My Commuting Mistake

Once upon a time, we lived in a cold, dark place called Connecticut, where in the winter even a $600 electric bill couldn’t save you from the cold. Then we wised up and decided to move south of the Mason-Dixon line.

When we moved, we estimated that anywhere within 20 miles of my future workplace would be okay. What we didn’t realize is that 20 miles does not necessarily translate into 20 minutes in morning city traffic… and that a long commute is one of the number one money wasters in our modern American life.

Therefore, when we found a great bargain on a house that fit all our specifications, we didn’t even think about it, we just jumped on a plane to sign the offer papers. And even though I am only 16.5 miles from door to door as the crow flies (or as the highway meanders, whatever), it takes 30 minutes on a GOOD DAY with no traffic to get from home to work and vice versa.

Heaven forbid there is a wreck or construction, or even “unusual traffic along your route”, then dinner won’t be until after dark. And I get hangry around 5:30pm.

When I first began working at my current location, there were a ‘park-and-ride’ option. I tried all the things, from 4 different lots in different places and 2 separate bus systems (Chapel Hill Transit and the Go Triangle transit). I tried each system for a week, to see which saved the most amount of time in driving to-and-from, as well as the on-the-bus portion.

Having 15-30 minutes on a bus is nice in a way. It gives you stress-free time to think about life, go over the day, plan ahead, craft blog posts, or read a book. It also introduced me to a few other fellow bus riders, at least two of which became friends.

And it helps that some of these fellow riders are really good humans. It also helps that the bus options are far cheaper, from $0 for the Go Triangle pass to less than $100 for the Park and Ride.

However. I must admit to a shameful truth.

I am a spendypants when it comes to commuting.

I know Mr. Money Mustache may revoke my frugal card and never return my phone calls (HAHAHA), but I then applied for a waitlist for an on-campus parking pass.

And I got one.


Yes, I paid double the money yearly to try out a parking lot on campus. I tried two different lots, 2 blocks apart.

Now I walk the minimum distance from my car to my building per day, and have 3 different escape routes from campus at 5pm.

A quick check of Google maps tells me which way to turn to avoid the most traffic. And now I get home in about 30 minutes, reliably, every day.

Time is money?

I’m not sure, I haven’t run the exact numbers. But I guess what I’ve learned is that, for me and at this point in life, I am comfortable sacrificing a small amount of money per year, plus a not-negligible amount of money in repair/maintenance/gas costs in order to have the convenience and time returned to me in the form of driving.

What brought me to this conclusion? What might tip the balance back to the bus system?

Flexibility in when I leave

Right now, our hours are ‘set’ at 8:30 – 5pm. But that isn’t how real life works most days. Sometimes I have to be in the office earlier, sometimes stay later. Projects and deadlines happen.

But we are limited to a strict 40 hours per week, so once you hit that, you’re done for the week, get out.

So being able to leave earlier on a day of my choosing to make it all add up is really great. If my schedule became rock-solid for some reason, I’d probably consider other options, like carpooling.

I am the primary dinner-maker

See above? I’m the primary dinner-maker, and grocery-shopper, and errand-runner. My wonderful, generous, hilarious hubs is basically a hermit (has he left the house since August? Not sure…), whereas I love being out and about in the world.

So if we need milk, a package dropped off, dry cleaning to do, or a vet to visit, I am pretty much the one to do it.

And having more time in the evenings is key to adulting.

If another commute option arose which gave me MORE time, or proved more convenient (like being next to a place I frequently shop) I’d consider it.

Gas prices are reasonable right now

Even with Harvey and Maria and whoever comes next, gas prices this year have been mostly below $2.50 per gallon. That means that I fill my tank for about $20, and pretty much only once every other week. See below as well. If this changes and gas prices rose, I would definitely consider other ways of getting where I need to go.

A paid-off, older model vehicle with great gas mileage

Both our cars are reliable Hondas, 2005 and 2006, with less than 120,000 miles. They are both fully paid off, and have newish tires (within the past 3 years).

Though mine has been giving us some issues lately, overall these should have another several years worth of driving left in them.

Our insurance is super cheap, maintenance is negligible, gas mileage is stellar, and Honda engines run like a dream. When one or both someday bite the dust, or if Tesla magically creates a 10K car, we are definitely going to be in the car market, and I would re-evaluate.

We bought a house, and the mortgage is great

The house we bought fits our needs right now and for the foreseeable future. A similarly sized house closer to work would easily cost twice to four times as much.

We do have alerts set for a specific mile radius and price range, but barring a huge housing market downturn I highly doubt the ‘hot spots’ of the Triangle will become MORE affordable in the future.

However, if the perfect diamond in the rough house comes on the market, you better believe we will be all over that. And turn ours into a rental. Bonus.


What do you think? Is the trade-off of driving worth it? How far do you commute? Should I hang up my PF Blogger Pants and never write again, you terrible non-bike-riding human?

10 thoughts on “My Commuting Mistake”

  1. Bahaha! I’m sure we’ve all done things that would make Mr. Money Mustache facepalm. I used to live ONE MILE from my work and I drove instead of walked (in my defense, I did try walking for a few months).

    Currently I have a very nice commute of 20 steps from my bedroom to my home office. It’s been amazing to work from home since May, and our gas/car costs have reflected that change as well.

    I’m also the primary dinner-maker, which is now even easier since I can hop into the kitchen at exactly 5 pm and have it all cooked when hubs gets home at 5:30. 🙂

  2. Love this post. Of course the Budget Epicurean isn’t just for food! I had a 30 minute commute with lots of traffic and I hated it. Now I’m farther away so it’s also a 30 minute commute but without traffic and I love it! I say get the Tesla 3 or be ready to put down your deposit on the Apple Car when it’s revealed.

    1. Oh no, here we try to live up to both the “Budget” and the “Epicurean”! Health = Wealth amiright?

      So glad your commute is better, even if it is still the same length. Lack of traffic makes such a huge difference. C’mon Tesla, supply and demand ya know… I demand an affordable, self driving electric car!

  3. Although I miss seeing you on the bus, I understand that you have to do what works for your overall lifestyle. The park and ride works for me because the bus ride takes just a hair more time than I would if I drove my car. I’d rather save the money and use it for something I want to do, like eat stuff.

    1. Aw thanks friend! I do miss bus chats, listening to NPR in the car is just not the same… I fully support eating stuff! Good job allocating your money in the ways that make you happy.

  4. $0 bus pass?? What is this nonsense?? I’m actually someone who loves the bus and will take it even when more than slightly inconvenient. Though a kid has definitely reduced my bus riding these days. It does help that we have a grocery store within a short walk from our house, so I don’t need to stop on the way home in the car.

    1. Yup, the triangle transit is pretty great sometimes. I do feel all the guilt at not taking the bus anymore, but it just saves SO much time getting to and from work… Mr. MM would punch me in the face, I’m sure. >.<

  5. Hahaha! How did you know I was going to call you a “terrible non-biking human”? You certainly make fair points here. A while back I did the math and concluded that I prefer to live close to work (especially when you include your hourly rate in the calculation). However, I can definitely see how a great mortgage and the ability to avoid city living would make a commute appealing. Having a few minutes every day to listen to a great podcast or audiobook, or simply ponder your day, could actually make the commute worthwhile. Keep up the great writing!

    1. Ha, thanks Rob! Yes, the cost of moving to a similar sized house would more than double our mortgage payments for sure, which honestly would not balance out the slightly less we would pay in gas. (Hubs works from home, so there’s only 1 commute in the family). So we press on for now! I appreciate your comments.

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