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October 06, 2009


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@FMF: For city folk, another way to frame your question is in terms of housing costs. Every extra 15 minutes of commute might see a 10-15% decrease in housing costs.

For my husband and I, a short commute is really valuable and we pay for it in housing. We comfortably rent an apartment in order to have our 20-40min commute rather than buy a small house with a 40 min-1.5 hr commute. This is effectively what you're talking about just reframed.

(We're planning on moving out of this city so that we can have both a short commute and cheaper housing.)

About 10 years ago, I took a job with a hellish commute into Queens from Long Island. It was only temporary, as the company was relocating to a site that was much closer to my house. I endured this 90 to 120 minute journey for 4 months. The lowlight was during a late winter rainstorm, where all of the parkways were flooded. Near the end of my 3 hour drive, I spotted a dead rat floating next to me on an exit ramp. It kind of summed up the whole commute. After relocating, my commute dropped to 20 minutes, and I was very thankful. I didn't have to take a pay cut, but I'd have gladly given up $10K not to have to make that commute.

Assuming I'm making a certain minimum and I'm satisfied with where I live, a short commute is worth a tremendous amount to me.

Those two conditions are real killers, though. I'm relatively young and relatively early in my career, and I'm not all that far above that hypothetical minimum; I simply can't afford to take very much of a pay cut from where I am now, so I'm limited in my ability to take a lower-paying job nearer to my home. I like where I live, and having only bought our house a few years ago, we're far underwater on our mortgage. That's not a problem, because we have no problem making our payments, plus extra, plus saving, but it means that moving to somewhere nearer my job is also not really an option.

So for now, I'm stuck.

I've had a 7 minute commute for $40k; 1 hr commute for $40k; 6.5 hr round-trip commute for $65k. I currently have a 4 hr round-trip commute for $114k. I'd rather not eat ramen noodles every meal, so the longer commute is worth it. I hate living in NYC (16 years there was enough), so living 2 states away is fine with me. No jobs in PA, DE, or South Jersey, so there's not much choice in the matter.

I think that factoring in your hourly pay including the commute is really important. With 16 hour work days everyday? Even if he made 150k, it still probably didn't make him happy. Taking a pay cut to only have to deal with a normal work day was so worth it for him. And I would never do a really crazy commute like that. My max is definitely around 30 minutes.

My commute is about 25 minutes door to door (via subway). I have always both lived and worked in large cities with great transit. There is literally no amount of money you could pay me to have a two hour commute, to deal with highways every day, to step out of my office and see a parking lot rather than a busy city street, and so on. The stress would get me within a year.

Conversely - for a short while I lived a 5 minute walk from work. I felt that was way too close! Always running into coworkers on my days off, always having no excuse not to stay an extra half an hour, going whole weeks never leaving the one neighbourhood, etc.

I've got a 12 minute commute and love it. Go home for lunch a bunch and have the flexibility to be able to leave whenever and then make time up other times as necessary.

I also think you have to factor in housing costs and also the benefits of city living and other benefits/disadvantages of living in your area.

I live in the upper midwest where housing is dirt cheap and my commute is only 10 min. However, I have to drive 70-200 miles to go to a concert, a museum, go shopping for work clothes or to go out to a decent restaurant or a show that's anything other than a major hollywood movie. Also, the weather is terrible which means my car won't last as long.

I'd happily trade some commute time for the other benefits of living in a civilized area!

One other factor is the type of commmute. In my last job I had a 1+ hour commute and I had to drive as there was no way to get there with public transportation. The stress factor of driving that far in rush hour traffic was horrendous. I then got a job in NYC (yes for more money) but now I take the train. I read and sleep on the train. It takes longer (1.5 hours) but at least I don't have to drive! Very little stress.

I'm fairly close to the middle option, but my commute is more like 45-minutes each way. However there are a bunch of people here who can't drive in the snow for some reason, so that time goes way up on days it snows during rush hour. I do leave for and from work fairly early to avoid the traffic. One of the main reasons was housing costs. It's not that I couldn't afford a house in this area, it's just that I can afford a house that I want where I live. Another factor in my situation is that I live close to my family, so going to visit them is just up the road.

I would probably take the two hour commute for $150K. I would buy some beater small car to drive back and forth. However, I would probably only do it for 2-3 years and stash a bunch of cash away. One big factor though is that we don't have kids. On the other hand, making that much, my wife could stay home with the kids when we do have them. I'm sure my outlook will change once I have kids though. Especially when they get old enough for sports, activities, and other things that you don't want to miss.

We have the opposite situation. The further we move from the city the more we would be paying in housing costs. We live in a condo in the city which is a lot cheaper than the suburban houses of a lot of our coworkers. But they're stuck in traffic all day while we walk leisurely to work. I've commuted an hour a day before and it was tough. I guess I would go back to it for $75k though.

This is one reason why I like (or tolerate :) living in Columbus, OH. Short commute, little traffic, and affordable housing even in-city.

I've had all sorts of commutes during my working career, from literally 2 minutes walking one way to 2 hours driving one way. IME, the biggest question is regarding the method of commuting. 75 minutes on a commuter train is actually much easier than 40 minutes driving, as you have that time to relax and do whatever you like. Buses are slightly preferable to driving, as long as the schedule works and there aren't too many stops along the way. 40 minutes of relatively rural driving is a lot easier than 20 minutes of stop and go urban driving. Something that looks good on paper may actually be pretty unbearable IRL.

The other point that has been brought up is an important one regarding the cost of living/housing, and how much of an impact will the lower salary have upon your budget. I took a much lower paying job, but we also moved to an area with a substantially lower COL, so the impact was not as severe as it might have been. Had we stayed put in the same apartment, the lower salary would have been much harder to accommodate.

Commute 20 minutes one way. Make 80+. Wouldn't want any commute longer than 30 no matter what the cost. Would move to small town iowa and work in the local grocery for 30k and have a 30k 4bdrm house with a 5 minute commute first. I think the things people don't understand is that you can get cheaper and still have an awesome standard of living. My father understood this. 10 minute commute not making much but had a great house and good car and enjoyed his life and was home at 5pm each night. It was awesome and that is what I am giving my family as well. home by 5:15 each night and just relaxing with them until bedtime. There is no amount of money in the entire world that is worth even 15 minutes of losing that.

I moved from NY Queens to rural Florida.

I had to drive to White Plains from Queens which meant paying tolls and waiting to cross bridges in rush hour traffic as well as a backache and stiffness after a 60-90 minute commute.
I started working from home 1 day a week, then 2 days until I told management I could work from home full time (I am the system administrator). Then I moved to Florida - no city or state tax - so more income and no commute. My car is deterioriating from lack of use, instead of too much use and I expect I will live longer from that change in commute. sayary remained the same but the savings in time and aggravating has been priceless. I still fly up to NY every few months to be onsite for upgrades/maintenance but its worth it.

Great Topic! I'd love to see something more concrete to measure, it does all seem subjective.

I'm thinking percentages of salary per length of commute maybe? Something like each 15 minutes of commute each way is worth about 5%? Actual dollars is harder, because a $10k difference could be a large or small difference for someone. I'd definately take a $10k cut to save an hour commute if I made six figures, but someone making $30k probably wouldn't/couldn't.

Using your examples, I'd take the two hour commute for $150k over the hour for $75k. Thats a 100% increase of a larger amount, for an extra hour each way. Probably get a "crash pad" for during the week, since after two hours each way, there would be almost no time at home during the week anyways.

I probably wouldn't do the hour for $75k vs 15 min for $50k. A 50% increase in salary for a 300% increase in commute. Actually, 600%? since the commute is both ways.

I have circumstances coming up that I'll probably have a tough decision regarding this, so I'll be watching carefully.

Tough question but being younger I would take more money for a longer commute right now in my life. Not making what others make, it would be a nice bump up and could use it to put into savings.

I think I could deal with a commute up to 1 hr range, but I wouldn't enjoy it. It does also depend a lot on the kind of commute. Rural highway driving or riding a bus/subway is a lot easier than clogged urban driving. I wouldn't want a 2 hr commute since it would pretty much eat up all day. Right now I'm lucky to have a 5-10 minute commute and $100k salary.

I wouldn't mind a long communute if it was on public transportation. It's a great time to catch up on the newspaper or a good book or zone out with your ipod. I think I would read a lot more if I took the metro.

Until 2 months ago, I had a 15 minute commute each way to my job in the San Francisco Bay Area. Unfortunately, short commutes in the city are accompanied by all of the downsides of city living: bad schools, air/noise pollution, crime, etc. My wife and I moved 35 minutes away to a nearby suburb without all of these problems. The commute is longer, but tolerable. My son can grow up in an area where he can play outside and be surrounded by a bit of nature. I consider my increased commute a compromise for an improvement in my family's quality of life.

I would draw the line at 45 minutes or an hour to commute. But I might accept a longer commute for a short while in order to pay the bills if I suddenly lost my job.

I already have a short commute so no, I would not take a paycut for a shorter one! But I do pay for that short commute via high housing prices, if I were willing to drive 1-2 hours each way I could afford a much larger house. My mom just chose the long commute option because she wanted the typical big suburban home that you can't find in the city. I'm betting she will hate that commute, start looking for a job closer and take a pay cut in exchange. No way does she understand what she is getting herself in to with that commute!

I have an 1 1/2 hr commute to and from work totaling 3 hours a day. I work 4 10 hour days so I have 13 1/2 hour days including my lunch. I was laid off from my previous job doing design work, where I live and with the state of the economy there wasn't a whole lot of options. It is all rural the whole way here but getting up at 4:30 to leave by 5 and then not getting home until 6:30 really takes a toll on you after the four months that I have been here. I did get a pay raise coming here but it puts me at average for my position since my last job was my entry into the field. I just bought a house a month before I was laid off and now I am stuck there for 3 years with my current loan or face penalties plus paying back my $8000 first time home buyer credit. Some days it is a horrible drive and this winter will be even worse. I am putting 600 miles a week just from my commute on my new car. The housing prices may be a little cheaper where I am working since it is a small town in the middle of no where but not a whole I can do right now.

I agree with everyone who points to the nature of the commute as an important influence. I don't think you could pay me enough to drive on crowded roads 45 minutes each way to work. My current commute on the subway is about 50 minutes, though, and as long as I can get a seat, that's fine. It's just time to read or play games on my phone. In fact, it's the best solid block of uninterrupted reading time I get most days.

Each commute is different. My commute is on a train and I get on at one of the first stops. So sitting there for an hour each way may be a bit more than I want to travel, but I don't mind it as much anymore. I have found ways to make myself productive during that time (mostly reading) and I enjoy living in a less expensive area. Of course, if it were an hour standing in the train or sitting in traffic, there is no way I would be doing it. Anything above an hour just seems ridiculous.

You're helping to make my decision easier. I have a 13 hr day (5 day/wk) with a 100 mile r/t each day.
Usually in the car 2.5 to 3 hrs each day. Been doing it for over 10 years and I'm in my 50s. Kids are all grown, and I wonder why I still do it. The money is good, but quality of live really suffers. I'm getting to be a nighttime vegetable, not able to do anything after I get home. I need to figure out how much $ I really need, and see if I can get it locally. That's the hard part!

I've never had a commute of more than half an hour and I can't imagine having to drive any longer than that (each way) to get to work. These days, since I work as a freelance writer from home, I enjoy a 10-second commute and I didn't have to take a pay cut to get it. In fact, I'm earning more now than I have from any conventional full-time job and I'm very grateful for my good fortune in that respect.

Work in an upstate city and live in a rural area. Commute is about 45 minutes driving. Minimal traffic. Been doing it for over 20 years.
We live in a country setting in the middle of farmland and woods. The commute is worth living in the country.

It depends, if the commute would be one long comfortable ride, sans the traffic jams, I'm in. I'm not too fond of driving to and from work really.

Used to have shorter commmutes, now it's pretty hellish. 1 hour 15 min to 2 hours each way (afternoons are always worse). I have a driver and usually read stored web pages / email on my laptop, sitting in the back.

It still gets really boring. Only advantage is that I leave early (am at work by 8:15am, leave at 4:45) even though all my employees work 8 - 5:30 minimum, I do still work in the evening and while commuting but it's usually out of the office.

Make $230K a year for this effort so can't complain too much.

If someone offered me a job for half the salary and no commute I wouldn't take it. I'd rather stop working altogether.


I also think you have to factor in housing costs and also the benefits of city living and other benefits/disadvantages of living in your area.It depends, if the commute would be one long comfortable ride, sans the traffic jams, I'm in.

I commute 2 minutes each way and make $550k per year. Really can't complain. I'd probably want to shorten my commute a little for a bit less pay, but I am happy with how things are going.

I want Derrick Hoff's $550k for a 2 minute commute...I'll switch to that please :)

My best commute was when I walked to work (less than a mile). Then I moved to be with my boyfriend and ended up with a job requiring an hour's commute each way.

We moved across town so I could have the 10-minute commute.


You've got a good thing going! Congratulations. Unless you are trolling. In that case, good one!


Eight years ago I took a $15k/year pay cut to transfer closer to my home. My 2.5 to 3 hour daily commute is now 5 to 30 minutes depending on what customer is first on my list. My commute today is all of 10 minutes.

When I lived in SF in the early 70s I had a 45 minute commute but it was the world's best ... 30 minutes on a cable car and 15 minutes on an electric streetcar. That was the life !

7 years ago, I had a 45 minute commute, I changed jobs, relocated and had a 5 minute commute (by bike). I have since changed jobs again and have tripled my previous commute (15 minutes now, by bike). This is my upper limit, never again will I waste 45 minutes (by car, one way) on a commute. In fact I doubt I would ever take a job that I could not ride my bike or walk to.

Gas money is really not a factor in the decision, as I most definitely eat the gas savings.

It depends on the life you enjoy after work. Most single workaholics don't mind long commutes for higher pay. It's a different story if you have a life outside of work. I have a 15min. commute and 6-digit salary - I would never take a job with a 2hr commute even if it means doubling my salary. That amounts to putting a price tag on the time you spend with the people you care about - you *never* get that time back.

My husband left a job with a 45-minute commute to double his pay with a 1.5 hour commute instead. He hates the drive, but it's worth it for now, because it allows me to stay home with our daughter. It's definitely not a permanent solution, though.

I commute 86 miles each way(170+ round trip) driving myself. It takes an hour and a half (3 hours total). I do this 5 days a week. My "new" car now has over 100000 miles on it in 2 years. I had bought a house a few years back when I was working for a local company from home mostly (telecommuting). The pay was extremely low but I was able to clear all my bills at the time. The company had problems and went under and so I was forced to do what I had to do. I got a great deal on my home + acres and it is extremely peaceful here. I had rented an apartment in the city when I first took my new job. After a year of paying the bills for 2 residences I decided to move back home and ditch the apartment. I don't want to give up my home and land and since I will be paying for it anyway I might as well live here.

Yes the drive does suck but I have been doing it for 2 years now and it is just routine. Leave at 6:30 get home at 6. My biggest problem is that I am in the technology field and my current area has ZERO opportunity for me. I have to go to the big city to get money even though it's less than 6 figures I am just greatful to be employed. I would love to telecommute like the florida story but it doesn't seem very likely that it will happen in my current position.

My mortgage payment was less than rent in the city. Gas costs even at 100.00 a week is still cheaper than rent, electric, gas, sewer, tv, internet, etc at another residence. The quality of life in teh country definitely scores higher than the city. When I get home I don't have to worry about getting shot and can leave my doors unlocked without concern. No place else I would rather be.

Perhaps I will strive to get a job closer to home but I don't think I will ever change home for my job.

I searched for an artcicle on this because it was a question I was just asked - should I take a $15 pay cut to shorten an hour commute?
I think that, if you can afford it, the gains in quality of life are almost always greater than the fall in living standards from the pay cut.

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