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How Much Does Your Commute Really Cost You? Calculate It... Then Kill It

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What is the true cost of your commute? One example comes from 4-Hour Work Week reader Troy Gardner, who recently wrote to me:

I'm still work focused (I like creating things!), but since I control my time/location, I'm reaping some of the rewards of being among the New Rich. My girlfriend and I will be spending the entire month of October visiting Chicago and Hawaii. Since I'm project/laptop based I can work during the evenings/free time, while spending the time out and about, finally learning surfing, and maybe kiteboarding etc.

Here is his experience, in his own words, of going from shocked awareness to blissful mobility...

*****

People often fail to include the amount of time, wear and tear on the car, and loss of sanity into the allure of a high paying job, and how that high paying job once calculated hourly might not be better off than a fast-food worker.

My Example (back in 2000):

* 100K startup job in Sunnyvale, frequent meetings and late nights.

* Lived in Pacifica because Sunnyvale was boring.

* Girlfriend in Oakland: the only place she could afford a house.

Which, if your familiar with Bay Area traffic, forms a Bermuda triangle of life suckage. What would be 20 minutes on a good day could turn into 4 hours of red lights. The draining aspect is its unpredictability, which you can never tell, and which also makes planning on getting to work on time difficult (should I get up at 4am or 6 am?).

Measuring the Pain

I got out my trusty stopwatch and averaged times over a few weeks. I was spending 20hrs in commute (commuting is an awful part-time job!) and 45-65 hrs at work, sometimes six days a week. Which when averaged into the 'high' income calculated hourly rate between UPS delivery boy and McDonald's chef, and I'm sure the UPS guy was in better shape. Needless to say, I was quite astounded finishing the calculation.

On Fridays, I would go visit my girlfriend and get so frazzled from the commute that, when faced with another commute into the city to go 'out,' coupled with 20-45 minutes finding parking (sometimes coupled with stresses of showtimes), any enjoyment to be had was quickly offset by the road rage and unknowns. This frequently took it's toll on the relationship in the form of arguments.

Getting to a Zero Commute

Ever since then, I've never lived more than 30 minutes away from work, either structuring where I live, or where/how I work. Here are the steps I followed.

1. Negotiated (both work and girlfriend) for flex time, avoiding traffic. Savings of 5-7 hours a week.

2. Second was switching to four days in office, one day telecommuting, showing productivity enhancements.

3. Third was going to three-day 10-hour days (keeping an eye out for how to go independent), networking and building credibility: started presenting at user meetings, conferences, tech edited books.

4. Having enough in savings, and enough contacts, that I could go solo without stress.

Interestingly, since going solo, my hourly rate in the last year has gone from 1.5 to 4 times what I was making working for others. The projects (I develop in flash) are smoother, as there are fewer people in the pipeline and less that can go wrong. My commute can be zero if I choose, yet I can travel more. Right now, my girlfriend and I are planning a full month trip to Chicago and Hawaii.

This is not to say that one has to work out of one's home. Increasingly, I'm entirely laptop-based, so I can work while visiting/travelling a higher percentage of the time, etc. While cafes are obvious, there are lots of other avenues. Some highlights of my work:

* in a quiet sunny grassy/tree park that connects to the cities free wireless,

* a free concert at the city of Pasadena that I wouldn't have paid that much attention to just watching.

* at the Getty museum on the lawn.

It's easy to make a goal of eating at one new place and seeing one new street. I was amazed at how little I knew the area around me. I might spend now 45 minutes a day commuting, but this is zero-stress walking and sightseeing and, at least in a decent city, it's amazing how much is accessible via foot and bus distance.

The killer commute and addiction to cars is really sad...The hidden causalities in relationships, jobs, due to the stress has never been measured, but I'm sure it's high. It's hard to be present for the nice dinner/evening in front of you when your already stressed out about the morning commute and the important meeting.

Zero Commute with 500% More Travel

The amount I save not paying interest or insurance can be used for other things. That said, I love flying when I travel, and $600 is easily 2 flights a month (perhaps more if your using the Platinum AMEX card). Renting car and a hostel can be $50/day in the U.S.

A few years ago, a good friend and I wanted to drive from Vegas to Marin, up the beautiful California coastal highway for a friend's wedding, so we rented a convertable Mustang for a seven days and came back through Yosemite. It was a blast! Cost $240 + $140 in gas, split two ways. All the experiences, none of the maintenance or interest. The car we rented had a dragging brake caliper, which I'm sure cost at least half of what we spent that week to fix. He eventually put down a payment on a house, and I went solo.

*****

What unidentified time sucks have you suffered from, and how did you -- or could you -- eliminate them?

This post edited from Troy Gardner's new blog.