Dumb Financial Decisions: My Long Commute
A well-known episode of the animated television series South Park is entitled “Simpsons Already Did It”.
In the episode, Butters/Professor Chaos tries to find a way to destroy the town of South Park. To his dismay, he discovers every one of his ideas has already been a plot on the long-running animated television series The Simpsons.
As an aspiring blogger on early retirement and financial independence, I’m finding the corollary in this world is “Mr. Money Mustache Already Did It”.
So with all due respect to the legend, if you’d rather read his take on the high cost of commuting, click here.
For those few intrepid readers who are still with me, thank you!
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it takes the average American worker 26 minutes to travel to work.
My commute is a bit worse than average, at about 32 minutes on a typical day.
The good news is that because I travel from my home in a more heavily populated area, to work in a less populated area, bad traffic is rarely an issue for me. I can count on my commute being between 31 and 33 minutes over 90% of the time.
The bad news is that I put about 65 miles a day on my car. I average over 15,000 miles a year, which is an incredible amount of wear and tear on a depreciating asset.
In January, the IRS changed the standard mileage rate for a car to 53.5 cents per mile.
Meaning that, by at least one metric, my long commute costs me over $8,000 a year.
When I add up the massive depreciation in the value of my vehicle since I bought it new in 2012, plus the cost of fuel, maintenance, insurance, registration, inspections, and repair expenses, I think the IRS number is definitely in the right ballpark.
And to make things worse, we haven’t yet factored in the time my commute takes.
Over one hour a day on the road, times five days a week, times roughly 45 weeks a year, taking off time for vacations, holidays, and out-of-state business travel, means I am spending… drum roll please… TEN DAYS A YEAR COMMUTING BY CAR TO AND FROM WORK!
Assuming I need to sleep for eight hours every day, I’m spending 15 days of my conscious life commuting every year!
You would think if I am willing to spend over $8,000 a year, in addition to 15 days of my life, commuting, I must have some incredibly specialized skill to justify that type of time commitment.
Like a professional athlete.
Or a world-famous talk show host.
Or an astronaut!
Sadly, that’s not the case.
There are tens of thousands of people doing the same job as me, in practically every corner of the country.
To make matters worse, there are literally thousands of possible places I could work within fifteen minutes of my home.
To be fair, I am not qualified to work at many of those places.
I doubt the medical center would seriously consider my application to become a brain surgeon.
I have a hard time imagining anyone would pay their hard-earned dollars for me to instruct their children in ballet.
And it would probably be unsafe to have people driving around in vehicles I attempted to repair.
That being said, there are many perfectly acceptable jobs within fifteen minutes of my home.
Switching to one of them, and cutting my commute in half, would save me at least $4,000 a year in vehicle expenses, and also give me back seven and a half days of my life!
Going to the gas station half as often, putting 50% less wear and tear on my vehicle, and getting an extra 30 minutes a day to spend as I like really add up over the course of a year.
I’m not going to quit my job today.
But, if I do change my job before reaching early retirement, I can say with absolute certainty that a shorter commute will be a key factor in making that decision.
An article last year in the Washington Post highlighted the incredible impact of America’s rapidly lengthening commutes on our society. Some of the statistics cited about the negative effect long commutes have on the country at large are amazing – particularly those involving the 3.6 million Americans who have commutes of 90 minutes or longer – each way! The number of Americans with those “mega-commutes” has climbed 64% since 1990.
If I haven’t convinced you to do everything in your power to shorten your commute, perhaps the Washington Post article will!
How long is your commute? What is the biggest negative (or positive!) impact it has on your life?
JaxJune 13, 2017
My commute is also about 32 minutes…on foot. I work at a university and parking is atrocious. Luckily, I live 1.8 miles from my building, so as long as there isn’t any ice I walk to work.
I work in a paraprofessional job and want to use my degree. But those jobs are outside my county. I haven’t gotten past having a 60-90 minute commute EACH WAY just for a job. I like being able to walk to work-my bank account and my waist line thank me.
ROMTJune 13, 2017
Great point about the potential health, and financial, benefits of walking to work! I’m impressed with your smart decision making. I have contemplated attempting my 32 mile commute on bike, but have not had the courage to actually give it a try!