The Situation, Day 92

11 Jun 2013

Original Blogger tags: The Situation 2013

So this is one of those days where everything is just “hovering.” For the last few weeks I’ve had three or four recruiter phone calls and e-mails a day, but today I’ve had none. It’s spooky, like the rest of the world was destroyed and I haven’t gotten the news yet. Meanwhile, I’ve done some follow-up e-mails and messages, and gotten nothing back. Several different applications are in the post-interview stage, “hovering.” I need to apply for some more local jobs, but I’m not seeing very many that are even remotely within the realm of possibility.

Just for fun I did a calculation on what it would take to do a daily commute from Saginaw to Bloomfield Hills. That’s about 80 miles one way, taking approximately an hour and 20 minutes. I know people have commutes like this, and longer, but let’s do the math as an exercise.

Our current main car is a late-model SUV that gets an average of 15.4 mpg. It probably will do a little better for an all-highway commute, but considering the possibility of heavy traffic and road construction, let’s call it 16 mpg. For a 160-mile round trip commute, that’s a convenient round number, ten gallons of gas a day. Gas today is about $4.20 a gallon. It will probably be lower off-season, but that’s what it is today. That gives us $42.00 a day in gas, or $210 a week. Not accounting for vacation time, that’s $10,920 just in gas. That doesn’t cover wear and tear at all. The IRS standard mileage allowance including wear and tear and repairs for 2012 is 56.5 cents a mile; that works out in this case to $90.40 a day or (again, not taking vacation time into account) $23,504 a year — in other words, that’s what they consider the actual cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle and using it for that much travel.

Something like a Honda Fit would obviously be a better choice, at somewhere in the ballpark of 30 mpg, but note that this would add a car payment, when we don’t have one now, and so the overall cost would not be dramatically lower.

Note that this takes into account no “externalities” at all. Here’s one externality: if I was going to be gone with the car all day, every work day, my wife would need a second car in order to run any kind of local errand at all with the family. So we’d then be a two-car family instead of a one-car family. So it wouldn’t be a matter of swapping out one car for a better-mileage car — where selling the first could help pay for the second. Of course the at-home car wouldn’t incur nearly as much in the way of gas expense and wear-and-tear, but it isn’t trivial just to maintain a car, even one you don’t drive very much. It also doesn’t account at all for the emissions, and what that is doing to the climate, or the fact that I’d be driving for almost 3 hours a day, turning an 9-hour-day (with lunch) into a 12-hour day, and what that would do to me and my relationship with the family, and whether we’d be able to afford to hire someone to help replace some of my labor in and around our home (ranging from cooking and cleaning and mowing the lawn to child care).

So, alternatives. It would probably be cheaper to stay someplace much closer to a work situation in the metro Detroit area during the work week, and we’re exploring that option. Relocation would be neither quick or easy. So what’s the cost of an extended-stay hotel close to the area? The cheapest one I could find online in a brief search was about $55 a night. Assuming I stayed Monday through Thursday nights and left from work on Friday, that’s $220 a week (and note that these are still a commute from the workplaces, just a much shorter one, and I’d still have one $42.00 round-trip commute). So it isn’t significantly cheaper. I don’t think I could make the food options as low-priced as they are at home. Exercising that option, I’d be doing a lot less driving, and that would be great, but I wouldn’t see my family at all for four nights a week. I’m chewing over whether I could find that tolerable, and for how long. I don’t really want to be an absentee father; these years aren’t really fungible, to be “made up for” later.

A local apartment might be cheaper. I haven’t looked into that. But it is a good reminder that if I’m going to consider an arrangement like this, I have to be sure to ask for enough money to actually make it viable. Ideally “viable” would translate to “at least what I was earning before, with cost of living adjustment, and enough extra to cover the cost of the distance.” Of course this isn’t an ideal world. How about “after taking the cost of the distance into account, doesn’t actually represent a decline in income?” And we may have to accept “we can break even doing this” as opposed to “I’m working, but going further into debt with every mile of scenic I-75 I traverse!” And this is why I continue to press for a telecommuting, or at least part-week telecommuting, option. And why we might ultimately have to give up everything we’ve been working for here.

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