Working from home saves me thousands

Monday, March 18, 2013 - 10:00am

One telecommuter saw his gas bill shoot up $300 a month. Another quit because she would have been forced to shell out thousands of dollars a year for child care.

Americans who work from home prize their work-life arrangements. Witness the firestorm Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer sparked last month when she said her employees could no longer work from home.

The issue resonates -- and in no small part because of the money at stake.

Dan, who asked to remain anonymous, used to work from home. But when his company stopped letting him telecommute last year, he had to start driving 30 miles back and forth to work in his gas-guzzling 1985 Ford Bronco each day. Additional cost: around $300 per month in gas.

"That was our whole grocery bill for a month," he said.

Plus, he had already invested at least $2,000 to set up a home office.

Though he was paid a decent salary, the time and money spent on the commute wasn't worth it. So he quit and found a job at an Internet startup that promised to let him work remotely.

Earlier this year, however, his new employer ended its telecommuting policy as well. Now's he's looking for yet another job that will let him work from home.

Bill Hazelton, from Los Angeles, also used to work from home two days a week to avoid a 120-mile commute that ate up two hours a day.

"Over and above the roughly $200 in additional gas money it cost me, having those telecommute days taken away from me added up to 20 hours a month in additional commuting time or the equivalent of $1,500 [per] month in compensation that I wasn't paid for," said Hazelton, who worked as a sales director for an Internet startup.

Eventually, Hazelton left his job to start an online advertising company called Optimum Interactive, where he makes a point of allowing his employees to telecommute.

Then there's the story of Deborah McKague. After going through a second hip replacement last year, the 55-year-old McKague could no longer drive the seven hours between her home in Danville, Va., and her job in Washington, D.C., twice a month. She had been allowed to work from home for a year. But after a management change, the option was taken away -- despite notes from her doctor prohibiting her from driving so far.

McKague couldn't find another job and ultimately retired early on disability. That meant losing her $52,000 salary and relying on a monthly pension and Social Security benefits that totaled less than half of that amount. Even with her husband's Social Security benefits added to the mix, it's been hard to make ends meet.

"We can't go on any trips or vacations, if the car breaks down we have to save, save, save to get it fixed, and we don't have anything saved for emergencies," said McKague.

Add young children into the equation and the financial toll is even steeper when telecommuting is taken away.

Lina Bouc, a mother of two, quit her job at a mortgage company a couple years ago because her boss stopped allowing employees to telecommute. While working from home, she was able to keep an eye on her kids. Giving that up meant spending $700 to $775 a month -- or as much as $9,000 a year -- on daycare and babysitters.

Plus, the commute would have cost her another $200 to $300 a month in gas and parking -- bringing her total additional expenses to as much as $1,075 a month. "Transportation costs, costs for daycare and costs of having to expand my wardrobe buried me into making the choice [to quit]," said Bouc.

Bouc later found a job as a call center agent for Arise Virtual Solutions, where she can work from home and take care of her kids.

Some telecommuting arrangements aren't as flexible, however. Many companies require employees to get full-time child care outside of the home, said Kenneth Matos, a senior director at Families and Work Institute.

Even though Katrina Alcorn, from Oakland, Calif., is self-employed and could keep her three children with her at home all day, she pays for full-time child care to ensure that she is productive.

But she still saves a couple of thousand of dollars a year by working from home -- limiting after-school care for her kids to four days a week and cutting down the time she sends her kids to camp during breaks. She puts the money she saves toward their college savings.

"We hadn't been saving for a long time, and now we are," she said. "And it's not like I'm working less -- I'm just giving myself a lot more flexibility."
 

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