"Just a little ditty about Jack and Diane...just a couple of American kids growin' up in the heartland..." This John Cougar Mellencamp song has been running through my head for about three weeks. I'm thinking that I had better write a piece about growin' up in the heartland. Maybe this column will relieve me of the lyrics for a while.
Coming of age in rural America requires us to make economic decisions which are really rather far-reaching. Back when the earth was cooling and I was a kid, most everyone lived within the city limits of Alpena or very close to town. As time has gone on and the transportation system has improved, folks are living further and further away from where they work. The shores of the inland lakes and Lake Huron now abound with winterized cottages and year-round homes.
We all know people who are commuting 10, 20, or 40 miles each way, each day to work. They are living just where they love it the most. They are living the American Dream. This dream comes at a price and that cost can be measured at least in time spent and fuel burned.
I've been thinking about three people whom some of you probably know, who live respectively about 10, 20, and 40 miles from their workplace in Alpena and travel five days a week, 52 weeks each year to their places of employment. I do understand that there are holidays and vacation associated with working, but this piece is meant to be illustrative rather than exact. I'm using the 52 weeks.
The three of them have three different types of vehicles. Ten Miles has a small SUV getting about 22 miles to the gallon, Old Twenty Miles drives a four-wheel-drive pickup getting 17 mpg on a good day, and Forty Miles has a VW diesel which regularly attains 50 mpg.
You can see what's coming next. Don't anticipate the result because it's somewhat counter-intuitive.
Assuming a $4 price for both diesel and gasoline, Ten Miles does best at $945.45 each year for fuel for the commute. Forty Miles is in second place at $1,664 and Twenty miles is a dismal last at $2,447.06 per year.
The point isn't about fuel expense. The point is about choices and structure in planning your life. Forty Miles mitigated his expense by his choice of transportation and operates at about one-third of the fuel cost per mile of Twenty Miles and at less than one-half of Ten miles. So who is the winner? They all are. This still is America and we still can make choices which we think are appropriate for ourselves. It's all about making choices about lifestyle and the costs. Just remember to consider all of the costs.
Personally, I ride my bike to the office, but it's that Scots ancestry at work.
"Just a couple of kids gettin' along the best they can."
Stephen Fletcher was graduated decades ago from Cornell University with an A.B. in Economics and from Michigan State University with an M.B.A. He has lived and worked in the decades from graduation until now in the Alpena area. He thinks that Economics is fun and interesting.