Friday, May 30, 2008

How Much Does Your Commute Cost?

I recently discovered that we pay more money each month for gas than we do for food -- that seems all sorts of wrong, but there it is. And I'm not the only one. Over at The 36-Hour Day, we're talking about how working moms are looking at their commutes in terms of dollars instead of minutes, and how teleworking may be the most fiscally and environmentally sound way to go.

Once I stopped hyperventilating and could bear to look at my budget once more, I did the math again. And again. With gas hovering around $4 a gallon, my 80-mile round-trip commute costs me about $15 a day. My husband makes the same trip (at different times), which means that we pay about $150 a week just for gas for both of us to get to work. Our food budget, for our family of sometimes-seven, is about $100 a week. When it's just the four of us, our food budget drops to about $60 a week.

Insert expletive here.

I clip coupons, I buy in bulk, I cook from scratch, I only grocery shop for perishables and to replenish the pantry, I combine errands to save on gas. There has got to be another way to save gas and/or money (and/or my sanity).

Flextime. Telecommuting. Teleworking. The holy grails of the working mom, the mighty tools of work-life balance -- now they're fiscally and environmentally responsible, too!

If my company enouraged teleworking, employees wouldn't be the only ones reaping the benefits of a more flexible schedule and the ability to work from home. The company itself would benefit, because employee loyalty would skyrocket. According to a September 2007 survey by WorldatWork, flextime is even more important to employees than paid vacation time -- and teleworking has been shown to increase productivity and positive competition while reducing stress and absenteeism. My immediate supervisors would benefit, too -- instead of spending two-and-a-half to three hours a day commuting to and from the office, I'd spend that time getting more work done for them.

People used to apply for jobs based on how much a commute they could stand, not how much their commute could cost -- I know my husband and I were thinking about time and not money when we decided to move 40 miles outside the city. As early as 2006, when gas prices hit $3 a gallon after Hurricane Katrina, the Society for Human Resource Management found that "offering telecommuting options is among the top five approaches being used by companies to help employees deal with gas prices." And in a recent article in Computer World, Mark Wilson, a managing consultant at Delta Initiative LLC in Chicago, pointed out that some companies are starting to consider the length of a job candidate's commute in a hiring decision, believing that a long and expensive commute could eventually wear on employees. "Our clients believe attrition is very connected to the amount of miles [employees] have to drive to work," said Wilson.

Until gas prices start dropping -- which isn't going to be anytime soon -- I need a solution. One that doesn't involve drilling anywhere, or purchasing a hybrid or concocting a frybrid or dusting off my ancient bike. One that doesn't involve subsidies (though those are always nice), one that would decrease my stress levels along with my gas consumption. One that would work for almost any employee almost anywhere.

Have you done the math? How much is your commute costing you?

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