The True Cost of Commuting

Last year I was working on a talk show in Los Angeles. The gig itself was one of the easiest jobs I had worked on in my career. Stage shows usually are. At the start of the job, I was excited at the prospect of being able to work on my side projects when I got home at night. We only filmed once a week and I wasn't working 12-hour days out on location.

Then reality hit me, I was living in Culver City, which is near the beach, and the stage the show filmed at was in Glendale where the office was. For those who are not familiar with LA, it is roughly a 20-mile commute.

For people who don't live in a large overcrowded city like LA, it doesn't sound like a far distance. In most places that would be a 20–30-minute commute. In LA it is an hour plus drive each way, and usually longer if there was extra traffic due to an accident or an event at Dodgers Stadium.

I quickly realized after fighting traffic or waiting at the office for hours for the traffic to die down that I was too spent to think coherently by the time I got home. My excitement about the easy gig and my new found time to create my own masterpieces diminished quickly. By the second week, I started to dread my commute every day and this went on for five long months.

When most people think of the cost of their commute, they think gas, mileage on their lease or the wear and tear on the car. Those are all what I call, hard costs.

Hard Costs:

For argument sake let's say you can get to work on 1 gallon of gas and back on 1 gallon. So 2 gallons of gas a day X 5 days a week = 10 gallons of gas. At $3.50 a gallon that is $35 a week times 50 weeks a year = $1,750 a year in gas.

Now let's say you lease your car, which a lot of people do. The average lease is 12,000 miles a year. If you drive 50 miles round trip a day for 5 days a week that is 250 miles a week or 1,000 miles a month. Just on your daily commute to work you have used up your lease miles.

Let’s say you drive another 50 miles on the weekend, running errands, taking the kids to soccer practice and the like. 50 miles times 50 weeks is 2,500 miles. Add the overage to your lease at 20 cents a mile and that is $500 a year. Over a 3-year lease that is an extra $1,500.

Note this does not including wear and tear or any repairs needed on the car. For a 3-year lease, you would pay $6,750 in gas and extra mileage due to your commute. This is on top of your lease, insurance, and oil changes. Not a fortune but a lot of wasted money.

Now we will dig into the True Costs you don't see.

Let's start with your time, the only thing you can't buy more of. If you had an hour commute each way that is 2 hours a day or 10 hours a week, for a grand total of 500 hours a year. Break it down further and it is roughly 12 weeks at 40 hours a week. You are working 3 months longer because of your commute. I'm sure your boss doesn't pay you for your travel time to and from work. Besides the actual time lost in the commute, the toll on your body and mind is much greater.

Next and personally this is the greatest cost, your health. The first thing that comes to mind is sitting in a car for 2 hours a day is bad for your posture, and it takes a toll on your body producing unnecessary aches and pains.

Then there is the stress factor. Anyone who has driven in a major city like LA knows the stresses that come from stop and go traffic. Being on high alert as people do stupid things like riding their brakes or weaving in and out of lanes while texting photos of themselves with rabbit ears.

The truth is, this is more harmful then we realize. This constant stress day in and day out activates the fight or flight response in our bodies, flooding our system with hormones that raise our blood pressure, heart rate and blood-glucose level. This survival response is meant for running away from Lions or carrying our wounded comrade out of harm's way. Not for avoiding the car in front of us whose driver is applying lipstick while barreling down the 405.

When we get home from our nightmare commute we are in a bad mood and we might take it out on our loved ones. Maybe you go right into a rant about some stupid driver when you get home, your wife who was all excited to tell you about her day now feels you are so angry she will wait till later to tell you about it. Maybe you are so exhausted from your commute that when your child asks you for help with their math homework you can't seem to figure it out and you snap at them.

If you have a long commute you are less likely to get up and workout or go to the gym after work. Even people who get gym memberships near their office still tend to skip the gym because after a hard workout they don't want to sit in a car for an hour.

Now that we can see what the true cost is of a long commute, let's look at what you could do with all that time and money you would save without the commute.

Starting with the time you would save. From the example above of an hour ride each way for 5 days a week gives us 10 hours a week. That's two hours more a day to play with your kids, make love to your wife, practice the guitar that's been sitting in the garage or get the exercise your body needs to keep you healthy.

Many of you who are reading this article want to strike out on your own and start a business. What could you accomplish with an extra 10 hours a week or 500 hours a year?

For example, let’s say you had two job offers. One that had a long commute and one that you could work from home or was 10 minutes down the street. Even if the longer commute job paid a little more you might find that the true cost of the longer commute will hold you back from your dreams and goals. Now if that longer commute job is your dream job great! What I'm trying to convey is the next time you are weighing a decision be it what job to take or what to eat for dinner, think about the true cost before choosing.