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Commuters going without to get to work

  • Story Highlights
  • Nearly 50 percent of commuters give something up to afford gas, survey says
  • Survey: One-in-ten workers would take a pay cut for a shorter commute
  • More employers offer flexible work from home arrangements
  • 22 percent of carpoolers estimate they save more than $50 per week
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By Kate Lorenz editor
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Surveyed commuters say they're eating out less and spending less on entertainment to save money for gas.

Surveyed commuters say they're eating out less and spending less on entertainment to save money for gas.

Every day, Jennifer Bonchak commutes 64 miles round trip from her home in Raleigh, North Carolina to her job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

As gas costs go up, Bonchak, like many American workers, is seeing her paycheck go right into her gas tank ... so she can get to work.

"My husband and I have cut out a lot of things just to save money in general, but it seems that the savings is going into the gas tank instead of where we wanted it to go -- a savings account," Bonchak says.

The impact of escalating fuel costs has taken its toll on American commuters. Of the 89 percent of workers who said they drive to work, nearly half reported they had to give something up in order to afford the gas needed for their commute. This is according to a survey released July 2008.

Bonchak and her husband live lean. They don't have cable television, have an "entertainment" budget of $40 a week, haven't been on a vacation since their honeymoon three years ago, and try to keep it to $50 a week at the grocery store.

"We're trying to save money and be responsible, but increased costs and not an increase in salary are making it extremely hard," Bonchak admits.

When asked to identify what they had to forego in order to accommodate higher fuel prices, workers reported they:

• Ate out less -- 35 percent

• Spent less money on entertainment -- 31 percent

• Bought less expensive groceries -- 27 percent

• Went shopping for clothes less -- 24 percent

• Did not go on vacation -- 21 percent

• Eliminated cable, magazine subscriptions, etc. -- 11 percent

• Did not attend a function where they would be expected to bring a gift -- 9 percent

• Cut back on their child's extracurricular activities -- 4 percent

Given the cost of gas today, 60 percent of workers said they would be willing to drive up to 20 miles to the office. Twenty-nine percent would only drive up to 10 miles while 10 percent would only drive up to five miles.

Today's workers have had to modify personal budgets, spending choices and commuting habits to manage the adverse effects today's gas prices have had on their pocketbooks. One-in-ten workers said they would take a pay cut for a job with a shorter commute.

But some workers, like Tasha Kent, don't want a job with a shorter commute because of their job satisfaction.

"I currently drive 60 miles round trip every day (Monday through Friday) to get to work. I could look for a job closer to home but the reality is that I love my job, my co-workers and I am happy every morning when I get up knowing that my day will be enjoyable," says Kent, an account manager for a hotel brand in Cleveland, Ohio.

As an alternative, Kent, who is also in the costly process of adopting a child from Kazakhstan, has made changes to her spending habits. She makes coffee at home instead of making her daily trip to Starbucks.

Instead of impulse shopping at Home Depot, she buys Home Depot gift cards at her local Giant Eagle grocery store for which she earns money towards her next fill up (10 cents off a gallon of gas at the Giant Eagle brand gas station, Get Go).

Rather than buying in bulk at Costco, she makes double the trips to Giant Eagle in order to earn discounts toward its gas program.

If you find yourself spending more of your paycheck to get to and from work, here are some things you can do to stretch your commuting dollars:

1. Check for office perks -- Twelve percent of workers reported their employers offer some form of financial reimbursement for the commute. Of these, 31 percent said their employers provide public transit reimbursement, 20 percent cited reduced transit vouchers and 9 percent cited carpooling incentives.

2. Try carpooling -- Not only does carpooling promote a healthier environment, it also contributes to a healthier bank account. Eight percent of workers said they catch a ride to the office with co-workers. Of these workers, 22 percent estimated they save more than $50 per week carpooling and 51 percent save more than $25 per week.

3. Take mass transit -- Catching a bus or train can cut down on costs and travel times. Seven percent of workers said they are taking public transportation to and from work instead of driving due to rising energy costs.

4. Telecommute -- The cheapest way to travel is no travel at all. More employers today are offering flexible work arrangements and may accommodate a request to work from home a day or two to help mitigate commute costs.

5. Get in shape -- Take advantage of the warm weather to walk or ride your bike to work if the commute length allows for it.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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