Should You Buy New Tires or be a Slave to Train Schedules?
The working world is just around the corner. You'll soon land an interesting job and will have to decide the best way to get to work on time. Not everyone lives within walking distance of the office. So what will your commuting options be? What will they cost? And how should you stack them up against each other?
Woody Allen once observed that "80 percent of success is showing up." That estimate may be a bit high, but the point is that getting to work and getting there on time is a pretty basic criterion of how well your career will proceed. And how you get there can be pretty important as well.
If you live close enough to walk to the office, consider yourself fortunate. Just keep an umbrella by the door. However, most of us drive to work. In fact, more than 70 percent of all U.S. workers drive to work alone and another 12.8 percent car-pool. We often eschew public transit in favor of gridlocked highways and high-priced gasoline because there's no other way to get to work. But we also seem to favor the automobile because it affords more flexibility.
Indeed, despite the environmental arguments for public transportation, being tied to a train or bus schedule can be somewhat limiting. So can having to coordinate your workday schedule to those in your car-pool. Ultimately, what's right for you will likely boil down to personal preferences and priorities. But here are some economic factors to consider before deciding.
Do the Math
Commuting can be costly. To see just how costly, sharpen a pencil and get ready to do the math. For instance, compare driving to work versus taking the train. To figure driving costs, you need to know:
- The round-trip distance to your workplace
- Your average number of workdays per month
- Your car's fuel economy in miles per gallon
- The average cost of gas
- Average costs for car repairs and maintenance
- Total cost to finance your car
- Car insurance payments
- Car inspection fees
- Amount of excise tax for your car
Add to all of that what it will cost you in tolls and parking fees, and you'll have a good idea of your total costs.
When figuring the cost of a train commute, be sure to include not only your round-trip ticket price, but also (using the above methodology) all expenses involved in getting you to and from the depot.
Now compare the footings. Chances are good that one mode of transport will appear more pocketbook-friendly than the other. Here's where subjective analysis takes over to sort out the pluses and minuses of convenience, flexibility and personal preference.
Check Your Benefits
In most cases, your commuting expenses are not tax-deductible. But you'd do well to find out if your employer offers a transit benefit program. Not only do these IRS-sanctioned programs permit employers to partially subsidize employee costs for public transit commuting, but they also allow employees to use pre-tax dollars to purchase their transit passes. This, in effect, lowers the taxable portion of your compensation.
Some alternatives to the standard rush-hour commute include:
- Alternate work schedules: Some companies offer flextime or compressed workweeks. This may allow you to travel at less busy times of day, or at least less frequently, which can help save on expenses.
- Telecommuting (via home computer) or working from a satellite office closer to home: Telecommuting clearly lowers travel expenses by a considerable amount, and your company may also pay for or subsidize your computer equipment and networking expenses. But don't be too quick to take a home-office tax deduction if you telecommute; the IRS has become pretty restrictive on this over the last few years.
No matter what choice you make, remember that there is an economic component to your decision. Commuting expenses, like entertainment expenses, should also be factored into your budget.