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Commuting takes its’ “Toll”!


Man, commuting together did make a big difference!

Man, commuting together did make a big difference!

When we knew we were going to be moving to Houston, our biggest worry was about the traffic and commute distance. We limited our housing search to within 30 minutes of our office, while still being within a good public school district. Man, did that limit our choices. After finding lots of houses with aluminum wiring, or needing tens of thousands in repairs and upgrades, we started looking at the suburbs… Gah!!! We realized this would cost more in the way of gas, tolls, and time in the car, but ultimately, we were able to spend almost $100k less for our house.**

I mention this because I recently looked at our toll usage on Harris County’s Toll Road Authority page and I noticed it was easy to put a narrative to. When I switched jobs, you can see the  increases associated with trying to figure out a best commuting route, and even the effect of airport trips and other around Houston travel. It was eye opening and amusing.

When I was looking for a job, I needed it to be near downtown since we do not live near the energy corridor. I found a company with a great job opportunity that fit that criteria, and the only downside was that we wouldn’t be able to commute together anymore. Well, there was more than that, but that was the biggie. Mrs. SSC had calculated it would be about $8,000 more per year in commuting cost, post-tax (~$12k/yr pre-tax) if I took a new job. This was assumed wear and tear on the cars using online calculators, and doubling our gas usage, and toll costs, since our commute was still almost the exact same distance just to different places. Also, Mrs SSC would have to pay $70 a month to park, since we wouldn’t get the free carpool parking. Ouch!

You can see in the first months on the graph, we’re at an even $45 +/-. This was commuting together and the occasional use of the toll road on the weekends, but it was fairly consistent. In June, I started my new job and you can see the toll bill almost double, and I didn’t even start until Mid-June.

In July, it actually doubled… Something had to be done, because this was ridiculous. I’m all for efficiency but at what cost? Not this one. I first noticed that by getting on one exit later, the toll went from $1.15 to $0.75, which would save about ~$8/month or $96/year. This is assuming 4 weeks off due to holidays and vacations. Every little bit helps though.

Also, I found that my normal route of egress from the neighborhood had turned from 3-4 minutes to upwards of 8-10 minutes due to heavier traffic. I started taking a back route that got me to the same point consistently 4-5 minutes faster than going “the old way.” Plus, it avoided the toll roads totally. This was in August and you can see a big drop on the graph from ~$88 to $65. So that little measure saved $0.75 each day. Which is ~$15/month or $180/year saved. That’s getting better!

September, Mrs. SSC decided that getting on an exit later in her direction was costing more time than the $0.40 was worth so she began resuming that route, but still getting off an exit early coming home. There was a little increase, nothing big, just the ~$8 of savings previously.

It all looks red or orange, every day....

It all looks red or orange, every day….

October: I have no explanation. None, I can’t remember anything going on in October commute-wise or otherwise that would drive that up. Let’s see…. We did do a mini-surprise anniversary vacation on a cruise, so that entailed tolls down to Galveston and back. That was a bit of it, we did a lot of play-dates, and I think just got really lazy with avoiding the toll road on the weekends, and look how it added up. Almost $25 higher than average. Not counting Galveston, that would be about $20 of tolls related to not avoiding the toll road on the weekend. Maybe the kids were especially cranky when we got to that junction each time in October and the 5 minutes less in the car was worth $1.15. I’m SURE that was it, or something similar. J

As the graph points out, you can see the average levels off to ~$67/month except for months when we are flying places or have training classes in other areas of town that are easier to access with more tolls. Booo…. In general though, the overall tolls came out way better than expected. I’ve looked into getting off at earlier exits, but those Highway Robbers have the 3 closest exits to my neighborhood costing the same amount to get off. So, I skip 6 more stoplights and stay on the toll road doing 70 mph for a few more miles.

Overall, I’m still glad I switched jobs, as I really like my new company, new position, and all the people I work with. Had I drug my feet and waited until this oil price downturn, I might have missed my opportunity to leave altogether. While it did have some financial costs associated with it, I feel they are more than made up for with salary, job satisfaction, and the extra amount we are able to save towards FIRE.

** I know this strategy doesn’t fit with the MMM philosophy of live within walking distance to work, but for us that would be an extra $100k in housing costs, plus ~$12-$15k per year per child for private school when they reached school age. The public schools close to our work were rated horribly, and we didn’t see the payoff for closer living to the office.

Have you had a similar experience before with new costs associated with a new job?

Does anyone else have commuting issues like this that you deal with?

Have you been able to escape this part of the rat-race already and this post makes you even more glad you did so?


14 thoughts on “Commuting takes its’ “Toll”!

  1. Mrs. Maroon

    Driving/traffic in Houston is one of the main reasons we left. But, when I first moved to town straight out of college, my roommate (pre-Mr. Maroon) picked out a pretty nice apartment. It just happened to be down the street from my office… literally on the same street, with addresses in the 3100 block and 3800 block. But in my pre-MMM days, I never even took advantage of it to walk to work. What was I thinking?? On one occasion, we used Mr. Maroon’s truck for all non-work driving, and I didn’t drive far enough to and from work to charge the battery in my car!

    Then, I swear my roommate’s head spun around a couple times, and it was time to get out. We were planning to get married by then and ended up moving farther out creating some nasty commutes, particularly Mr. Maroon’s. Less than a year later, we were headed to north Texas. Much better!

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Man, when I interned in New Orleans, I left my vehicle in Denver, because I was only 3-4 blocks from the office, but better yet, 7 blocks from the French Quarter! So much fun! In Denver, I lived within biking distance to work and school and took advantage of that a LOT. After school, though, it just hasn’t been practical. 🙁
      I can not wait to be done with this commute and be in a smaller town. While my commute isn’t as bad as other co-workers, it’s a bit longer than I had before. However, I still think the positives from job switching WAY outweigh the negatives.

  2. Kalie

    Certainly not everyone can swing the MMM commuting philosophy while living near family, in a decent neighborhood with good schools, and working at their desired job. It’s easier said than done in some areas! We’ve avoided commuting more than 30 minutes, don’t have to use the toll road, and my husband tries to bike to work once a week when the weather is above freezing. The second-best way to save on transportation is not having outrageously expensive new vehicles, and that’s something everyone can probably swing.

    1. Mr. SSC

      Yeah that is a great way to reduce costs, and we stay close to that. We have reliable not overly expensive cars and that is a big saver. Driving them into the ground will also help, lol. I’d love to be within biking distance, but that’s not happening in Houston.

  3. Gen Y Finance Guy

    Besides the toll it takes on your wallet, it is a huge toll on your life as well. There was a time that I was commuting 3 hours a day. It was a horrible period in life, and something I will never do again.

    Although we were enjoying the low cost of living, the quality of life was suffering. Both my wife and I were commuting but in opposite directions. So finally after many conversations we decided to move closer to my job. My wife was not in love with her job and I made enough money to cover us until she found something new. The plan was that she would quit and start somewhere new after we moved. But luck would have it that her company offered to get her an executive suite near our new address so that she would not leave the company. However, the catch was that she still needed to commute two days a week and it would be around 3 hours round trip.

    Even after moving I was still commuting about 30-40 minutes a day depending on traffic. We dealt with this new set up for about 18 months before it was time to optimize it further.

    In this time my wife went to work for her mom in the family business and we decided to buy a house closer to her job where houses were half the money and 4 times the size. And I was able to find a new job about 3 weeks before we officially moved in.

    Now I live 4 miles from work and I am still trying to reduce that commute to zero when I finally am able to make the break from the corporate world. My commute will then be down the stairs to my coffee and back up stairs to my office. Oh and my wife now only works about 8 miles from the house.

    So we feel your pain. But we are so glad not to have a commute anymore. Never again!!!

    1. Mr. SSC

      That’s awesome! Our original plan was to be near the energy corridor so if we changed jobs we could lessen our commute. However, best laid plans in a super hot housing market didn’t pan out for us. Mrs. SSC still has a 25-30 min. Each way drive which is the best we could do. Mine varies 35-50 with the long end in the afternoon. I find listening to comedy or just music helps with the drive and for the majority of it, traffic is flowing so I don’t have much stop and go. It does wear on me sometimes….

  4. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom

    We don’t have toll roads here, so this was an interesting read for me. $8,000 is a lot of extra car costs for a job, but if the salary increases/increases in happiness are greater, than fantastic. Looks like the tolls are only a small part of that big number, but every little bit helps and really does add up fast.

    We have a bit of a similar scenario. We were looking at moving from our house in the suburbs into town, but a smaller/older house would be at least $100,000 more. Likely $150,000-$200,000 more. So, Simple Cheap Dad takes the bus to and from work.

    1. Mr. SSC

      I admit seeing that commute increase cost had me worried if a move was going to be worth it, but I picked a great time to move because oil hadn’t started crashing yet and the hiring market was still hot. Whew…. I love my new company too, it fits great with my style, so that’s even better.
      I feel you on suburbs or move closer and spend more for an older and smaller place. Its hard finding the right spot that fits everything.

  5. Baroness Prudent Spending

    I just bought a car and tolls to work are going to be about $1300-$1500/year plus any other tolls for just driving around the state. I *think* there is a no-toll route (or a cheaper toll route) that is comparable time-wise but it’s not well maintained. The wear and tear on the car driving that route seems higher to me than paying the tolls and driving on better roads.

    Where to live vs your job location has always been one of the things that has bothered me about MMM. I understand it in theory. But I live far away from my job because my town/surrounding neighborhoods are walkable, have a ton of restaurants/bars, have a lot of cultural things to do – all of which means my evenings/weekends offer the opportunity for greatness. The neighborhoods near my job have none of that. Sure I could find a job closer to my home but my current job is very stable and the pay is good. Cost of commuting time/money wise seems to outweigh stressing about getting laid off in the next downturn – at least for now.
    ~ Pru

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      That’s a tough toll bill, but as you mentioned most of the commuting costs are associated with wear and tear on the car. We like where we live and it’s amazingly convenient for our lifestyle. Daycare is walkable from the house and we do that often, elementary school is even closer. It feels rural even though it’s still “Houston”, and our grocery store is ~4 minutes away.
      The commuting costs pale in the fact that once we get home, everything else is super convenient.

  6. May

    Great analysis on the costs. I did have a killer commute for a number of years but asked to work from home and it was like the company gave me a huge raise. I still have to the office from time to time (it is 1.5 hours each way) but working from home has saved my sanity.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I would find it hard to stay on task if I worked from home. It could be done, but I think my productivity would suffer, but that’s just me.
      If my commute was that long though, I’d definitely push for a part-time telecommute option. That trek sounds brutal.

  7. The Money Spot

    The effects of commuting to work on your financial well-being are shocking the first time you run the numbers. My girlfriend and I were comparing possible options of where she could work when we relocated. One option we considered had an hour commute each way. It turned out with very consideration estimates once every five years she would be working for free just to pay for the costs of commuting to work. Needless to say she is not working there.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      Wow, that is an expensive commute! I’d be curious to run the numbers and see how much I wasted commuting while living in Denver. I never took into account car wear and tear back then, and just thought of “gas costs”. It can be shocking when you factor in ALL costs.

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