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Commuting your way to happiness

Living close to your place of work can be a hack to happiness.
Living close to work saves petrol and time, both of which can be spent on more meaningful experiences. Picture: Moneyweb

Earlier this week, while I was at work, my wife sent me a picture of a fort she had built for her and Stealthy Junior. She told me that the little guy was absolutely loving it and suggested I pay them a visit to see for myself.

So I made the trip home to experience life as a citizen of Fort Stealthy over my lunch break.

On the drive back to work, I realised that this little outing was only possible because of the short distance between my work and our home. If I stayed further away, the travel time would have made my visit impossible.

Now I agree that on this occasion the convenience was only for some fort fun, but in future it could be sports matches or graduations.

Either way, I chalked my fort visit down to yet another item on what I realised was an ever growing list of advantages of living close to work.

The years have ticked by since we made the move from Sandton to Centurion, and I have realised more and more that it has been one of the best decisions we have ever made. Property in Centurion is on the cheaper end of the South African spectrum but the real benefit of the move was that we lived close to where I worked.

There is the immediately obvious financial gain of a significantly lower petrol bill (mine is currently around R180 a month) and the many hours of extra time I have saved myself, but then there are also the softer benefits – including increased happiness.

Less commuting = more money

Consider that each car has x km before it needs its next service, y km until it needs new tyres and z km until it will need a repair (with a bit of luck, x, y and z don’t happen at the same time!). The shorter your commute, the slower you will accumulate the kilometres until you need to fork out money for maintenance and repairs.

Related to the above, remember that a car can only do a certain number of kilometres until it no longer makes sense to keep it running. At this point you will need to buy a new car. A shorter commute will prolong the life of your car in years, and allow you to buy fewer cars in your lifetime. This means fewer car loans, and an increased likelihood of being able to buy your next car in cash.

A shorter commute may also mean lower insurance costs. Some of the car insurance companies factor in how long your commute is when they calculate your premium – the shorter the commute, the lower premium. This is because a short commute means less chance of an accident claim.

And finally, living close to work may mean you don’t need to drive at all. If you are only a few kilometres away, suddenly a whole host of additional transport options open up. You may even be able to become a one-car family (like us) and walk, bike or even make like Stealthy and scooter to work.

Less commuting = more time 

This, for me, is a big one. The additional time I have scored by reducing my commute has allowed me to be healthier, fitter, more fulfilled and a better, more present father.

For starters, without the extra time, it is unlikely I would have even started this blog. A long commute sucks up time that could be spent pursuing hobbies and interests. 

More time also means healthier eating and fewer takeaways. When I get home there is plenty of time for me to use my expert cooking dishwashing skills to assist Mrs Stealthy in whipping up some tasty and nutritious food. 

Less commuting = more great benefits

And then there are a whole host of additional benefits associated with a short commute. Here are some of them:

  1. Less chance of accidents. It’s simple math; the less time you are on the road, the lower the likelihood that you will be involved in an accident.
  2. Predictable and consistent commute time. I can pretty much predict the exact time I will get home each day. A shorter commute means traffic has less of an influence on journey time. 
  3. Convenience. There have been countless examples of where I have quickly slipped back home after forgetting my work’s access tag, to pick up a delivery, let the plumber in, or even just to play fort!
  4. Reduced stress. A shorter drive means there is less chance you will want to flip the bird to the car that just cut you off.

Less commuting = increased happiness

Do you think people who have less financial pressure, find the time to exercise and eat more healthily, have more time for enjoyable activities and have lower levels of stress would be happier than their counterparts?

Duh! Seems obvious, right?

It makes perfect sense that all the benefits of a short commute will result in a happier commuter. But just in case it wasn’t obvious enough, people decided to take the scientific route and applied some research to confirm it.

I really like this chart that came out of one of the studies done on life satisfaction versus commute time. In short, they found that the longer it takes someone to get to work, the lower their life satisfaction (aka happiness).

This graph from Alois Stutzer & Bruno S Frey summarises the findings:

As you can see, the shorter the commute, the greater the life satisfaction. The best results seem to be at a one-way commute time of around five minutes. My current commute time is around that mark, and I must say I am in full agreement.

Life satisfaction decreases pretty quickly from five to 25 minutes, and gets progressively worse from 25 minutes onward. 

Let’s get practical

Of course, minimising your commute time may sound all good and well in theory but in practice it is seldom the case.

I can appreciate that the decision of where to live is one that should not be taken lightly. You want a safe area in a good neighbourhood that also factors in proximity to family and friends. There is also your significant other’s work location to consider. Throw some children into the mix, and there is whole host of additional influences! For all the young, single and childless people reading this, keep that in mind – living close to work is a lot easier to get right before you have children, and probably before you get married.

Either way, I think it is important to at least take the time to think about your current location and give some serious consideration to trying to find one that balances all the personal factors with the amount of total commuting. Believe me when I say that minimising your commuting can be well worth packing up and moving!

This article was republished with permission from Stealthy Wealth. The original can be found here.


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…..and then, suddenly, you get retrenched. Bye-bye happiness, you are now a contractor, traveling all over the show to where the money is. The article has merit but only for EE candidates.

Your petrol bill is R180 a month? Do you live next door to your workplace? I live 8kms from work and my bill is around R1K a month.

R1K per month on fuel is extremely good going if you have a large SUV 😉 But if you use a Vespa with THAT consumption….I’ll be worried! *lol* (….unless of course if the ride is so enjoyable on a Vespa, that you find reason to make personal trips all over town 😉

Most likely not a Vespa, especially if someone considers their “image”. As the joke goes, What do big girls and scooters have in common, they both fun (…ride is enjoyable..) to ride just do not let your friends catch you doing it.

@MrJones. I agree 100%….they’re FUN to ride (especially the 400-650cc “maxi”scooters are a blast). Owned both Suzuki models…even a Harley Davidson mate took mine for a spin, as returned astonished with the power/acceleration (he wasn’t expecting much initially).

Also agree with avoiding your (male) club-mates seeing you on a scoot! This also drives my point: “us” South African men are VERY INSECURE in our own MASCULINITY. We FEAR to be seen as ‘soft’. Scooters are for girls, they say 😉

Strange then, super-scooters you see across the whole of Europe in huge numbers. Many ridden by men within a much more MATURE SOCIETY compared to here in SA, without a sense of insecurity to be seen on a scoot.

(I recon European men..and women…must be way tougher than us in comfortable SA: many ride their bikes daily, despite that it generally rain more in Europe & their winters are way colder. In SA we have near-perfect weather, but we prefer to be stuck in cars.

Many of us only venture out on our mbikes on weekends..and if the weather looks promising. Then such weekend-riders see themselves as “real bikers” *lol* (A “real biker” is not a club-member providing them a protective sense-of-belonging, but one that ride their bike daily, come rain or shine.)

Am prepared to get grilled online 😉 I fear nothing.

It’s possible.. some cars a very economical for short distances.

Indeed, this article affects almost all of us (…and even those like me that work online from a home-office, there will still be the odd errand to run in traffic, or client visit).

Have read a study from a psychologist, stating that it is recommended that you live at least 30 minutes’ traveling time away from your work….otherwise if you live in the same vicinity of your office block or district as your workplace, over weekends you’ll feel like “still at work” despite relaxing at home. Need to distance yourself from your workspace….that’s what the mental experts say 😉

Don’t fool yourself with the savings on the motoring front. Such short commutes are hell on a motor car. The greatest wear on an engine is at start up and if your trip is so short, like a five minute commute, it will never get up to operating temperature. Most cars only reach operating temperature after some 20 mins.

It is a known fact that the number of cold starts determines the longevity of your vehicle, so a car that only does 400 kms p.m it will have exactly the same engine wear as one that does 2000 kms p.m. Besides whether you do 4000 kms a year or 15000 you still need to service according to the manufacturers recommendations.

Personally I am very wary a a vehicle that does extremely low mileages when it comes to buying used precisely for this reason.

For such short distances get yourself an old cheap clanger, or better still, walk. A five minute commute is no more than a 10~15 minute walk.

I’d say it’s something not everyone appreciates and really also depends on what they value in life particularly for Gautengers.

People here seem to value their vehicles (something they can own) and prefer commute VS frugal vehicle but living close(generally pricier). I suspect this is because they purchase luxury vehicles limiting spend available on living where I’d rather spend on improving Quality of Life, ie living in a closer but more expensive area than driving an expensive vehicle.. but I’m from Cpt and old school. I dunno, I just always figured I’d spend more time working and/or enjoying life.. than living in commute.

When moving to Jhb I’ve consistently tried to keep my one way commute to under 15km or such that a non-traffic commute is under 20m (so access to highways impact this, typically I’m at 10-12m) via shifting work hours and area live though I’ve settled back in Jhb North. From what I’ve seen peers easily travel 30-50km one way..

When life sucked was driving Centurion West to Midrand (17km in direction of traffic) because people there wake up to start transit before 6h00 and highway starts clogging from 6h30 at various points.. and the evening commute also sucks. Even going Centurion West to EcoPark can be nightmare.. though they have added some access routes. My point is.. when buying you make a career limiting or quality of life limiting choice which is why most people living here rent. Not everyone’s career is predictable enough to purchase housing and I don’t see that changing unless economy is more predictable.

Anyway.. will be interesting to see how fuel pricing changes things as it forces many to reconsider their choices. Traveling around world I see scooter commute (small engine motorbikes, vespas) and electric scooters (skateboard with a bar, micro transit) is becoming more common.. but this requires living closer to work ie 15-10km or less. I dunno.. maybe with the new clamp down on road transgressions via user video will mean it’s safe to do so?

people seem to get defensive when you say live closer to work and rather justify the pain of a long commute by getting a more expensive vehicle. JHB’ers are weird in this way…

I would love to live closer to work as there is NO PUBLIC TRANSPORT in SA! Let us be frank, that is the last thing the regime wants is options for the people. Enough of that rant

Here is the problem: A lot of employers are in Sandton/City etc. but have you seen the price of property near there? So I decide to take the leap and buy near Sandton City and now I have to pay the regime transfer duties on the new overpriced property?

It is the regime that must use taxes to provide public transport to this country and expand Gautrain…oh wait, that won’t happen. Cheaper to emigrate

Downside of a short commute: not having enough time to listen to a full podcast.

End of comments.





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