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The real cost of going back to the office


Let’s break this down for a shorter period. If you return to the office for, say, three days a week, and your commute is 50 minutes each way, you would spend five hours a week (50 minutes x two ways x three days) commuting. That equates to 20 hours a month spent in transit (almost three workdays per month). In one year, that would amount to 240 hours, or 30 eight-hour workdays. 

On the bright side, however, Kennett says he was able to use some of that time to think or listen to podcasts.

Find habits that work for you—especially when it comes to food

Creating sustainable habits is key to managing your budget when you return to the office. But remember to be realistic about what works for you, personally. 

For instance, if you hate cooking, don’t force yourself to set lofty meal prep goals. “If you’re not inclined to spend time in the kitchen, accept this about yourself and consider planning items that are easy and quick to prepare or assemble,” says Knox. She suggests thinking of it as weekly food planning rather than “meal planning,” which implies a lot of cooking. There is some evidence that meal kits may reduce wasted money and food, as they are carefully portioned. This might be a good option if you are time-strapped and not very comfortable in the kitchen. With meal kits, you’ll have ingredients for some lunches and dinners ready to go—which means less (costly) dining out.

As for getting to the office, walking or biking to work is an economical choice, but not necessarily feasible or realistic for all, says Knox. For those who are able, public transit is worth exploring. For drivers, “carpooling, now more than ever, is going to be a really good thing to explore,” Knox says.  

Wondering if you can claim your commute costs on your taxes? Generally speaking, ordinary commuting costs are not tax-deductible, says Knox. She recommends getting qualified tax advice on the specifics of your work situation.

Assess the costs and benefits of remote work in your life 

If your employer has asked you to return to the office full-time or part-time and that’s no longer a viable option for you, you could try to negotiate a change or find remote work elsewhere. To determine your next move, it can help to compare the costs and benefits of your current situation with those of a potential new job.

You can conduct a cost-benefit analysis with a spreadsheet. List all the costs of returning to the office in one column, and the benefits in another. Financial costs might include transportation (public transit, gas, parking), childcare, dog walking services and lunches. Then assess the benefits of a hybrid work arrangement. For example, maybe going to the office a few days a week means you can use your employer’s gym rather than paying for your own fitness membership. It’s also possible that you could earn higher compensation if you return to the office at least part-time, compared with fully remote work. 


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