Val is a Georgia mother in her late 30's who lives 34 miles from her Atlanta job. Because of traffic her commute can take up to two hours. "I burn a lot of gas just sitting in traffic. It's crazy of course. Sometimes I drive further to avoid the traffic." She spends about $80 per week on gasoline.
She and her husband bought their house when gas prices were low with the expectation that she'd commute. "We can't afford to live inside the perimeter." she says, explaining that close to the center of Atlanta, where the jobs are is too expensive. In addition, for Val, commuting is a way of life: Even in college she commuted 40 miles each way. "Atlanta is such a commuter city," she says, "There's seven lanes on the highway heading in. And it's still packed!"
With the recession her husband's self-emplyment income has become unsteady. And after using credit cards to make up the difference the family has cut out almost all restaurant meals and buy only "bare bones" food from the supermarket. This year they'll also take their daughter out of private school to save money--a tough decision.
Val was surprised that the yearly cost of her commute is about $6000. (That's just gas and insurance. The car, a Jeep, was a free hand-me-down from her parents) "I could do a lot with that money," she said, adding that it's exactly what they're spending on their daughter's tuition. "I don't think about the future. I don't feel like I have a choice. It worries me. We'll have to cut back here and there to afford gas if prices go higher."
"If you really think about how much we're spending on my commute, it's kind of ridiculous. That's a nice used car. We could have kept my daughter in private school. Or I could save for retirement. I'm spending so much on gas--instead of school or even going out to dinner-- and I'm not putting money into the economy. That's sad."