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The Simple Dollar

Take a new route home

Rerouting your commute so that you don't drive past stores can help cut back on money you spend on the way home from work.

By Guest blogger / February 28, 2011

Cars drive on a rainy night on the streets Westchester, Los Angeles County, Calif. If you drive past commercial areas on your commute home, you may be more likely to spend money unnecessarily.

Larry Brownstein/Ambient Images/Newscom

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This week, The Simple Dollar is running a short series on some of the key moments in my financial turnaround and how you can experience those moments as well. For a full description of this, see the first article in the series.

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When I worked at an office about thirty minutes from my home, my usual daily commute took me by an electronics store, a game shop, two bookstores, a coffee shop, and a few other interesting places. Unsurprisingly, I was often tempted to stop for something on my way home, whether it was coffee, a new book, or something else. Even when I didn’t stop, simply going by those places made me think about stopping there and build up my desire to do so a little bit more.

When I started to take a real look at how I was spending my money, I began to notice just how often I was stopping on my way home from work for some sort of treat. It was a very consistent money leak – week in and week out, I was stopping off for things I didn’t really need and, honestly, couldn’t really afford.

My solution was simple. I changed my route home from work. Instead of traveling by all of those shops, I plotted a new route which took me by a hospital, through a residential neighborhood, and onto a stretch of open road before arriving home. The only places to stop along this new route for things to buy were a pair of gas stations. Not only that, the new route turned out to be a mile shorter than my normal route, so I wound up reducing my gasoline usage, wear and tear on my car, and time during a normal commute.

Amazingly, not only did my incidental spending drop rapidly, my desire to spend on many of the most common temptations dropped rapidly, too.

Reroute Your Commute
When many of us figure out a route to work for the first time, we often mentally “set” that route as the one to take every single time. Usually, it’s a route that just incorporates as much roadway as we already know, which often means that it goes by stores that we’ve shopped at before and the like.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to learn that such routes are usually not the optimal route, for two reasons.

One, if you’re using a route that goes through the commercial district each day, you’re opening yourself up to the temptation of spending money every day. Even if you don’t stop, you’re still subjecting yourself to tons of roadside advertising just by driving through.

Two, there is almost always a better route that will save you time and distance on your commute, resulting in some financial savings.

How do you make it happen? The process is actually really simple.

Just start up Google Maps and map your route to work. Sometimes, the route will match your normal commute – sometimes it won’t.

Either way, try to identify at least three alternate routes you could take to and from your place of work. Google Maps offers a handy feature of allowing you to “drag” the mouse pointer around and quickly adjust your route.

Seek out a route that avoids commercial areas, preferably one that also shortens your commute a bit or, at the very least, doesn’t add to your commute.

Even if your route seems relatively straightforward and not fraught with temptations, you can still gain some benefit from finding a more optimal route for your commute. If you can shave one mile off of your daily commute each way, you’re saving 500 miles per year. In a 25 mile per gallon car and gas prices at $3.50 per gallon, that’s $70 on gas savings alone. Add on top of that the savings on maintenance, oil changes, and wear and tear, it really adds up.

To me, this was another deceptively simple step. Not only did it start slowly saving me money and time due to the superior route, it also cut a routine connection to coffee shops and other temptations on my way to and from work. I started desiring these things less, too, so I found myself indulging less often even during non-commute times. A little shift makes a big impression.

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