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Five tips to cut commuting costs

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Commuting can be an expensive proposition. Not only do you have to deal with fluctuating gas prices, there are also tolls, parking and car maintenance to consider. That's why the Minnesota Society of CPAs (MNCPA) offers these tips on minimizing the cost of getting to work.

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Use the buddy system

Sharing a ride or carpooling allows you to divvy up the costs with others, cutting your expenses by half or more, depending on how many people you involve. If you take turns driving in different cars, then you're also putting fewer miles on your own vehicle, which can extend its useful life. One added bonus: You're helping the environment by putting fewer cars on the road and using less fuel.

Take a train

Check out public transportation options. These can frequently be less expensive than driving, and while they offer less flexibility they definitely can cut down on the hassle of dealing with traffic and parking challenges.

Work from home

Telecommuting has taken off as a convenient and less expensive way to get down to business. According to recent U.S. Census Bureau data, about 2.5 million employees do most of their work in a home office, not including those who are self-employed. That doesn't include many more who work from home one or more days a week, but it's clear that the popularity of this option is growing. Employees save not only on gas, toll and parking expenses, but also, potentially, on business attire and takeout lunches. There are many advantages for employers, too, who can cut down on office space and related costs. That can add up to $5,000 per employee per year, according to Cornell University, with another potential savings of up to $10,000 per employee due to reduced absenteeism and turnover. If you want to make a case for telecommuting -- or if you own a small business yourself -- these can be compelling numbers.

Improve fuel efficiency

A hybrid or other fuel-efficient car should obviously help lower your gas costs, but there are other ways get the most bang for your buck at the pump. Simply keeping your car in shape -- with properly inflated tires, for example -- can minimize your mileage. Adjusting your schedule to avoid rush hour will reduce the time you spend idling in traffic -- and the gas you use up while doing it. In addition, if you're toting a lot of cargo in your trunk that you really don't need, unloading it will lower the energy your car needs to get around.

Search out cost-cutting benefits

Many employers allow workers to use pretax dollars to buy transit passes or offer similar benefits, so be sure to cash in on these options if they're available or ask your employer about setting up these programs if they're not. Also, remember to let your car insurance company know if you have reduced your regular commute. You may be able to obtain a low-mileage discount or other savings on insurance. Keep in mind, too, that fare discounts or lower-priced passes are often available to seniors and students. In addition, an employee who uses a bicycle to commute to work, may be entitled to a "bicycle commuting reimbursement," not to exceed $20 per month.

Consult your CPA

Every day, CPAs help their clients make the best financial choices. If you have questions about the smartest way to cut costs, maximize savings, handle taxes, manage debt, save for retirement, college or some other cherished goal, be sure to turn to your local CPA. He or she has the expertise to help you make sound financial decisions.

The Minnesota Society of Certified Public Accountants (MNCPA) serves the public interest by advancing the highest standards of ethics and practice within the CPA profession. MNCPA delivers on that promise by offering extensive continuing professional education and resources; advocating for members and the public with regulatory agencies and boards; and mentoring and encouraging the CPAs and business leaders of tomorrow. Founded in 1904, MNCPA's 9,400 members work in public accounting, business and industry, government and education. To locate a CPA, visit www.mncpa.org/referral or call 800-331-4288.

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