This weekend I was talking to a couple who had moved to Kansas City about a year ago. They had just decided to move back to the small town where we live. I asked what they thought about living in the “big city” and while they liked most of it, they said the commute time was simply too great. They had moved to Kansas City to be closer to their jobs, but the husband still spent 1.5 hours and often a bit longer each way just getting to and from work. He wasn’t necessarily traveling very far, but with traffic, he was spending 3+ hours a day on the road.
While his commute time was definitely above average, it isn’t too unusual. In 2006, Midas had a contest to find the person with the longest commute and found Dave Givens was averaging 7 hours per day in his car driving to work at Cisco.
So how much of a commute is too much? The answer is up to you. How much of your life are you willing to invest sitting in a car? When my wife and I bought our first house, I timed the drive between each house we considered and my work. I remember calculating to see how much more time I’d spend on the road between the 2 minute 55 second commute from one and the 3 minute 45 second commute of the other. Suffice it to say that my tolerance for commute times is very low.
So how can you keep from wasting a significant portion of your life sitting behind the wheel? Here are some points to think about:
1. Calculate The Cost
Find out how much time you are investing in your commute each year. It might be more than you think. The average American puts more time into their drive each year than they get back in their 2-week vacation. If your commute is 45 minutes each way, you are basically spending an extra workday on the road every week. (So maybe you really can add an 8th day to your week.)
The point is, you need to know how much time you are actually investing in your drive. For a lot of people, it will be much more than you realize. And don’t forget to factor in the cost of gasoline. I have some friends that recently moved. They haven’t sold their old house, but they weren’t too worried because the savings in gas alone was going to more than enough to pay for their new mortgage.
2. Consider A Different Job
Most people are commuting because they get paid more to work at a job further from where they live. This may make sense, but make sure the numbers work out. Let’s say someone makes $40 per hour at a job that requires a 45-minute commute each way. They make $1,600 per week. Let’s ignore the cost of gas and say they take a job that doesn’t require a commute (or a commute measured in several minutes) and then get a second job putting the 8 hours per week they saved into that. How much would they need to make per hour? They could take a pay cut to $33.33 per hour and still get the same amount of income for the same amount of time they were losing before–and that isn’t even considering the gas and vehicle expense savings.
3. Consider Moving
I mentioned my friends who moved closer to work and found the gas savings was greater than the cost of a second mortgage. A lot of people never actually do the math to see how much a move would cost. It doesn’t always work out ahead, but if you have a stable job that is a long way away, it is worth your time to put a pencil to paper and run some numbers.
4. Shift Your Hours
If you have a commute where you drive a short distance but spend a long time in traffic, you might try shifting your work schedule. Arriving at work two hours earlier and leaving two hours earlier might keep you out of the traffic and turn a one-hour commute into 20 minutes. Not all jobs will accommodate that type of change, but many will and a lot of corporations have rules already written out in their employee handbook to allow for this sort of thing.
5. Four-Day Work Week
The county where I live instituted a four-day work week because they felt they were investing too much money in gas just getting to and from the work sites. So all the road workers work 10-hour days and then get a three-day weekend. I’ve seen this done other places, too. If your employer is open to it, it can be a way to reduce your commute time 20% by removing one day’s drive.
The problem with this approach is that a 10-hour day is a long day, and you probably won’t be as alert over four longer days as you would over five shorter ones. So far, none of our county bridges have collapsed, but at least some of the savings is probably going to be offset by having workers who are more tired.
6. Ask To Telecommute
Imagine you had a special door in your house. When you were ready to go to work, you’d walk through that door and immediately be at the office. When you were done, you’d walk through the door in your office and immediately be at home. Oh, and you could use it for lunch as well. That is basically how telecommuting works–but instead of having a magical door, you just have to dedicate some space at your house to an office and make sure you have a good internet connection.
There are fewer and fewer technical barriers to telecommuting for many positions. If you think telecommuting would work for you, ask your boss to let you try it. Even if you can only telecommute one day per week, that is one less day you have to drive to work.
7. Start Your Own Business
While it isn’t for everyone, if you want full control over your commute, starting your own business may be the way to go. I’m not saying it is easy, but if you invest the time you spend on your current job plus all of the time you spend in the car already, you can probably build a pretty good business if you are willing to work hard and have some level of business skills.