Commuting Blues = Early Retirement Goal

It’s Sunday evening, and there’s a lovely view outside. The snow is falling, and since it’s been falling for a few hours, everything looks like a Christmas card. This is the kind of scene that makes winter look inviting. The caption could be, “Get out your toboggan!” Or, “Time to get your skis on!” Or, “Walkin’ in a winter wonderland!”

But for me, and for thousands like me, the message is this: “Tomorrow’s commute to work is going to be brutal! Leave at least an hour early.”

3 commutes from hell in one week

The second last Tuesday before holidays, I left the house at 7:20, trying to stifle a nagging thought at the back of my mind that I’d blown it: I was going to be late for work. The snow was falling rather gracefully, so I tried to convince myself I could still make it in to my job – at a high school – by 8:00. In a burst of proactive decision-making, I chose a different route – one my colleague had sworn was always reliable. Within 10 minutes, I knew something was up.

It took another two hours for me to find out what that something was: a lane closure at about the half-way point, caused by an accident. I pulled into work at 10:15, my soul sucked dry by the 3-hour commute. “I NEVER want to go through that again,” I thought.

The next day, a Wednesday, snow still falling, I was on the road just after 7:00 … And I walked into work just before the 9:00 bell.

Thursday, I left for work at 6:45. “Not taking any chances,” I thought. But even then, my normally 40-minute commute to work more than doubled to an hour-and-a-half.

FIRE types blast commuting

Early retirement bloggers have nothing good  to say about commuting. They live close to their places of work, and they bus, cycle, or walk to get there. In a post from 2011, Mr. Money Mustache itemizes the evils of a 40-minute commute over the long-term – wasted money, wasted time, stress, danger … And he doesn’t even include snow storms.

Whenever conversations about work-life balance arise, I speak as the FIRE types do, and argue for intentionally setting up close to work to avoid long commutes. But for me, it’s too late. The costs, financial and otherwise, of moving out of our home don’t make sense – especially since DH is established here in his home business. And the idea of trying to find work at a school closer to home? I am so much happier at my current school than I have been at any other. That counts for something, and I’m not willing to give it up – especially this close to retirement.

Retirement miscalculation & MMM’s less-$-needed

I recently realized a huge oversight I had made in calculating my retirement year and income. The upshot of it was that while I correctly identified June of 2019 as the earliest I could qualify for a pension, I overestimated that pension by $8,000 annually. My pension income would actually be only half of my current income if I took that 2019 retirement date. “You might have to work longer,” DH said. I agreed.

But when I was sitting in traffic for 3 hours that Tuesday morning, I thought it would be worth at least $8,000 per year NOT to have to commute anymore.

Another Mr. Money Mustache concept is this: if you get used to frugal living, not only can you retire earlier thanks to more money saved and invested, you can also retire earlier because your expenses, having become lower with a simpler lifestyle, can be funded with less money.

My financial freedom date: still June 2019

My $8,000 per year miscalculation is no small deal, but I believe we can set things up so that the lower-than-anticipated income will be more than enough. If we play it right, I should be able to say “Good-bye” to the morning commute in another year and a half. That thought helps me face it for the short term.

As the snow continues to fall outside, I’m mentally preparing myself for a very early start tomorrow morning. My plan is to leave by 6:15.


Do you have a long commute to work? Is there something you can do to change it? Or do you feel stuck with it until retirement? Could you live on 50% of your income in retirement? Your comments are welcome.


*Images courtesy of Jeremy Jenum via flickr and Freephoto.com

 

 

 

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19 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I used to have a 25 miles commute, 50 round trip. I now have a 10-mile commute, round trip each day. It’s one of the things I when I changed jobs back in 2016. It’s been delightful. Are you planning on staying in your current home? That’s one of the decisions we face in the future.

    • That’s a nice change for the better, Brian. Like you and your wife, we discuss whether or not we’ll stay in our current home, and the jury is still out. For as long as DH runs his business and for as long as our youngest still lives at home, it makes sense to stay here. How long will either or both of those things be the case? Who knows?

  • I am very fortunate to have found a job in LA that is 1.6 miles from my house and you can take side streets to get there (and hell, I still drive so suck it MMM-lol) but it’s not the norm here in LA. I have done it in my lifetime and it’s brutal….and can you imagine if you didn’t like the job too. I’m not sure I have any words of wisdom. I can easily advise my young co-workers to move closer since they are probably renting, but even that is tough because the side of town our job is on is very expensive, whereas the valley is cheaper. One piece of fire advice does not fit all!

    • It’s very true that one piece of advice doesn’t fit all. Life doesn’t always fall together neatly – in fact, it almost never does. I’m very happy for you and your ideal work-distance situation. You can’t get much better than 1.6 miles!

  • I used to have a 40 mile commute, each way. This was about 15 years ago, but oh my gosh, was it awful. When I had started the job, my commute was much closer. But then 5 months after starting my job there, the company decided they needed a bigger office and bigger accommodations and moved further away. All of a sudden, I now had an 80 mile commute, round-trip. Ugh, it was awful. Bad memories, lol 🙂

    • Oh that does sound awful : ( That’s the thing about our places of work: they don’t always stay put. I’m glad that’s all in the past, Mackenzie : )

  • Sorry that you had such a hard time last week! My commute is 65 miles round trip. The good news is that it is against traffic and primarily highway, so I can usually count on 31 to 33 minutes door to door. Except when it is snowy or icy, in which case all bets are off, and it has taken as long as an hour and a half!

    I have read MMM also and generally agree with his thoughts on commuting. But we are about 3 1/2 years from reaching financial independence, do not want to move, and I can’t find a job that pays nearly as well closer to home (we are in a suburban/rural area) so I continue to suck it up against my better judgment. Even with the high cost of commuting, I’d need to add a year of work given that pay cut I’d have to take if I took a job closer to home. That said, MMM would still definitely punch me in the face.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, ROMT : )
      Going against traffic to work makes all the difference! It sounds like your situation is similar to mine. You recognize the wisdom of living close to work, but complicating factors result in the commute. I get it. And I would say that you “continue to suck it up” in line with your better judgment – not against it. It’s a short term pain that’s helping to set you up for long term gain. 3 1/2 years is not a long time! (And I don’t think MMM would punch you in the face! : )

  • My first teaching job was about a 40 minute commute. They aren’t easy to find in our region, so I was just thrilled to have a job. My second teaching job was only 2 miles away though, and that was awesome! I still had to leave super early to beat the huge amount of high school traffic, though.

    I get why changing your place of work or your home is not as easy as the FIRE commute-haters make it out to be. But I’m curious why your husband’s home business is a drawback? That seems like a more flexible situation than him having a commute to think about as well.

    That’s great you’re so close to retirement! And yes, we are planning to live on less than half our income in retirement.

    • Good point about my husband’s business. For one thing, he’s established here, and that in itself is no small deal for a home business. For another, as long as DH is running his business from home we need a fairly sizable house. Once he retires, we’d be able to move to a truly small house or a condo. Moving once now before he retires and then again after he does doesn’t appeal to us. I hope that makes sense : )

  • That’s a bummer of a commute and a not-to-be-sniffed-at miscalculation. However, you’re right to endure it since it will be for only a relatively short time (and one more winter only) longer. FIRE is FIRE no matter how you choose to get there or how long you’re willing to take to do so.

    Hope the rest of your commuting doesn’t quite suck so much.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Luxthift : ) So far, I’m avoiding sucky commutes by leaving really early when there is a snowfall. It’s working like a charm – and I don’t mind being at work ridiculously early. There’s a serenity to it. Yes, only one more winter to go …

  • tee heeeee! “Retiring On My Terms” made me literally LOL up there! 🙂 The farthest I commuted to work took about 20 minutes. Interestingly, I was always early for work, until I moved closer. Then it was only 5 minutes and I was always late! Go figure, huh? Anyhoo, it sounds like you’ve weighed all the pros and cons of all this and you’re comfortable with your decisions. That’s what counts. 🙂

    • You are right, Kay. That is what counts : ) And I completely understand your being late when you were only 5 minutes away. “Oh, I don’t have to leave yet. It’s only 5 minutes …”

  • Yeah, I get shedding the commute as a great incentive to live on less. I’ve had longer (40 minutes each way) regular commutes and shorter (5 minutes.) I learned to deal with the longer with audiobooks, but it made a lot of things in life more difficult. Especially getting a good amount of exercise, which impacts life quality for a long time. So I hear you. Good luck on the journey. Sounds deliciously close.

    • Well said, Emily. It really does make things in life more difficult! I have found that simplifying exercise is key. I make an effort now, when I come home from work, to keep my outdoor clothing on, step into my snow-shoes, and just go – which I’m lucky to be able to do right out my back door.

  • I’m incredibly lucky that we were able to make the choice to relocate where we did, keeping PiC’s commute to under 30 minutes each way barring accidents, and my commute is nearly non existent. Unfortunately we are paying a price for that with our Terrifying Mortgage, but we would have paid that much or more no matter where we relocated in this region. This was the sensible medium to long term decision for us knowing that we still had probably ten more years of work life to live and work. It didn’t make sense to be further away and miserable from the loss of life/time to save some money since the mental and emotional wear and tear is tough as well.

    On the other side of the coin, we’re too early in our parenting journey to live on 50% of our income – we still have college to save for and all the in between years to nurture a conscientious human, along with making sure that we have enough to pay for health care and so on and that’s a little bit disappointing for me. It sure feels like we’ve put in the work, shouldn’t we be ready for a payoff yet? That disappointment may be the precursor to envy talking – we *have* had payoffs in the form of a good marriage and we’re enjoying our lives generally right now, so it’s not like we have toiled for no reason!

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