Cost of commuting

One of those irritating rationales I hear all the time from people who commute to far suburbs or adjacent towns (or too often, towns really far away…) is that they can afford more house out there.

I don’t believe it, not for one second. There’s the cost of commuting, the value of time to commute, the risk to your own health and life by all that additional road pollution and traffic danger… and then by time you get to Merrickville or wherever its time to go to bed so you can get up earlier to drive back in to beat the traffic, all the while asserting in a cheery voice that “its only a 20 minute drive” to Mosquitoland.

And p-l-e-a-s-e don’t give the quality of small town life argument. People are generally commuting to just another suburb with soul-destroying crescent streets and driving to every thing and shopping at big box stores just like in the real city. Is Kemptville distinguishable from Riverside?

It’s harder to say B.S.! without numbers to back it up. So I was keenly interested a blog post by Mr Money Mustache   a few weeks ago where he put values on those factors. Mr Mustache takes a mocking, challenging view on frugal living that is unique amongst finance bloggers. I also happen to agree with most of what he says, probably because we have lived that same lifestyle for 35 years.

MMM is also a Canadian (a former Ottawan, in fact) living in the USA, so in his original post he threw in some fudge factors for Canadians (like, add 30% to the car costs). I flagged his original post to mine it someday for blog material, but someone beat me to it and did up a neat infographic you can find here: You can read the original article here:

The key lesson from his post is that each additional mile of commute costs you the equivalent of $15,900 of home. If you commute 30 miles, that’s $477,000 of less home you can buy “out there”. Moral: cut your commute, and get more home closer to work. And walking or cycling to work can eliminate driving to that expensive gym, too.

While I agree with the thrust of his argument, I get confused on the value of time argument. Cutting the commute by 30 miles doesn’t really free up cash — cash which is required to buy that more expensive city home. Not unless you take the time “saved” and use it to hold down a second job at that average $25/hour wage (no taxes, but hey I can accept a lot of simplification to make the point), in which case you still don’t have the extra time at home MMM wants us to have.

Instead, I would accept the money actually saved by not commuting 30 miles.  The value of time in his example accounts for 3.6x more than the actual out-of-pocket cost of the commute, so maybe each mile of commute saved means you can afford $4,400 more home in the city. For a thirty mile commute, that’s a tidy $132,000 of house.

I will leave it up to someone more numerate than me to figure out the Canadian numbers comparing the out of pocket commute cost per mile with the amount of house afforded.

On the other hand, go back and reread bits of the Mr Mustache original post, because he makes a number of very valid points about what you can do with the extra time (actually play/interact with your kid!). The same goes for not enrolling your kid in “activities”, especially competitive sports and recreation teams, that require endless driving around the city. Instead, stay home, chill out with your kids (and the neighbor’s kids too, since kids always gravitate to the home where parents are).

Over 30 years ago we selected our west side neighborhood because it was an easy walk to a number of employment nodes, to the grocery store (since closed, but the further away one delivers…), to churches and schools, and we have never owned (or leased) a car. Instead we used to money to pay off the mortgage in just a few years, and then to buy experiences with the kids, travelling thru many countries and cultures, always on the same frugal basis that we live at home. And did I mention I retired at 54? MMM will show you more.

7 thoughts on “Cost of commuting

  1. When people say they like living in nepean or orleans or even janata because of the so called small town life i have a issue with these areas are not small towns there cities and there growing bigger and bigger.

  2. The infographic is put together by Streamline Refinance, which probably has a vested interest in getting you to spend more on your home. They want you to spend all your commute savings to cover interest on a larger mortgage, which would end up needing to be carried over a longer amortization and thus make them more money.

    Applying the actual savings per year (as you and MMM suggest) makes much more sense for those that don’t want to be burdened with an insanely large mortgage for the rest of their lives.

  3. I have the worst of both worlds. I live downtown, and I commute 14 miles a day. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, though.

    I imagine that a lot of people who live in the suburbs would not live downtown, either. Whatever rationalizations they come up with to explain to you, they enjoy living in the burbs, and also wouldn’t trade it for the world either

  4. I find all of these comparisons a bit one-side and unfair. I am one of those nasty commuters, leading to pollution and traffic woes. I commute 25km each way. I live down here in west centertown, but work in Kanata. I’d love to work close to home, but there just aren’t the jobs for my skillset – they are all in Kanata. Timewise, it is a fast commute from here to there, because everyone is driving down here. I can’t live in Kanata. I don’t want my life to center around living close to work to ease my commute, I want my life to center around living in the type of area best for my entire family. I know I spend more money then I would like with the Kanata commute, but my work is not my life and my life is down here. We have an 11 year old car, live in a small house on a small lot, and spend as much time as possible in our neighbourhood. We can’t all live close to our jobs, nor do we want to.

  5. Meg – I think more to the point is that living in West-Centretown, but commuting to Kanata, you can still get away with one car. It is much much harder to live in Kanata and commute to Ottawa with only one car, because every daily activity and transaction in Kanata requires an automobile. That is one of the key drivers (pardon the pun) of extra cost. As soon as you add that extra car, you have $1200 for insurance, $1200 for gas, maintenance, payments etc etc…
    Just to Eric’s point, I would say that living somewhere that requires two cars means you can afford $300 – $400/month less on your mortgage.

  6. I completely agree. I am against “spending my live daily commuting”. I used to have a home in Barrhaven, but 45 mins each way (~2hrs a day) spent commuting after 1 year was enough. Commute now takes 15 mins each way and the rest of the time spent in Goodlife fitness instead.

  7. Meg, I share your pain. Everyone I work with, out in Kanata always asks me why I don’t move out there. I don’t bother with rationalizations, and such, I just tell the truth. I would detest living in Kanata, even if it did shorten my commute by 1/2 an hour and 20k.

    Shopify in the Market is always looking these days, tho.

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