Work! As if it’s not bad enough that we’re expected to check in with the office for nine hours of grind each day, many of us are compelled to trudge through bad traffic, worse weather and crowds of other miserable commuters just to get there. It’s no wonder that by the time we reach the workplace, we already feel stressed or tired – and find ourselves watching the clock tick by until we can complete the whole process in reverse on the way home.
A whopping 76% of commuters travel by car, despite studies showing that this is the most stressful form of transport, while only 3% of us opt for the traffic-busting option of cycling – which also keeps the mind and body in a healthier condition. But if you’re not ready to swap four wheels for two just yet, you can at least recalibrate the manner in which you drive: one in five of us reckon other commuters to be the biggest cause of stress, but we are all ‘other commuters’, so driving considerately and showing gratitude to others is a basic way to get a bit of good will circulating. Switch off your connected devices, make peace with the amount of time you’re inevitably going to spend at the wheel, and live in the moment. Rethink not only the way how you commute but the whole need for that. And save lots of money of course!
The headline probably startled you a bit. A million dollars? Sounds like an exaggeration… but if you sit down and calculate how much your car commute to work will really cost you during your career, you’ll start to realize the feasibility of such a number. But don’t worry, you can put your pencil and calculator down – we’ve done the work for you.
Revealing the Real Cost of Commuting
When you factor in costs such as maintenance, tires, gas, oil and depreciation, your car commute costs you about 34 cents for every mile you drive. The further you live away from work, the higher the cost of your commute. Each mile you have to drive to get to work will cost you $170 in car expenses annually.
This is before you consider the income you forego as a result of spending countless hours behind the wheel doing nothing productive. We only get paid for work produced or hours spent on the job.
On average, you spend 26 minutes driving to work. That means you spend 9 full days every year on the road commuting to and from work. Assuming an hourly rate of $25, the numbers add up quickly. If it takes you six minutes to drive a mile, you forego $625 every year in wages for each mile you have to drive to work.
When you add the car expenses, the costs come to $795 annually per mile.
That is just how much a one-mile drive costs, though. Some people have insane commutes that are more than 40 miles each way.
What would the figure come to if we accounted for the many miles the average person has to drive through to get to work? Let’s take a conservative 11 mile commute. If you drive 11 miles to work, the costs add up to $875 per year. Over a 30-year career, you’ll have lost $263,350. If you invested this money in an index fund with a compound return of 8 percent over the course of your 30-year career, you would end up with $1,086,099.
Factoring in the Strain on Health
I am not going to put a figure on how much long car commutes can cost you health wise. Your health is priceless so your insurance or medical expenses aren’t a good enough measure to price the toll long car commutes can have on your wellbeing.
I mentioned earlier that the average person spends 26 minutes sitting behind the wheels driving to work. In one workday, the individual spends 52 minutes sitting down driving to and from work.
A report published by Christine Hoener and colleagues in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that commuting long distances increases the risk of cardiovascular death.
Lengthy commutes have also been linked to increased risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, back pain, depression and obesity.
The Solution? Rethink Your Commute
How far you live from work is the most significant variable determining your commuting costs. It goes without saying that you will get the greatest bang for your buck if you significantly reduced the distance from your home to the office.
You can do this by either moving closer to your workplace or getting a job closer to you.
I know this is easier said than done. Nonetheless, while it might seem hard right now, making these changes can be easier than you think. Often, people are not aware of the many options available to them if they only bothered to look around.
If you really cared enough, you can definitely find a comfortable place close to work or find a job close to where you live without harming your quality of life. The result will be a much shorter commute that is easier on your wallet and health.
If you do move within 10 miles of work, you can forego the car commute and take up biking instead. If you are not fit, this will definitely be hard during the first few weeks. Like with all things that require physical exertion, your body will adjust to the routine and you will get used to it in no time.
Being out of shape should actually act as motivation to take up biking. The health benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of arriving at work physically worn out during the first few days as your body adjusts to the new routine. What’s more? You can save time by combining exercise time and commuting time.
What if biking is not a practical option for you? I know reasonably fit people who sweat profusely when they engage in any form of cardiovascular activity. If one of those guys took up biking, they would show up in the office all sweaty. No one wants that. Showing up to work drenched in sweat is counterproductive.
There is a solution to this, though. If you still want to take up biking but fall in the sweaty group, find a gym close to work and secure yourself a membership. You can bike to the gym in the morning, use the bathrooms to freshen up and change, then walk to the office.
Alternatively, you can ditch car commuting and biking entirely in favor of public transportation. When you take public transportation, you free up your hands and mind to handle light tasks such as responding to email, organizing your day, planning and reading various work literature.
These are things you would have to do anyway even if you were not using public transport. When you take care of these small tasks while commuting, you free up time and energy to do other things that have greater impact during official working hours.
In addition, the positive impact you make on the environment adds up too – less emissions and less congestion on the roads means a greener planet.
You might argue that your commute time is too small to have an impact on your career or the earth. Remember though, the small daily costs you incur during your commute adds up to quite a hefty figure over time.
While the daily costs might appear negligible, the cumulative effect over a 30-year career is mind boggling. The same can be said about being productive while using public transport or contributing to the environment. Often, it is the small things, if done purposefully and consistently over time, that set us apart from the pack.
Finding the sweet spot between a reasonable commute and a home location that provides you with the quality of life you desire can be a challenge but it is doable. If you can’t get the best of both worlds then you will have to make some sacrifices.
The problem most people have when looking at a situation like this is that they consider only one variable in the equation. In this situation, their immediate reaction would be to consider the economics of moving closer to their current workplace. If the move doesn’t make economic sense, they’ll quickly dismiss the idea. What they are missing is that they are not eternally bound to their job and that they can find an equally good or even better job close to where they live.
When it is all said and done, a million dollars in wasted opportunity is just too big to ignore – especially when you consider the effect of this money on your retirement. You should strive to reduce the figure as much as possible by optimizing your life around cutting your commuting time or finding ways to do something productive during your commute.
For more great tips on how to make the most of a tough commute, check out this great new infographic that explores some of the research above and offers some realistic solutions. Once you’ve taken control of the morning commute, you’re halfway to winning your working day. It’s worth taking care of it!
With journeys of over twenty minutes shown to increase the risk of burnout, it pays off in both our professional and our personal lives to take countermeasures against the agonies of the daily commute. Around 1.2m commuters have used guided meditation apps like Headspace to zen out on their ride in, though it’s important to maintain a certain level of alertness when you’re actually in control of the vehicle.
Try breathing exercises and body awareness – keeping the shoulders rolled back and the chest open – to reset your system and keep things in perspective. Here are more ways to reduce commuter stress in case you cannot get rid of it totally!