I heard a story the other day about a Wandering Professor who was a single father looking for a nice place to live for himself and his son but somewhere he could still commute to work in London. He travelled up and down the Greater Anglia line, looking for a place to live between London and where he could afford. The tale ends with him living in Wivenhoe. And while I don’t live in Wivenhoe, I totally understand the motivations of the Wandering Professor.
Just last week we did the calculations and really, the tradeoff in the U.K. is about how you value your time (your time spent on a crowded sweaty sardine train or hurling down the A12 in your automobile) and money (how much cash you hand over monthly to Abellio for the pleasure of riding in their slow-moving sardine can). As signalling faults, leaves on the track (also known as slippery rail), and suicides (unfortunately) are common reasons for train delay (and repay), it’s likely that come the end of your commute, you are exhausted. At least that is what is happening to my dear husband who spends a good 1 hour and 15 min at least door to door one way Monday to Friday commuting for a near median London salary. *1 It also matters how much you care about the environment (see part about hurling down A12 in car).
The take home salary for the median income earning individual in London is £27,749.*2 That is probably slightly less than what the Wandering Professor (if he is a lecturer) makes, but not so much. Let us stick with the median income example for a moment to examine train tickets because, well it is the median (and therefore most common) income level. An annual train ticket from Wivenhoe to London Liverpool street station (not including actual London transport inside “The City”) is £5280.00. So this divide by 12 months a year is £440 for a post-tax, post-transit take home pay of £22,469, or £1872.42 a month. To get a slightly cheaper rate there are some deals, for example if you smooth out your purchase with Commuter Club, so if you are thinking about annual rail service and don’t know them, it may be worth it. If anyone has any other tips, please comment below.
Because we really don’t know if we want to be city mice or country mice, which is why we started this whole journey in the first place, but we know that someone will likely have to commute, we did the following price check. Everything is approximate.
|Rent||£1125 (3 bed) (~85m2)||£1500 (2-3 bed)(~75m2)||£1900 (1-2bed)(~55m2)|
|Train / car costs plus times (one way so total time *2)||£473 *him time 1 hr 15 min by train *her 15 min by car or bus||£300 *him 25 min her 45 min by car||£250 *her 1 hr 15 min by train plus 15 min bus|
|Car||£371||£371||don’t need car|
|Insurance||£140||£140||don’t need car|
|Parking / Gas||£65||£100||don’t need car|
|Mobile Phones (estimate)||£45||£45||£45|
So the options are,
- First, Wivenhoe to London: cheapest and most spacious but most time commuting for a single person with Wivenhoe to London (commute time 3 hrs daily but likely can get a 3 bedroom semi in a small cute village). If you are reading from North America, a 3 bedroom Edwardian semi-detatched is about 83 square meters or 890 square feet so not enormous but not small either. Likely comes with garden.
- Second, next affordable (is this really affordable?) is single or 2 bedroom flat in East London, no car, and one person still commutes but opposing traffic (and therefore less sardine but still 3 hrs) — She can work from home sometimes, he cannot, so while the commute is the same for her — total commute time is lower but not gone (some days in the week are still 3 hr commute). Garden space difficult but not impossible to find.
- Finally, the most expensive option is the rich rural countryside village that is a 25 min commute to London and a 45 min car ride to Wivenhoe. It’s the compromise solution and minimises the countryside and distance to city mouse dilemma. But at a whopping additional 292 pounds extra a month. Likely comes with garden.
Also note that our total fixed costs (not even including student loans) are already > 50% of total take home income once we include her salary too. How does one save more with this reality?
A more realistic super saving plan (at least for us), given our debt, is likely to start at 20% and that already seems like a stretch. How are we going to do that?
Furthermore, when you crunch the numbers, the question is where should we live? Should we forget all of this country and city mice stuff in the U.K. altogether and move back to the unnamed European country with high savings rates, a protected labour market, and government subsidies in transportation and housing? Of course, the problem with said country is The Awful German Language *3.
- Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings – Office for National Statistics
- To calculate after tax go to incometaxcalculator.org.uk
- Twain, Mark. The awful German language. BVK, 1880.