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.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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

  1. Prize should definately be a castle! There are some nice ones for sale on escapeartist.com

    Hmmm, an island would be nice. How big are we going here?

    Like

  2. Tim,

    Great post and a huge congrats to Troy! Really enjoyed the story of transformation.

    I didn’t have the commute problem, that was only 10 minutes, but going to work for a company with no creativity, with no trust and respect nearly broke me.

    Having just started to work for myself, the signs are good, clients on board within 3 weeks and I am starting to feel me again!

    That feels bloody marvellous!

    Jon :-)

    Like

  3. As I was reading this post I couldn’t help but think that it was just as much about relationships as anything else. You could change the title to:

    “4 steps to a better relationship – a few years ago, my girlfriend and I were constantly arguing, now we’re about to spend a month together in Hawaii. How did I do it? Read on to find out…”

    My favourite part of your post Troy was the imagery of sitting and doing work on the lawn of the Getty Museum… very cool indeed.

    One of the coolest things I’ve found with working while travelling or working from home or cafe is that not only do you save time (commuting, ironing shirts etc), it is easier to tap into your creativity and I nearly always save money. Especially if working abroad. $3.50 accommodation & 80c pad thai in Thailand, $1 beef noodle soup in Hanoi… I can’t even buy a coffee for that at home.
    Stay a few weeks and you ‘save’ the equivalent of your airfare and then some.

    Beats flourescent-lit cubicle hell anyday :)

    Like

  4. Great post!

    Concerning prizes for your next ridiculously overambitious competition I always prefer experiences rather than physical goods. Travels and meeting with interesting people while we experience adventures. That’s what I call PRIZE! Prize that you will always remember.

    My proposal?

    First Prize: Imagine a full paid raid in 4×4 riding the forests and beaches of wild Costa Rica, but with a small group of entrepreneurs and interesting people to enjoy even more the trip and make it more a learning experience.

    Best regards from Spain!

    Like

  5. My commute takes approx 10 minutes driving time to the metro, 30 minutes on the metro, and 7 minutes walking.

    Mr. Micah drives me there, so we have a quick morning time together in the car (keeps me from being stressed, mostly). Then I read on the metro (reimagine it as my personal reading time, where I don’t have any other responsibilities). Then the walk is part of my goal of getting x many minutes of walking per day.

    Reimagining it makes it a lot easier. Plus the whole not driving part means not dealing with insane traffic and means I can read.

    Like

  6. Tim, Mr. Gardner’s account is clearly a golden testament to all that is true, good, and right about 4HWW. His account really puts the spotlight on that soul-sucking, spirit-crushing work ethic that drives so many today. Now, if you’re going to announce a ridiculously over-ambitious competition, then you best announce a ridiculously over-ambitious prize: a 45-minute suborbital space ride aboard a Rocketplane XP (slated for service in ’08), with none other than Burt Rutan manning the cockpit. Hey, I can dream can’t I? ;-)

    Like

  7. Killer commute… I spend 40 hrs a month in my car driving to and from work. If I could telecommute, it would be an extra 3 months a year to spend time with family and work on business ventures!

    Grand prize… A year of my current bills to be paid to pursue my grand business ideas and a 7 continent traveling internship with a famous author.

    Like

  8. About the commute…
    We live in a big city and could have had a less expensive house in the suburbs. This would have meant buying a second car (car payments, insurance, maintenance) as well as making long days for both my husband and myself resulting in an unsatisfying family life for us and the two kids.
    We opted to rent a much more expensive apartment about 100 yards from a subway stop and 2 miles from my husband’s office. His commute is about 15 minutes by bike which he rides 8 months of the year. The children’s school is just across the street. We hardly drive the car anymore (which is good seeing as gas is now $5/gallon).
    Yes, we could have had the big house with the yard and garden but we never would have enjoyed it because we would have been commuting all the time!

    Like

  9. Good points here Tim. After reading your book, I have dialed back on going into the office much at all. No permission, just stopped coming in, but kept productivity high. Also, I hired a really talented colleague to create my 2 websites for the business ideas I came up with. The Muse is fast becoming a reality! Thanks again for writing such an inspiring work, Tim.

    On the prize idea – I would agree with the other comments above: Spending time with the creator of this vision would be time well spent, on another continent would be a great bonus!

    Like

  10. I purchased your book two days ago and I am loving it! Great stuff. You have inspired me to immediately start automating my life and living the dreams I have always had. Although this is a very fearful step for me to take, I am going to jump in and not look back.

    I am anxious to hear about this competition. Prizes…well the above suggestions are great. I especially like the 7 continent trip with Tim.

    Like

  11. How about winning the tools you are using.

    While I’m already doing the tablet PC thing (Tim, you know how great they are). Giving away hosting, adspace on the web, a great tablet laptop, an iphone, contacts with a fulfillment center (maybe even a percentage off?), and a paid virtual assistant for a year. That would really be following what you’re talking about, wouldn’t cost too much (as a prize), but would truly put someone far along the way to that elusive 4 hours with all the tools to make it happen.

    Thanks so very much for clarifying what I’ve been trying to do for so long.
    -Fred Schechter H.B.

    Like

  12. Ryan – I was gonna ask for a pony!

    As for a prize, how about working with the winner to actually carry out the idea/whatever it is and help see that the world is actually changed by it.

    And of course a seven continent trip would be awesome as well. Of course, we could one up that one and throw a sub-orbital flight into the mix.

    Like

  13. Tim-

    We Love Your Book! Thanks for everything.

    I’ve never really had to deal with commuting, but I do
    love how breaking your life down and quantifying your
    time, and relative income to truly live your dream lifestyle Now…

    Is Life Changing To Say The Least!

    As far as a prize is concerned?…

    You said you’re looking for competition that’s “ridiculously overambitious” and will “change the world” so I think the prize should be worth it too.

    I’m with several others here in that some personal time
    with yourself would be amazing. Quiza en Buenos Aires? Quien sabe, pues veremos…

    -Travis Tolman

    Like