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.
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?