Ultimately, the biggest cost of working outside of your home might be all of the convenience services the modern professional is often willing to pay for in exchange for precious free time. From lawn maintenance to house cleaning, and all of the smaller things like grocery delivery in between, outsourcing your life can easily encroach on your net income. Not to mention the retail therapy we often indulge in after a stressful day or week at the office.
If you’re a freelancer or your employer will let you do it, working from home is a great way to eliminate many of these unnecessary expenses. It can also improve your health and wellbeing.
In this article we break down the common costs of working at an external location and show you how much you can save by spending your work day at home.
The price of a long commute
With about half of America’s jobs located in a few congested metro areas, many workers can’t afford to live near their workplaces. They buy or rent in outer-ring towns to lower housing costs and opt for public transit or longer commute times.
According to AAA’s cost of driving charts, a person driving 10,000 miles a year in a small car could spend about $5,700 annually. Commuting on public transit is cheaper, but still a $150 monthly train pass adds up to $1,800/year.
For example, let’s look a person who makes $75,000 a year and lives in San Francisco (the median household income for SF is $92,500). With median rents within 30-40 minutes of the city in the $2,000 range, living within commuting distance of San Francisco would take up about 50 percent of this person’s salary. On the other hand, if they have to commute without access to public transit, they’ll incur the following costs:
With bridge tolls above $10 a day, gasoline costs likely $200 a month, and the additional need to insure a car ($125, say) and park ($500 a month or more) you are spending more than $1,000 a month just driving around. That’s the equivalent of a full-time, minimum-wage job.
Commuting to San Francisco via car from a more affordable city like Martinez, CA would take about three hours a day. This time cost would be less in most areas, but can safely be suggested to be over $500 a month plus the money lost from “time cost”—working from the assumption that one could use the two to three hours spent driving and taking trains around, doing something economically viable.
Live anywhere and spend less on housing
You can work remotely for your San Francisco or New York office and find a place to live that’s far less expensive. Living in cities like Lancaster, PA or Cincinnati, OH would in terms of rent or mortgage cost $1000-$2000 less a month than if one were to live in a smaller house or apartment in New York or San Francisco. Lest you fear you’d be bored living away from the big city, Lancaster was featured in our list of best cities for artists along with four other small, affordable, and vibrant places.
Improve your health and wellbeing
One important thing that people with high-stress office jobs tend to forget about is self-care. Studies have shown that extensive sedentariness leads to obesity and heart disease. Furthermore, losing time you could use to prepare healthy food can result in a poor diet.
Working from home will free up all that commuting time to care for yourself. In the long-term, this leads to decreased healthcare costs.
Generally, people in poor health have a higher chance of having chronic conditions (i.e., diabetes; joint issues requiring replacement) in their 50s and 60s, which in aggregate can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to late-life health costs. Much of this money will be coming from your own pocket.
Freelancers can write off things like the use of your home as an office, your internet provider service (if it’s primarily used for business purposes), your car (for instance, if you have to present work to a client, the gas mileage can be written off at 0.55 cents a mile), and health-insurance related expenses (including health expenses that came from your own pocket because your insurance didn’t cover them).
When the commute is worth it
Telecommuting as an employee or working from home as a freelancer can be financially beneficial and free up more time to do things you enjoy, but there may come a time when you want or need to give up your home office. Here’s why you might consider working in an office again.
You’re less likely to get promoted
This is true; even in today’s digital age, companies have very few managerial-level staff who work off-site. You may be in a situation where you have to accept a lower income ceiling. Note that, from a money standpoint, this may still be better: making $60,000 and living in Lancaster or Cincinnati is infinitely better than trying to make it in San Francisco on $80,000.
However, you may find that after a few years, you’d like to make a next step in your career that isn’t possible without returning to an office job. This may be beneficial economically if, long-term, you boost your salary by at least $30,000 (about $1,600 a month after taxes in most places). Such a raise may be worth it and offset the additional costs associated with commuting and working outside of your house.
You need the benefits
Working from home as an employee usually comes with health insurance and other benefits, but freelancers may find they need to take an office job simply for the healthcare.
There are a variety of obvious and hidden costs associated with commuting and working in an office. Telecommuting can help you save money on transportation, eating out, and other convenience services, but you may eventually find you want or need to return to working on-site to advance your career or gain benefits unavailable to freelancers.
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