The odds are that today you either already have, or are soon going to make a commute by car to work. For most people, that is just a normal thing. Driving to your job, school, or any other daily commitment is a normal thing that all Americans do. It’s just normal.
Do you realize what the average commute is? Depending on whose study you look at, it’s typically between 15 and 20 miles each way, and much more if you are talking about big cities. Time wise, that translates to between 25 and 40 minutes each way.
Lets think about that for a minute.
Just to get to work, the average American spends more than an hour in a metal machine, zipping around in hectic traffic, risking their lives behind the wheel. If you take the IRS mileage reimbursement rate of $0.555 per mile, and multiply it by 40 miles per day, that’s $22.20 PER DAY spent on driving to and from work.
Anyone else find this insane?
If you figure that you make that commute 200 times per year, that comes out to $4440 per year in commuting costs. For the average American, that is about 10% of their before tax income. Sure, you can drive cheaper than that if you try, but most Americans don’t, especially once you factor in insurance and interest on loans.
At an hour per day, 200 times per year, they are spending 200 hours behind the wheel. If you are awake 16 hours per day, that means that you spend about 3.5% of your total waking hours just getting to your job. 3.5% of your limited time on this planet is dedicated to mindlessly weaving through traffic full of other corporate drones, listening to horrible FM radio and drinking absurdly overpriced lattes.
Yep, those are the facts.
So, on average, Americans spend 10% of their before tax income and 3.5% of their waking hours driving to and from work in a steel contraption that statistically is fairly likely to kill or injure you at some point, while simultaneously dumping vast amounts of harmful chemicals into our eco-system.
The average American spends 10% of their before tax income getting to and from work. (<– Click to Tweet that)
“But I have to make that commute! I live far away for (insert horrible reasoning here).”
The fact is, there is virtually no excuse in the book that you can make that will make any sort of sense.
You own a house that is far away from your dream job? Well then move.
Housing is more expensive closer to work? I highly doubt it’s THAT much more expensive. Housing would have to be hundreds of dollars per month cheaper to justify it. And that is before you factor in the time.
You don’t want to live that close to where you work and/or your fellow employees? Then you need to seriously analyze your life and make some big changes ASAP.
You drive used cars that get good gas mileage, so it’s cheaper for you? News flash, it still costs a lot of money, still pollutes, still is dangerous, and still, most importantly, wastes away hours of your life.
And while there is always that 1% of the population that has legitimate excuses for that kind of commute, the rest of us need to make some changes.
1. Live closer to your job/school/whatever. This is absolutely critical. Unless living far away means you can make a million dollars per year more and retire after two quick years, commuting by car to work simply isn’t worth it. Moving within a mile or two is ideal, and what you should definitely do if you are wanting to achieve financial independence or just live a happier life in general. After all, when was the last time you actually enjoyed yourself while commuting?
2. Find another way to commute. If you accomplish the first step, this is easy. Walk or ride a bike. That makes it free, or at least very cheap. And the exercise is good for you, which is probably the biggest benefit of all. If you still don’t live close enough, look into public transportation. You’ll be safer, responsible for way less pollution, and save a ton of money by utilizing public transportation when it’s available.
3. If you have to drive, minimize costs. This starts with what you’re driving. Don’t drive a new, financed car just to make your commute less painful. Studies have shown that beyond the first two weeks of ownership, the age of a car has no discernible effect on your happiness while driving it, which makes perfect sense. When the car is first new, it’s very exciting. But a few weeks later the excitement has worn off and you’re stuck in the same traffic. Not to mention the fact that a car loses a huge chunk of it’s value the second you drive it off the lot. Oh, and loans suck. Buying a compact, used car that gets good gas mileage will allow you to stretch your transportation dollar as far as possible.
Sound like a rough life? It really isn’t. Not at all in fact. When I was searching for apartments, I had quite a few options in my price range. Some were slightly bigger, newer, or cheaper than others, as you’ve no doubt experienced in your own searches for housing. However, the factor that ended up weighing in the most was the proximity to my school. I ended up in a place that is only two blocks from campus, and it’s on the same side as the business building. I work from a home office, so I thankfully didn’t have to worry about that.
This place ended up costing me thirty or so more dollars per month than some other places I could have been just as happy in. However, those places were at least five miles of in-town-driving from campus. I would have had to drive to campus at least half a dozen times per week instead of walking, like I do now, for free. I drive a used Honda Civic, but my cost per mile is still probably in the range of $0.25 per mile, if not more. Using that number, driving 60 miles per week just to school and back, that would be $15 per week, or $60 per month in driving expenses. And that doesn’t include the time I would be wasting behind the wheel, turning into the average lazy consumer of modern America. Being further from campus would have meant I would be even further from the opportunities around campus, as well as the social scene. In short, living closer was a total no-brainer.
So why do Americans waste away their precious time and money operating a dangerous machine that pollutes the earth? Because that is what is expected of the average middle-class corporate-world citizen. But that line of BS isn’t for me, and it shouldn’t be for you either.