How far do you commute each day for the privilege of doing your part to push back the frontiers of technical ignorance and to boldly go where no engineer - or technician - has gone before (split infinitive by Roddenberry, not me)? Do you know what the cost equates to you each year? This handy-dandy poster by the folks at Streamline Refinance lays out some gruesome numbers. Those with a weak stomach probably should pass on viewing this one. Here's a hint at what you will see: See that big $795 in the thumbnail image? That's the average cost per year for commuting -- per mile! Yessiree, if you live just 10 miles from work, you're losing nearly $8k per year, depending on you automobile type, on gas, tires, maintenance, devaluation, and loss of your personal time (which is valuable, after all). Back in the early 1990s I drove 45 miles each way to Comsat, which took about 65 minutes due to miserable traffic. That's 130 minutes round-trip, or 2 hours and 10 minutes (about the run time of an average movie) each day. Figuring two weeks vacation and 10 holidays, that leave 48 weeks x 5 days/week = 240 days per year of commuting. 240 days x 130 minutes = 31,200 minutes = 520 hours per year. That's a fourth of a man-year (2080 hours) on the road. It was a great job, but combined with working 60-70 hours per week (no paid overtime of course), it really took a toll on me. During that period I was writing my world-famous RF Workbench cascade analysis software at home, usually into the wee hours of the morning.
During the Comsat era, I drove a crappy old Ford Escort (our only car) that suffered carburetor icing regularly when cresting South Mountain in the winter, driving from Hagerstown to Germantown. It was lucky to get 25 mpg, even with a little 4-cylinder engine. So, devaluation was pretty minimal since the car didn't have much value to begin with. Gas cost about $1.00 per gallon. The fuel cost works out to $864 per year (best case for 21,600 miles). My salary was something like $35k per year as an engineer, with an after-tax net of maybe $30k per year, so that really hurt the bottom line. In 1992, the IRS was allowing 29 cents per mile deduction for business vehicles (for which I did not qualify), which would be $6,264 for those 21,600 miles per year (90 miles round-trip per day x 240 days), or around $940 at the 15% income tax rate - close to the actual gas cost. After three years, I changed jobs since I could not afford to live in the much higher cost region north of Washington D.C. BTW, there were quite a few guys who commuted even farther than I did.
Keep in mind when calculating your own commuting cost that the motivation for the creation of the poster is to convince you to sell your current house and buy a new one. That puts money in the pockets of re-financiers like the Streamline Refinance folks, so numbers are put in the most most shocking terms - yet credible in the worst case - as possible. In my opinion, the greatest cost is in lost personal time on the road that could be spent at home with your family, engaging in a hobby, starting your own business or even getting a little extra sleep. Even a 15-minute commute consumes 120 hours per year, or the equivalent of three full work weeks per year! That's a pretty staggering reality. For some people their job is their life, so commute time doesn't matter. I'm not one of those people.
Posted on March 15, 2013