How much of your life do you spend commuting? According to a 2011 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 85 percent of American workers drive to work, with the average commute around 25 minutes.
How far you drive, though, can vary widely. Nearly a third of workers drive five miles or less each way, while around 8 percent have commutes of 35 miles or more, according to 2012 data compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
With the average price for regular gas hovering around $3.50 per gallon, according to AAA, consumers are looking for ways to cut costs of commuting – or at least make the time spent more profitable. Consider these strategies:
Change your work schedule. It's called “rush hour” for a reason. Everyone is in a hurry to get to work or go home. A number of employers will allow workers to shift their working hours so they don’t have to commute during peak travel times. Consider starting your day an hour earlier or an hour later, and you could cut the time you spend commuting by half.
Reduce the number of work days. For some jobs, the eight-hour day, five-day per week schedule is becoming obsolete. Check with your employer to see if you could work four 10-hour days each week, which can reduce commuting costs by some 20 percent.
Work from home. For many, the days when you could leave the office behind at the end of the work day are long gone. Workers in many industries are required by employers to be accessible and connected via phone, text message and email during off-business hours. Your employer might even expect you to check in electronically on the weekend. Why not take that connectivity to the next level and work from home one or two days per week?
Carpool. Three out of four workers commuted alone, according to the Census Bureau report. As such, carpooling with colleagues can cut costs dramatically. Not only will you save money, but you'll get to know co-workers on a personal level.
Use mass transit. You won't save time. In fact, it could very well lengthen your commute – but you will likely save money. You can also pay full attention to anything you'd like to read or listen to while your local transit authority does the driving.
Bike to work. This method of transportation to get to the office may not be practical. However, if you can bike to work, you can save dollars and get a workout at the same time. What’s more: A number of bikers say peddling past cars stuck in rush hour traffic makes their commute that much more pleasant.
Learn while you drive. Whether you want to learn a language, listen to an audio book or brush up on home repair techniques, there's probably a CD to help you do it.
Listen to your favorite podcasts. From political commentary to satire, podcasts run the gamut. Search "podcast directories" on iTunes to find ones that pique your interest.
Exercise your mind. Like your muscles, your brain grows stronger when it's put to work. Instead of daydreaming while you sit in traffic, challenge your mind to memorize a passage from a favorite book. By engaging in easy mental activities, you can make sure your brain is stronger when you get out of the car than when you got in.
Listen to music. Scientists have begun to discover certain music can help promote heath and well-being. Use your commute to listen to some of your favorite artists. While you can't lay back and close your eyes when at the wheel, you can soothe your soul.
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who founded TheDollarStretcher.com website and newsletters. The site features thousands of articles on how to save your valuable time and money including an article on reducing the cost of commuting.