The Daily Commute: 7 Ways to Maximize Time and Save Money

Carrie Smith is the creator of the Careful Cents personal finance blog. Follow her on Twitter @applecsmith.

Most of us wake up every morning, get ready for the day and start our daily commute to work. It’s not one of the most exciting things in life, but we have to bring home the bacon somehow! The trouble is, your commute can cost a lot and it eats up valuable time. There are always some things beyond our control, and the commute is often one of them, but when you think about it, you may be surprised at the options that you have. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to help save money and time while commuting:

Optimize your breakfast

We all have different breakfast habits, but one thing is true for everyone, at least according to research: a healthy breakfast makes your whole day more productive. So skipping breakfast is not an option. Instead, you should strategically identify breakfast foods that will fill you up (and fuel you) without taking a long time to prepare. There’s always the old favorites like oatmeal or a bagel and cream cheese, but you don’t have to restrict yourself to those if you don’t like them. Just make sure you find something that satisfies you – and doesn’t take an hour to prepare. That way, you won’t have to interrupt your commute by heading to the drive-thru for a morning coffee or muffin. On the days when you just don’t have time to eat before you leave the house, bring your breakfast with you from home and eat it when you get to work or once you’re safely in your office parking lot. For example, if I’m in a rush in the morning, I’ll often stash a packet of oatmeal in my purse for later – then just add hot water and cook in the microwave for 60 seconds for a nice hearty breakfast.

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Listen to the radio or podcasts

Using your time to learn new things or catch up on the news of the day is a great way to make the most of your commute. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to pay to be entertained on your commute! Instead of buying songs on iTunes or purchasing new CD’s, try listening to financial or educational podcasts. The ones I subscribe to are free and I feel like I’m learning something even when I’m stuck in the car. There are plenty of free podcasts available, on a variety of subjects (here are a few examples: NPRCNN, CBS, Yahoo, ESPN). And listening to the radio is another great alternative because it’s free and fun to jam out while in the car.

Find alternatives to driving

A few obvious alternatives to driving everyday are public transportation, riding a bike, walking, or carpooling with other co-workers. But a more creative option is to find out how you can still do the same amount of work, in a different way. For instance, telecommuting is a great option for those whose work doesn’t always require them to be in the office (or on site). If you think this might be a possibility for you, check with your supervisor to see if you can work from home a few days per month (or week). You can communicate with colleagues and clients via phones, fax machines, and the Internet. And by choosing to telecommute even one day a week, you could save a lot of money on gas or public transit tickets.

Drive slower

If your commute to work requires you to drive, be sure to observe a few common sense rules on the road. Tailing vehicles and swerving in and out of traffic is not good for your blood pressure or your gas mileage. Studies have shown that aggressive driving can lower your gas mileage by up to 33 percent for highway driving, or up to $1.07 per gallon wasted. That’s a good chunk of change! Another way to save money is by adhering to the speed limit. For every 5mph over 60 you’re paying about $0.26 extra per gallon. Slower driving is safer for those around you, and better for your wallet.

Work longer hours

If you think you’d like to work longer (and fewer days), see whether your employer will allow you to have an alternative schedule. I myself asked about this, and I was surprised how flexible my boss was in hearing my suggestion of working longer hours. We worked out a plan where I can work an extra two hours everyday, in exchange for cutting out a whole work day. So instead of working 5 days a week, I now only work 4 days – but for 10 hours instead of 8. My boss isn’t losing any work hours or production, and I haven’t lost any income. However, I’m saving a whole day of commuting time and money spent on gas.

Ask for a gas allowance

Lots of companies right now simply cannot offer their employees a raise. But they still want to reward workers for their hard work and service. Suggest a gas allowance or reimbursement from your boss instead of requesting a raise. They get to benefit as well, because they can deduct it as a business expense, and you save money you normally spend on commuting. It may not officially be considered a “raise” but it decreases your monthly expenses, which basically increases your income.

Ask about employer programs

With the shaky economy lately, employers and workers alike are trying to save money and find good benefits. Some companies work together with local businesses to offer discounts on buses, shuttles and other public transportation. All you have to do is ask your employer if they participate in these programs or have any information about them.

The bottom line is, at the beginning of the day, you should look forward to your drive instead of dreading it. By enacting any of these tips, you can spice up your mundane morning commute and save a little cash too. You might be surprised to find that your boss is more flexible than you think. Choose to start your day off right by making good decisions while saving some money in the process.

Image by billaday

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  • Anonymous

    I drove 80 on the freeway for hundreds of miles in a new nissan altima.  it did 31 mpg.  if this were really true about the over 65 business, then the thing should get 50+mpg at 65.  It doesn’t. 

    • That number is intended to be an average – it may not hold true for your particular car and the situation you described. Thanks for sharing your experience, though!

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