Return to office: How to spend less on your commute

A woman looks at her phone while on the subway
January 16, 2024 | Ben Heinze

Over the past couple of years, many employees have been instructed to return to the office at least a few days a week. After getting used to remote work, the additional costs incurred from commuting have been jarring to many. Even commuting a few times per week can add up, and coupled with high inflation, many workers are struggling with increased expenses under a full-time in-office or hybrid schedule. Learn what commuting costs many are now paying as they return to the office, as well as tips on how you can save on yours.

Buy a more cost effective vehicle

There are many costs associated with having a vehicle, some of which are obvious and some that are hidden. Between a car payment, gas, insurance, maintenance, repairs, depreciation and more, these costs add up to far more than you might realize. According to Nerdwallet, the average total cost of car ownership for new vehicles driven 15,000 miles a year was $12,182 in the third quarter of 2023.

Thankfully, all these costs can be influenced and decreased by what vehicle you choose to have. More affordable cars tend to have lower insurance costs, and certain makes and models are known for being reliable vehicles to drive well after they’re paid off. Buying a vehicle with high gas mileage, or a hybrid or electric vehicle, can also save you money over time.

Use public transportation or carpool

If public transit is available, this is a fantastic way to reduce commuting costs. Even if you don’t have a car payment, public transportation will almost always be cheaper than driving your own car when factoring in gas, depreciation, maintenance, etc. For example, unlimited rides on the CTA in Chicago will run you just $75 a month, with other cities having comparable pricing.

If you don’t have public transit access but live near a coworker, consider setting up a carpool arrangement with them. You can alternate days driving to split expenses or trade off who pays for gas to make this arrangement benefit everyone involved.

Pay tolls? Reexamine your route

Tolls are a part of many American workers’ commutes. If you’re a part of this group, try taking a second look at potential routes to work to see if there’s a way to pay less in tolls without drastically increasing your commute time. GPS will often take you on a toll route if it’s even a minute faster than the non-toll route, so you could save several dollars a day while adding minimal time to your commute.

Skip the coffee and breakfast out

Grabbing coffee and breakfast on the way to work is a common trend among many American workers, spending $13 on it every day they commute, according to a 2023 Owl Labs study. This is an easy way to save on your commute—simply have your morning coffee and breakfast at home before coming in or bring them from home with you. Or, if your office has free coffee available, take advantage of that. It may not be the fancy drink you can get at a coffee shop, but free tastes pretty good!

Check your employee benefits

Some employers offer benefits that will help you reduce your commuting costs. A common benefit for those in large urban areas is purchasing a public transit pass with pre-tax dollars. Your employer may also pay for or reimburse you for parking. If these benefits are available, there’s no reason not to take advantage.

Bring your lunch

While breakfast can easily be eaten at home, that can’t be done with lunch unless you live extremely close to the office. Still, bringing your lunch helps to drastically reduce one of the largest commuting expenses for American workers—sitting at $16 every commuting day. Going out to eat with coworkers to socialize is perfectly okay sometimes, but eating lunch out every day adds up fast.

Find a new job

If finances are tight and there’s no realistic way to reduce commuting costs enough, finding a new job to reduce your commuting costs is an understandable choice. Many jobs offer hybrid or remote work arrangements, which can save you both time and money from your lack of commute. You may even be able to leverage the experience you gained at your current job to get a pay raise!

With some workers working from the office more, commuting expenses are on the mind for many. While some of these expenses are unavoidable, many can be dramatically reduced with some smart planning. Over time, these savings will make a big difference for your finances, allowing you to spend and save more for what matters most to you.

Move closer to work

This is a drastic step that can’t be made lightly, but it is an effective way to shorten your commute and save money. If you’re going into the office the majority of your work days, this may be something to consider if you aren’t happy with your commute and don’t want to switch jobs.

There’s the obvious improvement of time saved on a shorter commute, but there are also potential cost savings. You may be able to save on gas and tolls or move somewhere with public transportation access to work. However, if your job is located in an expensive downtown area, you may not save money moving closer—be sure to look into how expensive housing is near your office if considering this step.


Before working from home was prominent, many considered these commuting expenses a required part of life. Now, with many having the option to work a hybrid or remote schedule, these expenses are being evaluated more carefully. Regardless of your current work situation, there are likely steps to take to keep commuting costs down.


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Ben Heinze is a marketing content specialist with a passion for financial education. Instilled with a strong sense of frugality from a young age, he views money as a means to building the life you want, rather than an end in itself. From reading Money Mentor, he hopes you discover new ways money can be used to build your ideal life—whatever that may look like.

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