Calculating the commute: to live near or far

For the past couple of years we’ve explored the Chilterns and discovered a growing list of delightful towns and villages, where we could quite easily see ourselves living when we upscale in a few years time. This has led me to wonder: just how realistic and affordable it would be to live in these places? Would the various commuter factors make it impossibly expensive or impractical, or could owning a home in the Chilterns be a distinct reality?

I wanted to find out whether it’s more cost-effective to live in a pricier but easily commutable town or to live further out where property is cheaper but possibly have to drive to and park at the local station. To find this out I put together a spreadsheet comparing house prices and commuting costs in each of our favourite towns and villages.

This looked at:

  • annual mortgage payments for the typical price of properties that meet our house criteria
  • annual season ticket for me to travel to work on the train and tube
  • cost of parking for a year at a station in cases where I’d have to drive to the station, plus an estimated £1,000 annual cost for running a second car
  • petrol costs for the year of Tara driving to her work in outer London, based on mileage at 13p/mile

What the figures say

There was a £5,964 per year difference between the cheapest and most expensive towns. Far and away the most expensive on our list is Chalfont St Giles, due to it having some of the highest house prices and requiring a second car to drive to the station, which in turn has expensive parking.

The cheapest locations, up to £500 a month less expensive than CSG, are a mixed bag. They include towns further down the line from London, the nicer end of an otherwise less desirable large commuter town and an affordable but relatively distant village with no station. Rickmansworth, where we currently live, comes in at the upper end of the lowest cost group, as cheaper and shorter commuting costs help to offset higher house prices.

Towns of a moderate living and travelling cost include the commutable but expensive Amersham, helped by low train and petrol costs, and towns on the Bucks/Oxon border where cheaper housing is balanced by substantial travelling costs.

The costliest group consisted of the most coveted commuting towns in the area, such as Berkhamsted and St Albans. Although very commutable, the top-end house prices combined with the still reasonable car journey and relatively high train fares for the distance make for the greatest overall costs.

Personalising this guide

Of course, this isn’t a guide for everyone. The figures I got are based specifically on a criteria tailored to our commutes and our choice of towns. Some people will have no issue with the difference in expense, others won’t commute at all, while many will consider the more affordable large towns we excluded. That’s fine, as anyone using the same cost criteria can construct their own chart using information freely available online.

Information sources

Rightmove – the leading UK property website, use it to work out the general cost of properties in each town that meets your house criteria
BBC mortgage calculator – works out mortgage repayments based on the size of mortgage you’ll need
Google Maps – for calculating driving distance
AA – produce a helpful motoring costs document. I used the petrol cost (13p/mile) in my calculations.
National Rail season tickets – show travelcard costs for a specified commute
Car parking costs at stations are available from the respective train operator

What next

It should hopefully go without saying that a guide to affordability isn’t the sole basis for deciding where to live. However, identifying the key recurring costs in living and commuting from a place is a good start for creating a short-list of potential locations. The internet can also be extremely useful for understanding the quality of life in a particular place, by looking at school league tables, crime figures and length of commute, amongst others.


Let me know what you think of this guide. Do you think it covers all of the main factors that determine cost of living in a particular place, or would you have added other points? Leave a comment, below…

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One thought on “Calculating the commute: to live near or far

  1. The main consideration in estimating costs should be based on gross income and what percentage of this can be used to cover essential expenses. At the end of the day you have to cut your coat according to the cloth.
    You need to take into consideration the fact that the global economy up until 2015 and maybe beyond is due to undergo major changes.

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