Yes Your Commute Is Probably Ruining Your Life


Kay Phillips has been dreading this moment for a very long time.

The 59-year-old from Elon, North Carolina, has often wondered how much her commute cost her over the years. She decided to sit down and tabulate it once and for all for Reuters.

Specifically, the four years when Phillips was driving 2.5 hours each way to her job and back, every single workday. From little Granite Falls, up in the mountains of North Carolina’s Caldwell County, to Chapel Hill for her job with the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina.

The total tab, she figures: $43,000. And that is just in gasoline – not oil changes or repairs, not the value of her time.

Reuters has published a very mean article about commuting and how it wastes all our money and make us miserable and sick. Normally I work from home or from my neighborhood but today I just got back from shuffling myself all over town to go a million doctor’s appointments and I feel like my soul has been drained out of my body (could be unrelated, though).

Anyway, turns out the average commute time for Americans has held steady at 25.5 minutes, and 10.8 million Americans travel over an hour each way to get to their job. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, longer commutes correlate with higher levels of obesity, cholesterol, pain, fatigue and anxiety. Feel u, Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Also, Chris Taylor at Reuters will not rest until he has completely ruined Kay’s day:

After all, put $43,000 into an IRA or 401(k), compound it at even a modest rate of return, and you have a very nice nest egg indeed.

“Oh my goodness, don’t go there,” she says. “I don’t even want to think about that.”

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21 Comments / Post A Comment

wrappedupinbooks (#1,426)

I hope you’re okay!

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

“That ‘not too bad’ commute is burning at least $50,000 every ten years.”

$50,000 every 10 years is 5,000 every year, $416 a month, and 96 a week.

I can absolutely believe that quality of life will jump up once people leave awful commutes behind. Will they save an extra $50K over 10 years? Probably not. I haven’t ever driven to work in my entire adult life (thanks, mass transit and freelancing), but I don’t have an extra $50K in savings.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

OH! This would be great for a Billfold reader poll, like the How much do you spend on your groceries or how much do you spend on your cell bill each week.

Because TRAWLAWLAWL at being able to afford rent within a 25.5 minute (door-to-door) commute of my office. Guess I shoulda studied STEM.

#OhWaitIDid

@DebtOrAlive You should have studied art history! And gotten a PhD! I have a 7-minute WALK to work. Ha! Humanities PhD for the win! Ha!

Allison (#4,509)

@DebtOrAlive that was the obvious thing to me, what are the rent/cost of living differentials between where she works and where she lives? Not that a long commute isn’t soul sucking, but the other monetary factors should be mentioned.

gyip (#4,192)

@DebtOrAlive Devious!

(Also secret art history high-fives!!!!!)

Marille (#5,933)

@Allison Especially since it’s North Carolina–the cost of living is great here, even in the slightly pricier areas near Chapel Hill. I can’t imagine needing to live 2.5 hours away from your job! I say this as someone who has a five-minute drive to work (or a 15-20 minute bike ride, when the weather is nice).

readyornot (#816)

I hatehatehate commuting. My current situation has me commuting .75 – 1.25 hours, depending on traffic, in a car, which is the longest, only car-ridden commute I’ve ever had, and it blows. Puts me in a foul mood.

So undoubtedly there’s something bad about all that time and all those fossil fuels essentially getting wasted. HOWEVER. You also have to calculate the housing costs saved when you live further from your job. It may not make much difference for Kay Phillips, but a lot of long commutes are from low-density, low-cost suburbs to high-rent urban cores.

garli (#4,150)

@readyornot Yeah more than 50% of my company commutes in from an hour or more away. It’s the constant topic of conversation. Live far where it’s (much) cheaper or live close where you have less money but have more time.

readyornot (#816)

@garli That stinks! The fact that the residences near the jobs are more expensive is the central foundation of urban economics, or near as I can remember it.

(I should have clarified that my 45 minute-to-over an hour is round trip.)

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

My commute is about 20 minutes, but Mr. McDillet and I commute together, and through a forested area, so it’s pretty enjoyable for us. We usually just listen to NPR and chat. There’s a lot of “the trees are starting to green up”, and “Deer!” and the occasional “That’s a fucking bear!” It’s pretty enjoyable. I just accepted a new job (like just a few hours ago), and we won’t be able to ride together as much. It was a big consideration.

I love my actual job but I hate my commute (50 miles each way, book ending 12 hour shifts) so much that I am looking forward to handing in my notice in a few weeks when my husband’s job transfers us.

No amount of work satisfaction can make up for spending two soul-deadening hours driving every day. My audible.com subscription and all the podcasts and phone chats with my family still can’t make up for the crappiness of sitting in traffic for all that time.

I will revisit the idea when google’s self-driving cars are viable, though.

When I was a kid, we had to live in one part of the state for my dad (he was in politics, so had to live in the district), but my mom’s job and our school was 40+ miles away. And for a while, the three of us kids went to different schools…. We carpooled for awhile, which helped financially, but yeah, it was at least a two hour commute each day, often more like three. I missed the commute when my parents divorced, because I got to read during that time.

Commuting is lousy for sure, and when I had an hour – hour and a half (one way!) commute to a great job, it made the job appreciably less great. (Now I have a five-minute bicycle commute, which is the best thing ever.) But the underlying problem here, I’m guessing, is that jobs that pay enough are more scarce, real wages are lower, and housing options are more constrained than they have ever been. So people live where they can and work where employers will have them, and suffer in the process – essentially, just one more in the litany of ways that the working class gets less and pays more.

I still have to drive for work now and then, and one thing I have discovered that makes it so much better is that if you are teaching yourself to play a brass instrument (which I am), you can stick the instrument’s mouthpiece into a 6″ length of quarter-inch PVC tubing, and stick that part way into a 12″ length of half-inch tubing, and then drive around practicing your embouchure and improvising a marching band soundtrack to NPR. This makes driving about one bazillion times better, even though you get spit all over the inside of your car.

It’s not the length of the commute, it’s the driving – and the cost. It takes me 30 minutes to get to work, but it’s all on the train and walking. And it costs me $100 a month (pre-tax, so actually less than $100 in reality) for an unlimited pass. I used to drive 20 minutes to work and I still think this is vastly preferable.

beastlyburden (#6,122)

@PrescriptionPants Yeah, I also feel that active commuting (i.e., driving) is just a different beast from passive commuting (subway, buses, trains, etc.). My commute is 50 minutes door-to-door, but it’s all passive. While I’m sure I’d enjoy a shorter commute, I really don’t mind having an hour to wake up and get the ol’ neurons firing in the morning, nor do I mind the nice wind down in the evening.

That said, I’ve spent roughly $10,000 on MTA passes since 2005, and that’s not chump change.

@beastlyburden can your employer buy your passes for you pre-tax? Mine does! It’s a federal program, so they should be able to. Well, technically they put $100 a month on a debit card that only works for buying CTA passes and Metra tickets, but it’s the same thing.

beastlyburden (#6,122)

@PrescriptionPants Yes! My subway pass is pre-tax and has been for the past couple of years, so my actual out-of-pocket is less–so maybe I’ve spent $9K on public transit in nine years. Still a chunk of change, but really, I have few complaints.

gyip (#4,192)

A lot of the time, the debate about living closer to work (usually downtown, in the city core) is about what you like. But what about what you can afford? Lots of people just *can’t* live downtown in Toronto anymore … a house can cost 400-700K now, EASILY. In fact, houses under half a million dollars are fast becoming scarcer and scarcer. Condos stink with their unregulated maintenance fees, and they commonly cost around 400K now (really!).

I still don’t want to live in the suburbs. I’ll spend every dollar I can to live downtown. I don’t care about having a yard or “a place to raise kids” (I was born and raised DT!) or whatever. I think the city is great. But I’m scared I might have to go farther and farther because of numbers.

ragazza (#4,025)

So my one-hour each way commute (luckily only four days a week as they let me work from home one day) is not only hurting my physical and mental health but costing me huge money? Oy.

I would gladly take public transportation for one and a HALF hours each way instead of drive if it were an option, but the powers that be chose a location that couldn’t be less public-transport friendly if they tried.

clo (#4,196)

My commute is 15 minutes and 10 miles each way, specifically based on Mr. Money’s advice. This was the cheapest place the closest to both of our workplaces. I feel ok about it, even if by his calculation it’s 25k over 10 years. It would cost 10x that to pay the extra rent to live closer.

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