think

Have you ever sat down and calculated your commute time or wondered how is my commute to work compared to others? Aside from what it might be costing you in time, there are other negative consequences from commuting than you realize. Read on to learn about the latest average commute time and why the cost of commuting is more expensive than you think. 

The Real Cost of Commuting | Metromile

Average commute time reaches its apex

The U.S. Census Bureau found in 2019 that one-way average commute time hit an all-time high of 27.6 minutes. That’s close to an hour of your day round-trip sitting in your car, using up gas as well as your time. That’s a total of five hours a week and about the same amount of time as a part-time job spent commuting each month. 

That’s a lot of time when you add it all up. If you’ve been thinking “How is my commute to work?” you also need to look beyond the time and consider other factors as well. 

The cost of commuting is high when it comes to your health

The cost of commuting isn’t just about the time you spend or the gas you use to get to and from work. It also has sweeping negative effects on your health.

1.  You’re not moving your body and getting much-needed exercise

For one thing, all the sitting doesn’t help your health outcomes or your waist. The USC Keck School of Medicine found that one round-trip commute of 30 miles increased obesity and waist size, which could increase the likelihood of getting diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease. 

According to findings in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, commuters who drove more than 15 miles to go to work were less likely to adhere to moderate to vigorous exercise recommendations and were more likely to become obese. Additionally, according to an article for the School of Public Health at Harvard, having a large waist even if you’re not considered overweight can mean you’re at higher risk for negative health outcomes. 

2. You’re less likely to make or stick to your social plans.

Also, when you’re driving so much to get to and from work you may be less likely to go to social activities or hit the gym or an extracurricular activity. All of those things can positively impact your mental health and you might end up ditching them because they add time and resources onto your day due to the cost of commuting. 

3. Your sleep and stress responses are disrupted. 

On top of that, sleep may be tougher to come by with long commute times. One study found that longer commute times led to more disturbed sleeping patterns, such as waking up in the middle of the night, or having trouble falling or staying asleep. ‘Disturbed sleeping’ was defined as experiencing one or more sleep issues three to four times a week. 

If you have long commute times, you may have to wake up earlier to get ready and out of the door, ultimately sacrificing the amount and quality of your sleep. In fact, one study found that a third of commuting time took away from sleep time. All of that can lead to more stress and spiked cortisol, creating a negative feedback loop when it comes to your physical and mental health. 

4. You’re experiencing air pollution at higher rates.

You’ll also have a higher likelihood of being exposed to air pollutants while commuting which could lead to more respiratory issues (not-so-great during a pandemic with a virus that largely affects the lungs). Being surrounded by so many cars and potentially sitting in stop-and-go traffic won’t help.

The overall cost of commuting is financially steep

The average commute time has already hit an all-time high, but the financial costs of commuting are high as well. Here are other common costs to consider when commuting.

1.  Buying a car and maintaining a car comes with a lot of expenses.

Buying or leasing a car costs money upfront or you have to take on auto financing and commit to monthly payments and paying interest for years. You also have to pay for gas, oil changes, tire repairs, and any other maintenance costs. Business Insider reported that commuters spend between $2,000 to $5,000 each year on transportation costs related to commuting. 

2. Time is a non-renewable resource that you can’t get back and commuting has indirect financial costs.

 We’ve reviewed the direct financial costs of commuting, but time is also money and is a non-renewable resource. You can make more money but can’t make more time. The time you spend on commuting can mean working less, having less time for yourself, your family, or your hobbies. That can lead to indirect financial costs like eating out more, grabbing coffee on-the-go, wasted gym memberships and more. 

3. The environmental cost of commuting is fueling climate change (pun intended).

More commuters on the road driving to work means an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. More greenhouse gas emissions have a direct impact on the environment, making the climate change crisis more dire. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the transportation sector is the biggest culprit, accounting for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. You can also consider electric cars to lessen the environmental impact. 

The bottom line

You might think that the cost of commuting is just the amount of time you spend in your car. But the real cost is much higher than you think, affecting everything from your physical and mental health to your social life and the environment. If possible, see if you can work from home or cut down on how often you commute. 

If you do that, you may be considered a low-mileage driver and benefit from pay-per-mile auto insurance. Simply pay an affordable base rate and a few cents for the miles you drive. Many drivers are able to lower their costs and save! Grab a free quote from Metromile to review your potential savings. 

Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.