The true cost of commuting. Not something that I was going to discuss in the near future, but recent events have brought this issue to the forefront for me. For the majority of us, a commute is a part of everyday life, something we do multiple times a week. Many of us probably don’t think about it outside of the times we are sitting in our vehicle of choice, yelling at the person in front of us to move. I’m here to tell you it may be time to think about that commute and what it is truly costing, both in your time/happiness and true cost to your vehicle.
Before getting into the topic more deeply, I do want to acknowledge that I have privilege in this regard. The story I will tell later is only possible because I have options in my job, and I recognize that that is not true for everyone. I am also able to handle the costs of moving or taking extra time to find a new job if necessary, which I understand not everyone has. What I hope to get through is that while there may be boundaries to some of the ideas I’ll put forth, taking the time to consider them and assess the actual cost of your daily commute may be absolutely worth some effort and time right now.
Now, let’s start with the actual cost of a mile driven in a standard car. The IRS estimates the cost of a mile driven as 58 cents. For the purposes of this post I’m going to use 50 cents per mile as a simple estimate for the cost of driving. This estimate includes the cost of gasoline as well as the cost in depreciation and wear and tear on your vehicle. Obviously, if you have an older car (assuming it isn’t a lemon), more fuel efficient car, or electric car which requires less maintenance, than your cost per mile may be lower.
I personally drive 35 miles round trip every day at my current job location. That means that every day my commute costs me $17.50 (my electric car does help bring this cost down). While I know coworkers with longer commutes that this, I would say it is a pretty average commute distance. For a lot of people, that is an hour of wages or more down the drain every single day. Spread across a typical 8 hour work day, I’m losing $2.19/hour, which is enough to consider your commute costs before taking that new “higher” paying job. This isn’t even taking into account the hours I have to spend in my car, sitting in traffic, missing out on time that I can spend with my family or friends. My average commute time in the morning (only because I wake up at the buttcrack of dawn) is 30-35 minutes. My average commute time in the afternoon is closer to 45-50 minutes. That means that every day I am spending, conservatively, and hour and 15 minutes commuting. I’m essentially working more, about 15% more daily, for the same pay. If I can find a job that pays me the same amount, but is only 5 miles from my house, I can essentially give myself a nice raise. Or, if I move closer to my work I accomplish the same goal. Again, all inputs into the equation when you are deciding if a new job is worth it, or if spending up front for moving costs is worth it for the savings that you’ll achieve in the process.
For a thought exercise, let’s consider someone making $15/hour with my current commute. Assuming an 8 hour work day, their real wage, after taking into account car costs and commute time, is about $10.79/hour. What a huge difference the commute is making on their hourly wage! Now, let’s consider they can move closer to their job, making their commute a round trip of 10 miles and 20 minutes. That $10.79 real wage now becomes a $13.78, about a 28% increase! Assuming that person is renting, let’s say it costs $2000 to move locations (a new security deposit plus moving costs). How many hours will they have to work to make up that upfront cost? Well, at a difference of $2.99/hour, that is 669 hours, or 17 weeks to have paid for the move and begin making 28% more money. It’s a significant amount that can really help someone pay off bills or begin getting ahead with saving for the future. While this was a simple example, I encourage you to sit down and do the math on what your commute is truly costing you and consider if you have options for closer jobs or moving to a new location.
As promised, the story that jump started this discussion topic. My job has 2 locations, and this year I was moved to the 2nd location in my current role, which happens to be further from my home and in a much worse location for traffic. I have an opportunity to move back to my original work location for the same pay, and I sat down to discuss this opportunity with my director. I described to him why this new job would be a better fit for my career goals and set forth a plan for transitioning roles so that my current team is not left out in the cold. As a part of this discussion, I mentioned that the move to the new location really affected my daily commute and was something I wanted to avoid. His response was, in my opinion, outdated to say the least. He explained to me that in his day, people would be very happy to have a 45 minute commute because it meant they had a job. He mentioned that in places like LA and Seattle, workers are extremely happy if they can have a job with a 45 minute commute……Cool. Those people aren’t me and it’s not 1995 anymore. I respectfully told him that I am grateful to have a job, but I have options open to me, including an option that reduces my commute time and distance. So, hopefully within a couple of months I will be returning to my original commute of about 25 miles round trip, and more importantly, only 45 minutes daily. While modest, this translates to 30 minutes and $4.50 saved every day. And all it cost me was an adult conversation with a director that has not adjusted to a changing world.
Moral of the story, please consider what your daily commute is costing you and consider ways to improve it. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll hit the jackpot and find a way to work from home!
****I also want to note this post about driving for Uber/Lyft. The guy only takes into account his fuel costs when considering his costs, not the full cost of $0.50 for every mile driven. Even when considering his fuel cost he doesn’t reduce his hourly income. I mean, come on man, you literally had a flat tire while driving, that is exactly the kind of cost you need to take into account when DRIVING FOR A LIVING.