Ways to Save Money

You’re Spending $3K a Year on This… And You Probably Don’t Even Realize It

Updated June 22, 2016
by Jamie Cattanach
Staff Writer
going to work

Everything in life has a price — even work itself.

In fact, the average full-time employee pays $276 per month — or about $3,300 per year (!) — just to go to work each day, according to this brand-new CareerBuilder survey.

That’s right: Go ahead and take $3,000 right off the top of your annual salary. And considering the survey’s numbers are post-tax, it’s an even bigger percentage than you think.

Yikes.

The Hidden Expenses of Going to Work

Earlier this year, CareerBuilder surveyed 3,031 full-time U.S. workers online via Harris Poll to see how much they spent on various work-related expenses.

The short answer: way more than anyone thought.

The hefty annual total includes expenses you’d expect, like transportation and lunch. But CareerBuilder also covered less obvious costs, like pet care and expenses associated with finding a job in the first place.

Many work-related expenses are non-negotiable — after all, you need to go to work to earn the money to pay them, not to mention the other bills you incur!

“The cost of work is often what the rest of your budget is centered around,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

She says knowing your total work-related expenses can help you figure out how to make cuts.

“You can vow to carry lunch to work every day, stop buying coffee out, look for cheaper business clothes. Managing those costs can help account for others, like commuting and child care, which won’t subside.”

So where exactly does all that money go?

Here’s how workers spend cash on getting to their jobs:

Transportation: About $25 a Week

If you’re like most Americans, you probably drive to work. Indeed, 84% of the survey’s respondents reported a driving commute.

Driving, of course, carries expenses — most obviously, fuel.

Luckily, 63% of drivers report spending less than $25 on gas each week.

But the study doesn’t mention other driving expenses, such as vehicle maintenance and insurance — not to mention depreciation of the new cars with which so many of us insist on decorating our driveways (beaters forever!).

Think public transit’s a more economical option? Think again.

While it’s certainly greener, almost half (47%) of those surveyed who take public transit to work every day said they spend $25 per week or more on transit.

Lunch and Coffee: About $30 a Week

We were happy to see that almost a full three-quarters of respondents brought their lunch to work. Way to go, Penny Hoarders!

Obviously, food has a cost, even if you purchase it at the grocery store and prepare it at home.

But lunchbox PB&J is almost certainly cheaper than your office cafeteria. Case in point: Of those who bought their workday meals, half spend $25 or more per week on lunch… and 13% said they spend $50 or more. Ouch.

Coffee represents a small but ubiquitous expense — just under half of workers indulge in visiting a coffee shop as opposed to brewing at home.

And while 71% reported spending less than $10 per week on their java, that means 29% spends more.

And for 3%, that number is $25 or higher. Hipsters.

Child and Pet Care: About $125 a Week

About a third of parents with children under the age of 18 pay for day care (as opposed to using free after-school services or strong-arming a sister or brother into the job).

But more than a third of those who do pay for day care pay dearly: $500 or more per month. In some towns, you could rent your kid her own apartment for that!

CareerBuilder found most people don’t have to pay for pet care during the week, or at least not very much. Of the workers who said they have pets, more than 50% reported paying $10 or less per week for their care.

Clothing, Shoes and Accessories: About $8 a Week

This one’s a little less solid, because you can wear many clothes in your non-work life —  even if you decide they’re specifically for work.

But you might not want to wear a suit and tie to the gym or the baseball game, and there is something to be said about “dressing the part.” Even at casual companies, you probably need to have some nice clothing for interviews and meetings, and everyday workwear will eventually grow threadbare.

Clothes are expensive. Almost half of respondents admitted they spend more than $250 per year on work-specific clothing, shoes and accessories — and close to a quarter spend over $500.

The swankiest 2% of responders spend more than $2,000 per year on clothing. Hope that whole “dress for the job you want” thing works out, because you’re gonna need those paychecks!

If you spend $400 in a given year on clothes you wear for 50 work weeks, that comes to about $8 per week… just to avoid being nude at work.

Finding a New Job: $200 a Pop

While most responders (81%) said they didn’t incur costs while looking for a new job, those who did really did: $200 or more.

Clothing, transportation and travel represent the bulk of that sum, but responders also spent cash on networking events, recruiters and printing services.

Can we all just agree to send links to our LinkedIn profiles and PDFs in place of paper resumes, already?

How to Avoid Paying Just to Go To Work

Although some of these weekly totals might seem small (what’s $30 to avoid eating PB&J every day?), you could be missing out on way better ROI than cafeteria food.

For instance, if you put the $25 you spend on weekly lunches into savings instead starting at age 21, you would have enough to retire on by 65.

That’s more than enough incentive for me to bring a brown bag almost every day.

Of course, working from home will help you avoid transportation costs.

(And help the earth. And save time lost on your commute!)

But you’ll probably still need child care if you’ve got kids — to say nothing of these other hidden expenses you probably haven’t considered.

You might consider starting a side hustle to help mitigate the “tax” you pay just getting to your primary job… but even side jobs come with hidden costs.

I guess we’d better get used to it: Nothing in this life is free.

Not even earning money.

Your Turn: What work-related expenses do you have? What are some of the ways you get around them?

Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at Word Riot, DMQ Review, Hinchas de Poesia and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.

by Jamie Cattanach
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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