Factoring Commute Into Where You Live: The Real Cost of a Commute

Thinking about buying a new place? You may be tempted by less expensive real estate and bigger properties in the suburbs, but if you work in the city, it turns out that commuting can rack up some serious costs—both in your finances and your quality of life.

In a case study by the New York Times, the cost of living in the suburbs for a family of four was about 18 percent higher than living in an urban apartment. The biggest factors were property taxes, the cost of commuting and the cost of maintaining a house. The one thing that pushes the city budget beyond the suburban, according to the Times, is private school, which many city dwellers see as a necessity for their children. In that case, a house in the suburbs with a good public school system is much more cost-effective. But if it’s not your concern, the city is cheaper.

The same is true in the Washington, D.C. area. According to a report by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, households that qualify for affordable housing in the D.C. metro area and must commute into the city can spend more than 32 percent of their household income on transportation.

Another factor to consider is your health. An infographic from GOOD, using statistics from the Trust for America’s Health, shows the correlation between states where residents drive more, walk less, bike less and use less public transportation and higher rates of obesity. Washington, D.C. ranks first, above all 50 states, for less driving and more walking, biking and public transportation, and has a 3 percent rate of obesity. Neighboring Virginia and Maryland rank 35th and 31st in the nation for walking, and have obesity rates of 20 and 26 percent, respectively.

What factors went into your decision about where to live? Has anyone migrated from suburb to city to save money—or vice versa? Are you saving?