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Choosing a Residence that Strategically Cuts Commuting Costs

Last updated by on August 8, 2013

Strategic Commuting for Singles

If you live alone and have a long commute, reducing the cost of commuting is as simple as moving closer to work.

Less miles driven = less fuel and maintenance expenses on your vehicle (most of the time, city/hwy mileage breakdown will have an impact, but you get the idea). Transportation cost savings are fairly linear, unless you move close enough to work that you can get rid of a car altogether. Then, huge cost savings could follow.

When choosing between residences when relocating for a new job or simply changing residence location, the comparison should look like this:

total cost of housing + transportation at residence A


total cost of housing + transportation at residence B

Of course, there is a subjective quality of life component that needs to be factored in as well. What would your quality of life look like at residence A and residence B?

Time isn’t subjective though – you either have it or you don’t. How much is it worth to you to get back 30 minutes, an hour, or even 2 hours + of your life 5 days per week to reduce your commute?

That is a big deal. The average commute in the U.S. is 16 miles and 25 minutes each way. At 250 work days per year, that’s 12,500 minutes, 208 hours, or an added 26 eight-hour days of work per year. Considering we only average 8.1 paid vacation days and 23% of us get no paid vacation at all – that’s a huge loss of time.

There are environmental ethical considerations as well, but we won’t even go there today.

If your total costs decline or are similar and your quality of life improves, making the move to the closer residence is a no-brainer, even if it means you are paying more for housing.

Commuting Costs for Couples

But what if you have a significant other than you cohabit with?

Well, if you both work near (within 4 or so miles, lets say) one another, then the comparative calculation is the same.

total cost of housing + transportation at residence A


total cost of housing + transportation at residence B

But what if you both have a decent sized commute and you work locations are 10, 20, or more miles apart?

This can get tricky – but the comparative cost calculation is still the same.

When presented with this scenario, many couples seemingly gravitate towards what they deem to be a compromise. In other words, “somewhere in the middle”. Lets put a visual behind this.

cost of commuting

  • Worker #1 works at a location in Holland, MI (red arrow)
  • Worker #2 works at a location in Grand Rapids, MI, about 24 miles away (green arrow)
  • “Compromise commute” residence A location (yellow arrow) is located in Hudsonville, MI, about 12 miles from Grand Rapids and Holland
  • “Long-short commute” residence B (purple arrow) is located 1 mile from worker #1’s work location in Grand Rapids and 23 miles from worker #2’s work location in Holland

At first glance, the compromise residence (yellow arrow) seems like a win. The couple shares the commute load evenly. With residence B (purple arrow), one half of the couple would see their commute dip to a mile, while the other would have a longer commute of 23 miles versus the residence A commute. Total costs would be the same because total commuted miles are the same, right?

Not necessarily.

With residence B, one half of the couple would be able to walk, bus, or bike to work. Going from two medium length commutes to one long and one short commute permits you to take the next step, by getting rid of your car altogether. This could result in a HUGE leap in cost savings. For me, it was about $5k per year.

And while a single person could also achieve similar significant cost savings by getting rid of a vehicle (as highlighted earlier), one shared vehicle between a couple is much easier than zero vehicles for a single.

Moving to residence B also encourages a scenario where worker #1 could look for and eventually find a job much closer to worker #2 and residence B, which would further cut costs for the couple and improve quality of life, whereas the “compromise commute” residence does not encourage this ideal outcome.

What about turning your back on “compromise”, you say? Well, worker #2 could enhance worker #1’s quality of life with increased chore load until worker #1 could find that closer job. How’s that for compromise?

It can pay to be strategic about your commute.

Have you executed a similar strategy? How much did you save?

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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Michelle says:

    My husband and I used to live in “the middle” and had two cars. We each had about a 30 minute commute (one way). We decided to move after two years of that arrangement because it was especially hard on my husband– he’s a research scientist and has to work really long/odd hours for days at a time while doing certain experiments. My job is your standard 9-5. For these reasons we decided to move super close to my husband’s job. We got rid of one car, and he either walks, bikes or takes the bus to work. His commute is now a 10 minute walk (and faster– if he bikes!) and it’s so convenient for him because he often times needs to go back in after dinner to finish experiments. We pay $100 more in rent now, but save thousands a year more by getting rid of his car, the car insurance and gas. It also saves us money because he no longer has to eat out– he can run home for a quick meal. For me, I now have a 40 minute commute, but I switched jobs and that has allowed me two work from home days per week. This means I only commute 3 days a week. It’s pretty awesome. 🙂

  • Dan says:

    Living in Houston, a car is an absolute necessity unless you are a student or your job allows you to come soaked to work. For some people, the local supermarket can be as far as 3 miles away (which is considered fairly close by). Walking would be brutal when our average temps in the summer months typically range in the 100s. Trying to walk back from the grocery store might result in spoiled perishables.

    That being said, another way to think about this in a 2-car, 2-person household would be for the couple to both live closer to the one person’s work in the direction of traffic. I would assume that driving into a city’s equivalent of Grand Rapids would require more time (and more gas while stalled in traffic) than would driving into a metro area’s equivalent of Holland.

    • Jeff says:

      I cannot move any closer to my work because the cost of living in a closer neighborhood would quickly outstrip the money I’d save from having a shorter commute. Nor would I ever give up my car, that’s non-negotiable.

      Also one has to take into account the general flow of traffic. I live north of the office and when I commute there in the morning most traffic is heading north while I head south. The same situation in the evening, I go north while most are heading south. So even if I found somewhere closer that was south of my office, it wouldn’t be worth it unless it was close enough to avoid the tollway as I’d spend much more time stuck in traffic despite the shorter distance.

  • Kim says:

    We’ve always lived in what we consider fun neighborhoods with close promixity to things we want to do (near family, near the downtown entertainment & shopping districts) and relatively in-between our places of employment since we both happened to work in lame locations on opposite sides of town. Many folks in our city of Orlando choose to live on the outskirts of town since the suburbs are so much cheaper for housing (looking strictly at the cost per square foot) but we stayed away from that since it involves toll roads & living in the middle of B.F.E.

  • TC says:

    I moved to a new city last year and chose a house that was about a 15 minute commute from my wife’s job since she only works two days per week and I work from home. However because of our children’s school schedule we are still unable to get rid of the second car. We are within biking distance to the school, but road traffic makes my wife worry about biking to school. Even though we have reduced our overall driving time by over 50% from what we were driving a year ago, I would like to reduce it further.

  • This isn’t really an issue for us now, as we live 3 minutes from work/school, but it will be an issue when we move back to the States. Great post!

  • Kirby says:

    Great summary on finding ways to make it work for different couples. Sometimes the “compromise” isn’t the best solution as you point out where one person may be able to cut out the cost of a car entirely. However, it is important to keep in mind not to move just because of a job. Especially going through 2008-2009, a lot of people who thought they had a steady job, found they had no job altogether. It could be uncertain where (and when) the next job opportunity could be – plus an employer could decide to move locations as well – and throw your whole plan out of whack. This decision can be a little easier for those that rent on a periodic basis, but those with a home wouldn’t necessarily be able to enjoy this same moving freedom.


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