A couple of years back I wrote an article comparing the costs of different modes of commute in Edinburgh.
I was recently given a sniff of a rival job with a five figure pay rise, but it would have meant a similar length of time commuting (bike or car) with a far inferior route. I’m one of those annoying people who enjoys their job, but even if I’d been interested, it would actually have been a pay cut in true wage terms. Can you imagine trying to explain that to a recruiter?
The true wage
Take the number of hours in your contract and your salary net of tax and you have your nominal hourly wage – but that’s only half the story.
For a fair comparison you really need to account for the costs associated with a job (having to run two cars for the commute, for instance) and also the time you spend off the clock needs to be added to the hours that you’re chained to the desk (commuting, answering email out of hours, and so on).
The resulting figure is your true hourly wage, and my premise is that if you can get yourself to the point where you have a fun, healthy bike commute without traffic trouble, you can give your true wage a massive boost.
My “motor bloater” persona
In “how I saved a house deposit cycling to work” I calculated that the cost of running our actual car was just over £2100 a year. For my current commute of 5500 miles a year, fuel would add another £900 or so, taking us to a nice round £3k if I needed to buy another car so I could drive to work.
If I did drive then a gym membership would be essential. The majority of Scots might be bloaters, but I don’t want to be one of them! The Edinburgh Leisure option doesn’t break the bank at £560pa and is what I used to have.
I’m lucky to have no need for office clothes despite working for a high power multinational and I generally resist the expensive lunch options, so I’m going to be generous and zero those costs off against the clothes and lunch I’d be spending on anyway (even a Greggs and Starbucks add up – £5 each working day is over £1100pa). Childcare would be the other major factor for many readers, but I’m not paying for it, so I won’t include it.
On the odd day that I do have to drive to work, I leave at least 50 minutes before I need to be at my desk, and allow an hour to drive home. I take an hour’s lunch (unpaid) which I’d certainly rather spend elsewhere, if it wasn’t for the core hours on either side. In total that’s almost three hours a day travelling to/from/sitting unpaid at the office on top of the time I have to be there to work (which is thankfully quite a lot fewer hours than the industry average – one of the reasons I’m a big fan of my current job).
On this basis my true hourly wage is somewhere around £14/hour.
Now, in real life
However, the reality is that we don’t need to run a second car, and I gave up my Edinburgh Leisure membership years ago. I’m still on the same £800 commuter that I built up three years ago, and might have spent a couple of hundred on chains and clothes, so let’s be pessimistic and write that all off now, making it £350pa of direct extra cycling costs. I’m already better off than my motor-bloater persona to the tune of over £3k a year…
My commute is almost entirely pleasant – we splashed the cash on a house that is directly connected to a couple of Edinburgh’s few long-distance segregated cycleways, so I can sometimes manage a whole week of rush hour commuting without being overtaken at all.
Including time to get changed, I have to allow 90 minutes per day to commute by bike, but since I try to get an hour’s exercise on days when I’m not working, I’m only going to add 30 minutes’ worth to the time cost of the job (it’s probably fair to include some of my commuting time, as I doubt I would choose to bike 22 miles a day if I had an independent income – a third is pretty much an arbitrary proportion though).
In summary then, cycling to work saves me over £3k a year in costs and also an hour a day, or 225 hours a year. Calculated with these numbers, my true hourly wage has jumped to over £17 an hour.
That’s a cool 22% pay rise, and I’m enjoying it every day. The only way it could get better would be to cut down on the number of hours I spend in the office for the money, which is possible, but not straightforward.
It’s also worth noting that this is not a uniform benefit by any means. The less you earn, the bigger the impact of cutting out the car or public transport has on your bottom line. If I earned minimum wage I’d be 50% better off rather than 22% (although the utility of the comparison is limited, since the typical minimum wage earner probably doesn’t run two cars and pay over £500 for a gym membership).