I recently talked to someone with a friend who had a 3-hour daily commute (1-way) from Richmond to Washington, D.C. The job had moved, and he had to show up to the D.C. office every day or lose his retirement benefits. It’s a tough call to make, especially if retirement wasn’t too far away. Clearly, he didn’t want to leave his job, but moving closer to the D.C. area apparently wasn’t an option either. It probably meant uprooting his family, leaving friends and community, and more importantly, it probably meant more expensive housing and a higher cost of living.
When It’s Worth Commuting
It turns out, according to this Investopedia article, that the number one reason people are willing to go to such extremes in commuting is because of money. I don’t blame them. I live about 30 minutes outside of Richmond, Virginia. Right down the street from me is a nice 3-bedroom house with a swimming pool in the backyard selling for 145K. When I lived in the City of Richmond, the 1-bedroom condo around the corner from me was going for 100K. (Keep in mind that this area is overrun with college students, has no parking, and is 2 blocks away from a breeding ground of street bums and 2 a.m. muggings.) If I keep heading north towards the true metropolis and stop at Arlington, VA right across the river from Washington, D.C., I would find that a 3-bedroom suburban house starts around 600K and a 2-bedroom condo is going to cost me a staggering 300K-600K. Now that’s a humongous chunk of change I could save by commuting. Even if I spent $100 a week on gas for 20 years that’s only about 100K worth of gas.
How Did I Get Into This Mess?
The problem is that while living outside of the city is often seen as a means to achieve home ownership and a higher quality of life, it can actually launch people into a vicious Catch-22 if they haven’t carefully considered the whole package. Besides having less time to spend on that higher quality of life, people get often suckered into driving long distances for work because they need that big city salary to pay for their luxurious home in the beautiful middle of nowhere. And of course, high-paying jobs in the middle of nowhere are hard to come by. According to the 2009 US Census Bureau 3.2 million Americans are trapped in a lifestyle of commuting 90 minutes or more daily. Of course, if one could telework most days, this kind of work-life situation might actually be doable.
In any case, I’m super grateful to be teleworking, and I hope I never get stuck between a rock and a hard place like that. I don’t know what I would do if my husband ever decided that his only choice was to commute 6 hours to and from work everyday. I’m afraid that I might let the car have him. It just wouldn’t be worth my time to compete with a machine.
What would make a long commute worth it to you?
A study of commuter characteristics in the U.K. Same deal: It’s cheaper to drive into Cambridge than to actually live there.
Marketwatch summary of work travel statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey (ACS). Average commute time has been holding steady at about 25 minutes for the past 10 years.
Transportation Research Board 2006 National Report on Commuting - “Roughly half of all workers added between 1990 and 2000 worked outside of their county of residence.”
Photo from PhotographerGirl