Commuting For A Job: When Is It Worth It? How Far, How Long?

Commuting For A Job: When Is It Worth It? How Far, How Long?

2011-11-10 06:00:07

I always hear people asking about commuting and their job. What is too far? What is too short? Is there a ‘too short?’ How much will it cost? Gas? Bridge tolls? Parking?

The hard costs of commuting can be calculated with some accuracy. Gasoline prices are hovering around $4 a gallon. Car insurance figures vary widely, so it’s more challenging to find a reasonable average, but figure $1,000 per year – or perhaps twice as much if you’re under 25 or have had an accident or two. Then there’s the cost of buying a car, paying for parking, managing a car loan and maintenance.

Or, say you’re lucky enough to live near public transportation. In Boston, that works out to at least $135 a month. Maybe you ride a bike to work (good luck with that in the winter, and with our legendary Boston drivers.)

The soft costs of commuting can only be calculated using personal algebra. How much do you like your job? What is your threshold for commuting? Can you tolerate an hour each way with the aid of an iPod or books from Audible? Does Talk Radio drive you crazy or does NPR keep you sane?  For one person, an hour commute may be easy, for another, it will be a terrible burden.

In this fragile job market, having a job must be the first consideration. From there, it’s a simple matter to take your salary and factor in hard commuting costs, like gasoline (see a good guide here) – according to Salary.com, “… the average employee incurs an annual “commuting gas” cost of $1,483 per year. This represents 3.6 percent of the national average annual salary, which is $40,690.”

Of course, your mileage may vary. While you probably can’t change the hard costs of commuting unless you move or find a ride share, it’s the soft costs that may most affect your well-being the most.

Here are a few variables to consider when thinking about the ‘soft’ costs of commuting.

  1. What’s you tolerance for commuting when no other job offers are coming and the job is just “ok”? Think in half-hour increments. Can you tolerate 30 minutes, or an hour, each way?
  2. What if you hate your job, and there’s a long commute?
  3. Or maybe you have a long commute and an “ok” job – but it’s a great company and there seems to be room for advancement?
  4. Are you willing to go “outside” your comfort area to find a job?
  5. How important is it to live in a certain region or zip code? What matters most – cultural activities, access to shopping, weather, access to hobbies, population density?

And a few things that might make a commute easier to take:

  1. Think of the commute as private time. Use the time to contemplate and recharge. Plan your day in your head. Rehearse for difficult conversations or meetings.
  2. Make the commute a game. Look for new routes (side benefit – a shorter commute) or see how far you can go on a tank by watching your gauge – what my family calls the ‘gas game’ (my husband does not approve, don’t play this game at night or in bad weather.)
  3. Listen to new music. Choose a genre you don’t know well.
  4. Listen to books – commutes are a great way to ‘read’ business books without feeling like it’s eating into your personal time.

One thing I can’t recommend: talking on the phone. Too distracting and dangerous.

What do you like or dislike about commutes? How far do you commute, and what makes it easier to manage? Let us know.

Categories: Career Advice

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