How Much Does Your Commute Really Cost You? Calculate It… Then Kill It?

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What is the true cost of your commute? One example comes from 4HWW reader Troy Gardner, who recently wrote to me:

I’m still work focused (I like creating things!), but since I control my time/location, I’m reaping some of the rewards of being among the New Rich. My girlfriend and I will be spending the entire month of October visiting Chicago and Hawaii. Since I’m project/laptop based I can work during the evenings/free time, while spending the time out and about, finally learning surfing, and maybe kiteboarding etc.

Here is his experience, in his own words, of going from shocked awareness to blissful mobility…

People often fail to include the amount of time, wear and tear on the car, and loss of sanity into the allure of a high paying job, and how that high paying job once calculated hourly might not be better off than a fast-food worker.

My Example (back in 2000):

* 100K startup job in Sunnyvale, frequent meetings and late nights.
* Lived in Pacifica because Sunnyvale was boring.
* Girlfriend in Oakland: the only place she could afford a house.

Which, if your familiar with Bay Area traffic, forms a bermuda triangle of life suckage. What would be 20 minutes on a good day could turn into 4 hours of red lights. The draining aspect is its unpredictability, which you can never tell, and which also makes planning on getting to work on time difficult (should I get up at 4am or 6 am?).

Measuring the Pain

I got out my trusty stopwatch and averaged times over a few weeks. I was spending 20hrs in commute (commuting is an awful part-time job!) and 45-65 hrs at work, sometimes 6 days a week. Which when averaged into the “high” income calculated hourly rate between UPS delivery boy and McDonald’s chef, and I’m sure the UPS guy was in better shape. Needless to say, I was quite astounded finishing the calculation.

On Fridays, I would go visit my girlfriend and get so frazzled from the commute that, when faced with another commute into the city to go out, coupled with 20-45 minutes finding parking (sometimes coupled with stresses of showtimes), any enjoyment to be had was quickly offset by the road rage and unknowns. This frequently took its toll on the relationship in the form of arguments.

Getting to a Zero Commute

Ever since then, I’ve never lived more than 30 minutes away from work, either structuring where I live, or where/how I work. Here are the steps I followed.

1. Negotiated (both work and girlfriend) for flex time, avoiding traffic. Savings of 5-7 hours a week.
2. Second was switching to 4 day in office, 1 day telecommuting, showing productivity enhancements.
3. 3rd was going to 3 day 10 hour days (keeping an eye out for how to go independent), networking and building credibility: started presenting at user meetings, conferences, tech edited books.
4. Having enough in savings, and enough contacts, that I could go solo without stress.

Interestingly, since going solo, my hourly rate in the last year has gone from 1.5 to 4 times what I was making working for others. The projects (I develop in flash) are smoother, as there are fewer people in the pipeline and less that can go wrong. My commute can be zero if I choose, yet I can travel more. Right now, my girlfriend and I are planning a full month trip to Chicago and Hawaii.

This is not to say that one has to work out of one’s home. Increasingly, I’m entirely laptop-based, so I can work while visiting/travelling a higher percentage of the time, etc. While cafes are obvious, there are lots of other avenues. Some highlights of my work:

* in a quiet sunny grassy/tree park that connects to the cities free wireless,
* a free concert at the city of Pasadena that I wouldn’t have paid that much attention to just watching.
* at the Getty museum on the lawn.

It’s easy to make a goal of eating at one new place and seeing one new street. I was amazed at how little I knew the area around me. I might spend now 45 minutes a day commuting, but this is zero-stress walking and sightseeing and, at least in a decent city, it’s amazing how much is accessible via foot and bus distance.

The killer commute and addiction to cars is really sad… The hidden causalities in relationships, jobs, due to the stress has never been measured, but I’m sure it’s high. It’s hard to be present for the nice dinner/evening in front of you when your already stressed out about the morning commute and the important meeting.

Zero Commute with 500% More Travel

The amount I save not paying interest or insurance can be used for other things. That said I love flying when I travel, and $600 is easily 2 flights a month (perhaps more if your using the Platinum AMEX card). Renting car and a hostel can be $50/day in the US.

A few years ago, a good friend and I wanted to drive from Vegas to Marin, up the beautiful California coastal highway for a friends wedding, so we rented a convertable Mustang for a 7 days and came back through Yosemite. It was a blast! Cost $240 + $140 in gas, split 2 ways. All the experiences, none of the maintenance or interest. The car we rented had a dragging brake caliper, which I’m sure cost at least half of what we spent that week to fix. He eventually put down a payment on a house, and I went solo.

What unidentified time sucks have you suffered from, and how did you — or could you — eliminate them?

[This post edited from Troy Gardner's new blog]

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Posted on: September 11, 2007.

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96 comments on “How Much Does Your Commute Really Cost You? Calculate It… Then Kill It?

  1. I totally agree. I just simply quit my job. Nothing better than working from home.

    Seriously, the new way of thinking about your time is really important. Until people value the time when they are out of work, nothing much will happen.

    I know you are doing a great deal to help out and hopefully give people a new of thinking. Unfortunately, I think most people will buy your book and not read it.

    I think there is a statistic that only 10% of people read the books they buy. I guess the other 90% support the people who do find value in the books. Kind of a waste of paper. Oh well.

    Like

  2. I’ve recently had to take a full-time job which includes an hour and a half commute. Ouch! Before that I was working out of my house and I can definitely see and feel the difference it has made in my life. I’m practically gone from my house between 12 – 14 hours a day (Mon – Fri). I’m currently working on some financial goals that will allow me to kick the job habit and be more independent. Your articles here are a sure encouragement for those of us who want to break free from the status quo of work.

    Like

  3. Prizes?! Prizes that compliment 4 hour wks, outsourcing, and NR. Thinks you speak on, as a push/incentive for your readers to actually get started with their new lives.
    Definitely a roundtrip set of tickets to somewhere you’ve mentioned going to like, Vietnam, Argentina, Sanfrancisco, Hawaii. Free membership for 6 months to a year to one of the outsource websites you’ve mentioned or used. Free consultation for first 30 days from you, oh and free copies of your book of course!

    peace luv blessings
    Amanda
    (I also like the castle idea, how bout an island. lol)

    Like

  4. Lots of time management authors suggest using commuting (by that they usually mean driving) to learn via books on tape – something I’ve never gotten into, mainly because 1) I don’t commute, and 2) I think reading is much faster – can’t easily skim a CD!

    They also suggest thinking and planning while driving, but how do you do that without taking notes? I’m a writer, and note-taking is crucial to me. I don’t know…

    Best yet, set up your life so that you don’t commute. I have friends who commute 1 hour each way every work day. Ugh! You might find this article helpful:

    Workers’ Average Commute Round-Trip Is 46 Minutes in a Typical Day
    http://theproductivitypro.typepad.com/the_productivity_pro/2007/08/workers-average.html

    Like

  5. If the job doesn’t kill you the commute will. I drive 2 hours a day 5 days a week. In 4 weeks of work I will spend 40 hours driving. Expensive to say the least. Thanks for the article.

    Like

  6. Hello all,

    I’m reaching out to all in the virtual community,those who used to work in traditional formats or who are in the proces of designing there life, who may want to meet and network with likeminds. I know Meetup.com is a good place to do this but I’m posting here for others who have read Tim’s book and subscribe to that philospy of life. I live in the San Francisco California Bay Area in the EastBay region,but am very close to both San Fran and Silicon Valley.

    Cheers,

    Tim H.

    Like

  7. Hi Tim H.,
    My husband and I and our 6 year old daughter live in Oakland. We are devouring the 4HWW book and have turned several like-minded friends on to it too. We could set up something on Meetup…you in?

    Like

  8. Pura vida – they do live it in C.R., don’t they?

    Commute for me is approx 1.5 hours one way(!)in NYC transit hell, thinking all the while “there must be a better way…”

    Interesting prize: There are art schools that do a few week-at-a-time courses: sculpture in Greece, painting in Italy…that would be my choice.

    Cheers,
    Lillian

    Like

  9. Dear Timothy,
    Thank you for this book. I have read it from cover to cover. I even did the challenge you gave to group of students to find 3 celebrities in 72hours. My challenge was to find some pertinnent information that I have been searching for in 72 hours. I did it.
    I look to your book for inspiration as I am a Pilates teaacher desparately trying to bring into another career- life coaching. Sometimes I get frustrated, confused and discouraged. Your book inspired me to think more creatively.
    Thank You.

    Like

  10. My commute is usually the best part of my day because I do it on a bike. OK, I had to throw that out, but I do see the point. I could be spending a lot more time riding without an office that I have to be in.

    Like

  11. “People often fail to include the amount of time, wear and tear on the car, and loss of sanity into the allure of a high paying job, and how that high paying job once calculated hourly might not be better off than a fast-food worker.”

    I have never read a more true quote…mostly because i am living it. At only 22 yrs old im working a rather corporate job pulling 75k, yet i feel myself sucked completely dry, working odd, irregular hours, frequent meetings, living in my car most of the day, chained to my blackberry, basically a corporate puppet – while i try convincing non-union construction workers that the corporate monster that is dragging me down is the right choice for them to make….depressing!!!!

    my passion is bodybuilding, nutrition, and healthy living, i must tap into my creativity and break out of this! So glad to have read your book and im studying your blog!!!

    Take care!

    Like

  12. Tim,

    Just wanted to say that I feel I have read/listened to a few business books. By far your book is the best book and the only book or article for that matter that I feel is exactly how I want to live my life and how I want to get there thank you so munch for writing it and also having a great companion web site for ongoing updates and extra resources. I am looking hard for a muse I think I can use but soon I will fire my boss and eliminate the commute and do what I want. In the next 12 months I want to purchase a case of your books to give to friends/family so everyone can better there lives and do what they were intended to do. I can’t wait to have some time to track you dowm and shake your hand and thank you personally.

    Thank you again,

    Steven Willard

    Like

  13. I just finished moving and have been loving my new commute to work. I went from a 6 mile drive to a 3 mile drive but reduced the time from 45 minutes to 10 minutes from door to door. I feel like I now have part of my life back again…

    If you’re asking yourself where in the world does it take 45 minutes to go 6 miles, move to LA and drive from Burbank to West Hollywood. If you’re daring, do it when the Hollywood Bowl is in season.

    Cheers.

    Like

  14. Hey Tim,
    Great post and as usual I’ve found that after trying some of these, the ones that are right for me, really do work well, so thanks for that.
    Just one quick ad is that, for the remainder of commute time that can’t be eliminated can be maximized in value by listening to educational and enlightening podcasts.
    I have one such podcast called The Auctionwally Show, that teaches folks how to identify values and worth of Antiques, collectible etc.
    I can’t believe the great niche content the is in the Podcasting arena, such as the one I found you on which is the Internetbusinessmastery.com with Jay & Sterling, I had to thank them for that.
    Take care
    Auctionwally

    Like

  15. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere I couldn’t get to by bike. Cycle in and not only is your journey time more consistent, but you’re saving the money on petrol and the gym fees you’d be paying if you wanted to keep fit.

    Public transport isn’t as reliable, but it still gives you time to read or write whilst someone else does the hard work of getting you there.

    Like

  16. Im inspired by you buddy
    Since reading the book last year I have
    cut my work time by 70% and booked 6 trips so far for 2008
    I also am re designing what I do to teach others HOW TO bust loose from the nonesense game.
    Its like saying how can I do a 10 hour work out in 2-3 hours each day….. and then do it in less than 2.

    Its Not been easy as I find it hard to break my old habits of I should be working hard…however Im getting there tim.

    Love to hook up with you some place and please come and say hello to syndey soon.

    Thanks mate

    Chris Wakeford (CW)

    Like

  17. Man! I am so spoiled! 5 minutes to work! If I would get off my lazy a**, I could ride a bike to work in about 15 or 20. Pretty cold for that here, though. I used to have a longer commute and found the stress was just not worth it. To me, it’s not insane to find a place to live closer to your job, if feasible (considering costs, crime, etc).
    Plus, when I watch the home shows on HGTV and see what folks in Cali spend on a tiny home (500k ), I can’t believe it! They could literally have a mansion here in the midwest (metro area of 500k to 1 million folks) for that. Or sell their home and pay cash for a home here and pocket the rest. (Yes, I am a part-time realtor – full time IT). I know it would be a huge culture shock, though. And as I said, it’s cold here now (28 degrees). Nevertheless, a long commute here is 30 minutes! Anyway, I sympathize with you all and applaud the creative ideas you’ve come up with to reduce the problems.

    Like

  18. Great article. I used to tire of the traffic so I would take the city bus which was only an extra 10 minutes. The way the driver led-footed it though, we had everyone in the floor before arrival…so walking became an option which took more time. I think if you can multi-task in the process of commuting or simply live your dream profession it helps. On relationships, try utilising the online chat feature, cell phone, or cyber date on off days.LOL Communication is key..

    Like

  19. I’ve moved since I first read this article. My commute went from 45-60 minutes (longer if I take the bus), to 15 minutes now. There is a big difference in the way I feel, and I’m saving somewhere between 5 to 10 hours a week. However, I really miss my old apartment; it was a lot more comfortable than my new place.

    I had doubts about the security of my job, but I was so stressed and tired from the commute I decided to bite the bullet and move. I have decided I will never again move for a job. Find a place you love to live and create the job you need (telecommuting, or create your own) to live there instead. Or, as others have suggested, find ways to use the time spent commuting (take public transit, listen to audio books, etc.).

    Like

  20. Before my divorce I spent about 4.5 hours each day commuting. I accepted this because 3.5 hours of that commute was sitting on a comfortable AmTrak train at a café car table doing freelancing work.

    That said, I still ended up divorced, and it’s absolutely because of the ridiculous, unbalanced, wage-slave lifestyle I was leading (there are ABSOLUTELY NO serious jobs for me in the Mid-Hudson Valley where I lived).

    Like

  21. Tim,

    I saw your video on Elance, bought your book, and now I consider it one of the biggest life changing events of my life. I did all the work sheets in your book, and worked everything out, but I have a problem. I got a job with a great SEO firm in Atlanta, one of the best. I am a project basedworker and have VPN access to my computer at work. I am fully capable of working from home except for one thing: I have only been here 2 months and am very nervous about approaching management regarding telecommuting. Should I continue to wait another few months or a year before asking for telecommuting? I usually complete a week of projects in two days and know I could get it down to one day if given the opportunity. Should I just suck it up and allow them to invest more into me and make myself more valuable before I approach management regarding this? Thank you for all of your wonderful help, and I’d love to hang out with you some time!

    Take it easy,

    Jeremiah

    Like

  22. Tim,

    I have a question for you. I am new at a large internet company. I have been here for 2 months, and I informed the managers who hired me that after I get experience here I anticipate working remotely a few days per week.

    When should I ask them formally about working remotely?

    Secondly, I work on projects all day, and when i get way ahead on my list of projects (1-2 weeks) what should I do with my spare time here at my office?

    I am not allowed to just leave when I get done with my projects, instead they try to move things around so I get more projects. I am currently attempting to learn as much technical stuff as I can in my industry to become more valuable, but when should I pull the trigger and attempt to work remotely a few days per week?

    Thank you!

    Jeremiah

    Like

  23. My commute is 45 minutes both ways. I haven’t reduced my commute, but I did find a way to make my travel time more productive. Before I was pulling my hair out listening to the same old talk radio show every morning. Now, I subscribed to an audiobook rental service, similar to Netflix. In the past five months I’ve listened to 20 books that I otherwise wouldn’t have had time to read this year. In my opinion, having an audiobook queue is far superior to morning talk radio and commercials!

    This is a great way to spend time if you must travel.

    Like

  24. Lately I have made a commitment to get better at qualifying my leads. I am auctioneer who goes on a lot of house calls to view estate merchandise.

    By coming up with a revised list of questions, I’ve learned to get much better at vetting the potential clients to learn if they have what I’m interested in, and if they are really ready to do business, or if they are just throwing out feelers.

    A wasted trip saved is a 100% savings of time and fuel.

    Like

  25. The non-commute thing only works for office workers.

    People who work in retail or manufacturing or health care cannot telecommute. I think that those who perform actual labor in this world are grossly underpaid.

    It sort of upsets me to hear about an office worker complain about a commute when there are people who work with sewage and do dirty jobs that really keep this world going. But when you have a boring office job, complaints come with the territory. Those of us who do real work do not have time to gripe about things.

    Like

  26. I am aware that working remotely will save me all kinds of hard carsh–gas, car upkeep, daycare (it’s more than my mortgage monthly!), dry cleaning….but I did a little “my time is money” calculation to see how much my almost-six figure corporate job actually costs me in lifestyle potential. Following Tim’s formula in the book, I am worth $45/hr. at present, so…

    I commute 35 minutes each way from my home, and that’s not counting taking the kids to daycare first. So let’s make it 60 minutes each way (the sitter lives 5 miles north and then I backtrack south again and then another 20 miles to my office). That scales up to 16 days of time in the car annually — 480 hours at $45/hr = $21,600 in “my time” that I could dedicate to other income-generating activity if I didn’t have to commute.

    I have to be at work at 8:30, but the kids don’t start school until 9:30, but to get us all where we’re going, we’re up at 6:30. If I worked from home, I could put the kids on the bus at 9:00 in front of the house and get working in my bunny slippers (I do have some). That’s 2.5 hours each morning = 450 hours per school year = $20,000.

    So just with those two time factors–commute time and get-up and ready time–my $99,000/year job “costs” me nearly half of that!

    @yadgyu–Yes, I get that Tim’s approach does not really work for folks who must physically be at their jobs to perform it–retail, trades, civil service–and I appreciate all that you do…but as a single mom of four kids with a soul-sucking corporate job, seeing the hidden costs of “workin’ for da man” in my own life has been a real eye opener and has prompted me to take action. After bonuses in March, I plan to propose a contract arrangement at 24-hours per week, virtually eliminating the above soft-dollar costs and significantly reducing certain hard-dollar costs associated with commute and childcare. Just the reduction in hard expenses alone allows me to work 16 fewer hours per week and take back some of my life for myself and my kids (and that even includes my buying my own health and life insurance). And my company will benefit from eliminating an FTE and the corresponding benefits and costs. Win-Win!!!

    Like

  27. ” After bonuses in March, I plan to propose a contract arrangement at 24-hours per week, virtually eliminating the above soft-dollar costs and significantly reducing certain hard-dollar costs associated with commute and childcare. Just the reduction in hard expenses alone allows me to work 16 fewer hours per week and take back some of my life for myself and my kids”

    Kath, I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon, but working from home is grossly overrated. You are not going to get any more work done from home and your kids will probably irritate you.

    I just do not see what the real difference in location will do for most. You still have to work for a living. Sitting at home or another remote location is not going to decrease your work load by very much. You will probably be more likely to decrease in your performance due to outside influences.

    We all need to find ways to NOT work.

    Like

  28. Quick question: I work as an editor at an “up and coming” publishing house. I have really been pushing leadership to allow us to work from home, if even for a few days out of the week.

    Their biggest argument is that according to some un-cited “tax law,” they can’t let us work from home due to us not being classified as actual employees or as free-lancers.

    Now, I’m no expert, but if I am a full-time, salary employee, how can my classification change if I happen to work from home for a few days out of the week? I would be most grateful for any insight or legal advice regarding the “tax laws” they keep bringing up.

    Like

  29. Tim,

    I recently asked to increase a remote work agreement from 1/2 day a week to a full day. My manager agreed with all the things you outlined – my proven increased work productivity, company’s results-oriented culture – but still shot me down. The reason being: HIS management’s traditional perspective about jr. analysts. I have been at the company for two years now. Other analysts who wfh once a week have been at the company for at least a year longer, and have longer industry experience. Yet, I have produced higher quality work and been on more projects than anyone else.

    How do I help him manage upwards to dispell these old school discriminations and align with my results-driven, proven data?

    Like

  30. I’m a surgeon, so how can I commute (or apply this principle) to my life?

    I’ve been struggling with a problem for a few years that relates to this article and would love to get feedback from Tim or any insightful readers of this blog.

    I’m a surgeon and I have a very good job (good money, like the people, etc), but I live about 1.5 hours from my office and surgery center where I have to operate. I’ve looked for similar jobs in my town, but none exist. I’ve considered opening a new practice in my home town, but a new practice would take years to grow and in the current market, may be financially prohibitive.

    So the question is …. what’s the most creative/productive thing I can do with my time while commuting? Is it better to spend the money on a car service/driver, so I can rest, read, etc? Any other more creative thoughts??

    Much thanks,

    Scott

    Like

  31. Friday afternoon before the end of the day at work I approached my supervisor about working from home a couple days a week, basing my technique on the example in the 4hww book. Our company has a form that needs to be filled out to get long term remote work authorized. So my supervisor said she would talk to her boss about it and see what could be arranged.

    so, my question is: What is the best strategy for following up on this without shooting myself in the foot?

    Like

  32. As an employee, commuting is a consideration. With my experience, living near the workplace is better than traveling from north to south. You can avoid being late during mornings and you don’t worry going home so late if there are overtimes, since the house you live with is near. You will not be feeling so tired after the day’s work for it consume energy just by traveling from the workplace to your house everyday. When I am looking for a job, I always consider the area or the address of my prospect company.

    Like

  33. Jeffrey W. Braunstein is mentioned in the 4 hour work week book, when I googled him he died at the age 35 tragically. Does any one how he died or if he died in South America?

    Thanks.

    Like

  34. I’ve been able to work from a home office, and direct my small business from there for the past 4 years. I’d not considered quantifying the cost savings of all those commutes that I no longer have to make, but it’s a cool idea!

    I value not having to spend the time in the car to and from work a lot. And I love that I am able to visit family members on the other coast, and in Europe, any time I want … have laptop, can work from anywhere.

    That said, there is a real disadvantage to this lifestyle: it can get lonely. Practically all my daily interactions with people are via email or phone. None of the regular presence of people around me that I had in a corporate office life – and some of those colleagues and staff became very close and dear friends. It took me a long time to recognize that I not only missed people around me, but that it had a negative impact on my happiness. I ended up planning getting together with friends as part of my standard to do list… must have at least 2 events set up per week, else I get crabby.

    Like

    • Hey Maui Girl,

      Congrats on running your home biz! What kind of biz is it ?
      Also I understand the people isolation situation, I went thru it as well. I have an email with some good resources that helps with that, if you want I can send to you just email me at concepts4u@hotmail.com.

      Cheers

      Tim

      Like

  35. I could not relate any more to this post. I currently commute the draining “Bermuda” triangle of the bay. I live in San Jose, work in Pleasanton and my boyfriend lives in Daly City.

    My dream? To work remotely from Hawaii and live on the island.

    Thanks for the post Tim!

    Like