Goal for this series:
I wanted to do something fun and see if I can come up with a financial thought series regarding things I’ve ever been mulling over for a while and wanted to air out in blog form or come up with a deep, impactful thought per blog post for this series that can potentially add some value to your lives.
Should I stay or should I go?
“Should I live closer to my job and pay more in rent but save in commuting cost, or should I live farther away, pay cheaper rent, but pay more in commuting cost?”
That’s a question that’s been on my mind and my girlfriend’s mind for years.
We live in suburban New York, near New York City.
Before, we lived at my parents’ house that was an 8 minutes drive to our workplace.
My parents then downsized to save on mortgage and property tax and moved into a smaller house that is 26 minutes away from our workplace.
So our average commute per day went from 16 minutes total to 52 minutes total.
The value of the houses near our workplace average $500,000.
Rent averages $2500-3000 for a whole house.
A studio/1 bedroom might be about $1500-2000 a month.
The value of the houses near where my parents moved to is about $200,000.
While I have not looked into the cost of rent for a bedroom or a whole house here, I think it will be cheaper than the area near our workplace.
My thoughts are that I hate the longer commute.
It feels like I am wasting my health, my productivity time, and my valuable sleep time having to wake up earlier in order to drive farther to make it to work on time.
I think this is why, to combine what I read in “Why we sleep,” the book on sleep and it’s impact on our health, and the studies I heard about how the longer the commute, the more likely you are to have health problems like obesity and cancer, basically if your commute is longer, the more likely you are to get back home later, get less sleep because you have to get up earlier to drive farther to work in the morning, and therefore, be less healthy, because in the book, the author talks about how sleep helps your immune cells fight off cancer cells and how sleep helps your body manage weight better.
Here are 2 articles from major news outlets that talks about the negative effects your long commute has on your mind and body.
Therefore, I see living closer to my work, even if I am paying more to live closer, to be more valuable for the sake of my mental and physical sanity, not to mention being able to get enough sleep and have more time to do what I want to do versus just sitting in the car for an hour a day listening to podcasts.
It just so happens that the area my girlfriend and I want to live in costs more in rent than the area we don’t want to live in (shocker! funny how that works).
It just so happens that our workplace happens to be in the area where we also want to live.
It has the balance of nature, shopping, entertainment, parks, restaurants, etc. that we want in our lives.
So we’re working harder and putting away more money to be able to afford the first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and one month’s rent for security deposit.
Meaning if we were to rent a 2 bedroom apartment where I can use one of the bedrooms as a home office, the rent would be around $2000-2200.
Essentially 3 months rent upfront would be $2200 x 3 months = $6,600.
I recently used my entire life’s savings to start a new business venture so I don’t have that money right now, nor the proper cash flow currently to handle that upfront cost of living in the area that we want to live in.
However, with the power of LOVE, we should be able to live where we want to live within the next 6 months or so, and then we will finally have our shorter commute again, this time, only a 4 minute drive from our workplace.
Here’s the math on renting and commuting though
There are people who drive 1-2 hours a day into New York City to work and then drive 1-2 hours back, mind you, during the morning rush hour, this could easily become a 3 hour commute where some people leave their homes at 5am to make it to your NYC job by their 8am start time.
Then, after their job is done at 4pm, they get home by around 7pm, only to sleep by about 9pm to wake up at 4am to leave at 5am to do it all over again, 5 days a week, for YEARS.
Why can’t they just live closer to NYC and only have a 30 min commute? Or a 1 hour commute? Maybe they don’t want to live closer because they love the nature and the open out-doors, and their many acres property by where they’re able to afford it farther away from the city.
But let’s explore the gas cost versus renting closer.
Let’s say your car gets 25 miles per gallon (MPG). And let’s say it holds 12 gallons.
Let’s say you also live in Middletown NY.
And let’s say you work at Columbia University in Harlem, New York City.
Your commute would be on average 1 hour and 15 minutes not factoring in rush hour traffic of everyone going into the city at the same time.
It is a 65 mile drive.
So your car would use up about 2.5 gallons going into the city, and 2.5 gallons going back home, factoring in AC, heat, charging your phone, being stuck in rush hour traffic and burning fuel, etc.
That’s 5 gallons a day spent on driving, not to include going to do errands on your way to or from work.
So in 2 days, you’ve used 10 gallons. In 2.5 days, you’ve used your whole tank.
In 5 days for an average work week, you’ve filled up your tank twice.
Assuming $2.79/gallon right now for premium as of December 2019 in the suburban New York, that’s: $2.79 x 24 gallons = $67/week spent on gas commuting, not including tolls to and from the city.
Round up to $70/week on gas.
In a 4 week month, that’s $280 spent on gas.
Now, let’s say you spend $1100 a month in an apartment living in Middletown, NY.
This was the cheapest I could find with a cursory glance on Zillow.com, sorted by cheapest apartment to rent.
Living in a cheaper area and long commute
That’s $1100 rent plus $280 gas = $1380 per month for just rent and gas to commute.
Living in a higher cost area and short commute
Rent for apartments in the area I would like to live in cost on average $1500 per month, for example, Nyack NY.
Driving from Nyack to Columbia University would be 36 minutes, round up to 40 minutes, and 23 miles one way.
That’s basically one gallon of gas one way, for 2 gallons of gas round trip.
In a 5 day work week, that’s 10 gallons of gas for the commute.
In a 4 week month, that’s 40 gallons of gas used for commuting from Nyack to Columbia University.
At $2.79/premium gallon of gas currently as of December 2019, that’s: $2.79 x 40 gallons = $111.60.
Rent is $1500 + $111.60 for the monthly commuting cost not factoring in tolls and parking (same situation for the previous example) = $1611.60.
The math difference between the two situations
Live in cheaper area and commute to work: $1380.
Live in more expensive area and commute to work: $1611.60.
$1611.60 minus $1380 = $231/month.
That’s $231 if you’re single and have an apartment by yourself and commuting everyday to and from work.
Not to mention, it’s actually more than that because you have to factor in parking cost and tolls.
So is $250-500 a month worth it to live farther away?
My verdict is no.
I would not like to sacrifice my sleep, my mental and physical well-being, and risk having obesity, depression, brain fog, and overall crankiness and anxiety just to save a couple of hundred bucks a month but then end up spending that money that I saved on self-medicating myself with alcohol or drugs at the end of each night because my life sucks because of my commute that’s insidiously creeped into my everyday life and has affected me negatively yet I can’t pinpoint why I feel so crappy and why I lash out at friends, family, and coworkers and am always moody and life sucks and oops I’m dead and never really figured out why my life sucked as much as it did and why I wasn’t as happy as I could be.
You can’t put a price on your health, but if you can, it looks to be about $300-600 a month in terms of commuting cost difference.
The ideal commuting situation
The ideal situation would be if I lived in a nice affordable area that I actually want to live in, AND my workplace is within walking distance to that work.
That way, I don’t even have to drive to work and waste gas, plus getting fresh air and walk exercise everyday would be a double win.
*This article is moot if you live a cheaper cost of living area and your workplace is already in that cheaper cost of living area, or if you live in an expensive cost of living area but your workplace is in a cheaper cost of living area but you refuse to move to that cheaper area because you prefer to live in your swanky higher-cost-of-living house.
What are your thoughts? What is your life situation like and how would you go about this sort of commuting life dilemma?
“Why we sleep” book on sleep data, sleep science, and sleep impact on health and wellbeing