About the Commute (and rotate your tires!)

snow drive


I spent part of my weekend re-reading a MMM’s 2012 post Toyota Prius – Ass Kicker, or Trouble Maker . The article covers your basics on car safety, reliability and a little dish on the maintenance costs. On whether hybrid cars save money or not, he posits:

“It depends mostly on the amount of driving you do annually. Since this is the Mr. Money Mustache blog, I’m assuming that you’ve learned by now that buying a new car is never a wise financial move. Thus, we can ignore the fact that a 2012 Prius costs $24,000 while a 2012 Honda Fit is only $16,000. You’d need to drive 27,000 miles per year to get that price difference back over five years, which would be effing insane.”

I fall squarely into that effing insane group, and actually exceed it by several thousand miles. This is one area in which I would disappoint Mr. MMM greatly. I bought my Prius brand new for just over $24,000. I plan on driving it more than 30,000 miles per year for eight years. Even though buying used would have greatly improved this picture, reliability weighed heavily in my decision. Let’s talk about my commute.

My work commute is 145 miles round trip, coming in at 3 hours of driving per day. I spend an average of $200 a month on fuel and maintenance for my car. It’s not too exciting but without this fuel I couldn’t do my job. “Just change jobs” some people would say. The problem is that there are no other employers in my field nearby. I’d have to either move to a different town or change my career completely and would end up earning considerably less.


Positives for a 3-hour commute


Small Town, Big Life

Can you believe there are any? Well for me there are and the choice to have a work commute is highly personal and certainly is not for everyone.

  1. I live in my ideal retirement home/town. This is my dream town. I worked for eight years just to get back here, there is no way we are leaving now. We bought our house in 2012 when prices were lower. I emphasize lower, because housing prices here have always seemed a little elevated to me. My house has increased in value by $112,000 over the last four years. By the time I FIRE, my home will be the affordable choice.
  2. My entire family lives here. Since my parents are reaching an age where they need additional assistance, it is nice to live so close. Plus, Little Miss TJL will get to grow up knowing her grandparents and her cousins. I did not grow up near my grandparents and, as a result, we had a very limited relationship.
  3. The school system is excellent. Over the last ten years, our town has replaced every single public school with new and modern buildings. Little Miss TJL will grow up with technology classes and other state of the art advantages for free (minus property taxes, of course).
  4. Our community is close knit and we have long and established friendships here. Instead of occasionally visiting our friends once a year, we now get to nurture these relationships multiple times a week. A support system is priceless; money isn’t everything.
  5. The weather is ideal. We live in a temperate mountain environment. Our daily temperatures are generally 10 degrees warmer than even the closest town only 25 miles to the north. It is truly crazy to be at work in -14 degree weather and come home to 40 degree weather, but it happens regularly through the winter. Even in the summer, work will be closer to 55-60 degrees and home will be 75-80 degrees. Delightful. It makes me feel like I am on vacation every single night.
  6. I commute with two other colleagues, so I am only driving the entire distance every four weeks. This reduces the cost but not the time investment.


Negatives of a 3-hour commute

May snow

This was in May.

I probably don’t even need to list these, but with the positives, comes a lot of negatives. This is part of the driver for FIRE, since I don’t think I can maintain such a grueling schedule for another 20 years.

  1. My day is 12 hours long. Since I need to be at my desk at 6:00 am, I leave my house at 4:30 am. I do not get home until 4:30 pm. This gives me exactly 2.5 hours to eat dinner and hang out with my family before bedtime.
  2. I have to go to bed at 7:00 pm. Due to my early morning hours, I go to bed quite early in the evening. This makes going out or spending time with friends more difficult. Even on the weekends, I am still maintaining this schedule, otherwise I get out of whack for the following work week. I miss out on a lot of fun stuff.
  3. Throughout the day, I get up from my desk and walk the stairs, however, more or less I sit for 12 hours a day. Sitting this long for years cannot be good for my health and actually leads to a pretty depressing existence. It is not sustainable.
  4. In the winter, I never see the sun. I get up in the dark, and by the time I arrive home in the evening it is dark. So much dark makes me sad, lethargic and fat.
  5. In the winter, I drive in inclement weather. I drive through winding mountain roads and passes, in the pitch dark, in blinding snow, on black ice, in storms. Sometimes, I drive 25 miles per hour through this weather and my commute extends to about 4-5 hours. I do this in a Prius (Seriously, who needs an SUV?). It sucks and is extremely stressful. Summer is awesome though, and it lasts exactly 2 months.
  6. The elevation climb from home to work is ~ 5,000 feet. Yes, you read that correctly. My work is 5,000 feet higher than my home. This daily climb can decrease the life of my electric car battery. I am hoping to eke out 200 to 300 thousand miles before replacing the battery, but I might have to replace it sooner. A lightly used battery pack from a salvage yard and 2 to 4 hours labor to swap it should run $1,000 to $1,500.
  7. Even though I own the Prius straight out, I still maintain full insurance coverage. I dodge wildlife in the dark for 3 hours a day. In the inevitable event that I will smoke a deer or elk on the highway, I could easily afford to replace the car with another highly reliable vehicle. Once I FIRE, full coverage is going bye-bye.
  8. I have frequent maintenance costs for oil changes and inspections. I get my oil changed every 10,000 miles. This equates to three times per year. The car gets inspected every year (~30,000 miles).
  9. Additionally, I replace my tires every 2-3 years. Due to the adverse driving conditions, I require high quality snow tires. These are softer than regular tires and do not last as long. However, I am happy to report that since I get a free tire rotation every 10,000 miles, my current set has lasted 60,000 miles and look good enough to get me through another winter. Rotate your tires!
big snow

I called in sick this day

I guess that is more negatives than positives, however if I can hang in there for another 4.5 years, I’ll be home free. No more commute. I might even sell my car.


Do you have a brutal commute? How do you justify it?

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11 Responses to About the Commute (and rotate your tires!)

  1. ha! we also have a new prius (though I wish I had bought it used – my one regret) AND a long commute (1 hour each way, but we also do a lot of long drives for vacations – we share the car as we work near each other). I try to work from home as much as possible but I don’t want to move near our jobs where school and kids activities are not as great as what we have now. I already moved them enough times in their early years so I would love some stability for them now. Plus I just love the area where we live and that the houses are unique looking (I particularly appreciate that) and have LOVELY trees with birds chirping – which makes me so happy.

    This just gives me an even bigger incentive to quit ;).

    • ska@thejollyledger.com says:

      I hear ya! Little Miss moved three times before the age of three. Then it didn’t matter as much but now I like the stability and the family support when we need it. Raising kids is hard enough. I daydream about the day I no longer drive to work though.

  2. Mr SSC says:

    Man, those snow pics remind me of when I worked in Lakewood and would have to commute up to breckenridge, Eagle, Vail, whatever mtn town I was working in that day and there would be, you know, mtn weather. Hahahaha. I have a similar snowy windshield pic as your first one even. The best was July snow storms – fun, unexpected, but why I always had a winter coat in my work truck. 🙂

    Those positives are what we are looking for in a new community when we FIRE. Maybe a little longer summer, but otherwise…

    As for the negatives – whew, long commutes just suck. Even just changing my schedule changed my commute dramatically. Now I get to the office in 30-35 “easy” minutes vs 45-60 “hard” minutes and I get to get home by 4:15 instead of 6pm. Freaking awesome on so many levels.

    I’m a big fan of rotating the tires. When my mechanic told me I needed a new set of tires due to “cupping” when they had less than 4k miles on them I laughed, and then laughed a little harder. They weren’t cupped, but the alignment was habitually going out due to a couple of accidents and frame alignment being off I’m guessing. That was the second alignment in 4k miles, and i’d had 2 within 15k miles previous to that…

    Needless to say, I got rid of that car within 2 weeks. I didn’t want to mess around with what could be a recurring nightmare in a heavy commuter car. It’s only 60 miles roundtrip heavy though, not 145…. Eeesh…

    • ska@thejollyledger.com says:

      I have a whole winter bin in my car! Includes, wool blanket, shovel, rock hammer, peanut butter, water, chains, flashlight, gloves, and insulated coveralls. I ain’t gonna die if I have to walk 20 miles to the nearest town. Luckily my commute is not on I-70. Dealing with the commute and the traffic…nightmare.
      I still can’t believe I have gotten 60,000 miles out of these tires and still running. I owe it all to regular tire rotation. I will probably have to shell out for a new set next year though.
      It is great that you have a shorter commute. I wish this was in the cards for me too. Oddly, 100% of my work is computer work (geo-modeler) but my company will not agree to remote work. Not really sure why since I have no direct reports and I am not tied to production. I have a feeling it is mostly a control issue.

  3. Whoa, Ms. TJL! That is the craziest commute I’ve ever heard about… and it’s equally crazy you can’t work remotely…

    What if you came down with incapacitating car or altitude sickness and, as a medical necessity, had to work remotely under provisions of the ADA?

    Or, since you have a daughter, what if you suffered a long-term onset of disruptive emotional distress wrought by the distance from home and the paralyzing fear that you wouldn’t be able to appropriately discharge your parental duty of care in the event of emergency?

    Such medical issues are obviously troubling and very hard to deal with for individuals suffering from them. And, unfortunately, we’re all prone to sudden changes in our medical condition. I recall employees discovering similar health maladies that necessitated remote work, and which effectively prohibited any employer recourse other than accommodation.

    It’s a very delicate situation, and I only mention it because it appears from what’s written in this post that you may already be suffering the earliest phases of such or similar issues. A doctor might be able to provide additional insight if provided with the relevant medical history.

    Some light reading: https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/telework.html

    • ska@thejollyledger.com says:

      I think there should be reasonable accommodation for telework regardless of disability! Unfortunately (or fortunately!), I do not think I qualify as disabled enough to qualify or push my employer for telework. I have good days and bad days, but I have never suffered from altitude sickness or any type of paralyzing fear. We are lucky in that Mr. TJL is a SAHD and can handle any and all emergencies at home. My family can also step in if need be, so I really don’t worry about this much. Car issues happen, but big deal, I can call in sick and fix the car. I do suffer from General Irritation Disorder (made up malady) and am growing more and more impatient with my job conditions, if that counts!
      Thank you for such a thoughtful and concerned comment, FL.

      • Well, in all honesty, I was half-joking.

        But seriously, there are some legal measures that require employers to accommodate remote work. And you might be surprised by what conditions can necessitate accommodation.

  4. Wow. 3 hours every day, no wonder you want FIRE!

    I go to work by public transport, it’s an hour door to work door one way. For an annual ticket, it costs $1,500. On this hour commute, I can spend most of my time on my phone doing blog things, so it’s time gained rather than lost. Overall, it works well for me 🙂 Because of this, we only have 1 car and we’ll save heaps over a lifetime.


    • ska@thejollyledger.com says:

      $1,500 per year isn’t too bad! You are well on your way. I haven’t lived anywhere with public transit since college, but I remember those days fondly. I also remember throwing up in my backpack after a trip to the pub after school…that was gross.

  5. Pingback: The Church of FI – August 2016 Expense and Net Worth reports from the blogosphere | The Jolly Ledger

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