Money Culture

Work From Home vs. Working in an Office: What’s the Cost?

Can working from home save you more money than working in an office? Here's how the numbers stack up.

Rebecca Lake • November 22, 2021

Working from home comes with some definite perks that you just can’t get when you’re holed up in a cubicle all day. 

For one, it can be flexible. After all, there’s no one around to throw shade at the state of your messy desk or notice your lunch schedule. On top of that, working from home means no cost of commuting to the office. 

But is it worth it? Let’s break down the costs of working from home vs. heading to the office and find out which is truly better for your wallet. 

What does it cost to work from home?

Picture this: Instead of commuting for an hour in the morning, you sleep in. You have a leisurely breakfast and scroll through social media for a bit. Then, relaxed and ready, you finally crack open your laptop to check out your inbox.

It sounds ideal, but one question remains: What are you really spending?

Some of the typical costs involved in working from home include:

  • Utilities (i.e. gas, water, electric)
  • Internet service
  • Office supplies
  • Meals and snacks

Then, of course, there’s your rent or mortgage payment. And if you have young children, you might be shelling out for daycare or someone to watch them in your home while you work. 

Let’s do some math, using averages for some of the spending categories mentioned here. Here’s what you might spend to work from home, using average estimates from the Energy Information Administration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Move.org:

  • Utilities: $115/per month
  • Internet service: $60/month
  • Food at home: $412/month
  • Housing: $1,784/month
  • Childcare: $936/month

Based on these average costs, working from home could cost you right around $3,300 per month. 

Now, let’s think about your home office. If you already have a space where you can work, this might not cost a dime. But on average, it can cost $3,500 to furnish a basic home office, according to Fixr.com. 

On the flip side, there are some things you might not be spending money on at all. Some of the biggest cost-savers associated with working from home include:

  • Meals or drinks out with coworkers
  • New clothes for work
  • Coffee
  • Transportation expenses

Let’s look at commuting, for example. Say you drive 25 miles to work one day in a car that gets 26 miles per gallon. If you pay $3 a gallon for gas, work 22 days per month and pay .454 cents per mile for maintenance, insurance and taxes, then your monthly commuting costs add up to $626.32. That’s $7,515.84 per year, money you could save by working from home instead. 

Chime Savings Hack: If you’re driving less because you work at home, you could increase your savings by shopping around for a cheaper car insurance policy. Or, if you’re a two-car household, consider selling one of your vehicles.

Cost of working in an office

Working in an office means there are some things your employer pays for, including utilities and office supplies. And if you work for a particularly generous company, things like on-site childcare or meals might be included as an employee perk. 

But what will you pay to work in an office? Some of the most obvious expenses can include:

  • Work clothing
  • Meals and coffee
  • Social events with coworkers
  • Commuting expenses

Now, let’s look at some numbers, based on spending averages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the commuting example from earlier. Say you spend:

  • Commuting: $626/month
  • Food away from home: $198/month
  • Clothing: $120/month

Your average monthly spending for those expenses comes to $944. Now, add in all the money that you’d still have to spend for food at home, utilities, internet service, childcare and housing. We’ll use the $3,307 monthly total from earlier. 

Your cost of working in an office comes to $4,251 per month. But that’s not all you may pay. 

There are some “hidden” costs of working in an office you might forget about. For example, say your office culture dictates buying a small gift for coworkers on their birthday. If you have two office birthdays per month and spend $20 on a gift each time, you’re out $480 for the year. 

Then you have situations where you’re asked to donate money to something. For example, your cubicle mate might have a child who’s selling candy bars or gourmet popcorn to raise money for their youth sports team. Not wanting to come off as cheap, you donate $30 to the cause. This is a relatively small expense but if it becomes a habit, then it could easily add up. 

Chime Savings Hack: Open a separate savings account for miscellaneous office expenses, then deposit $5 to $10 into it each paycheck to cover coworker gifts, donations, etc. 

Work from home vs. working in an office: Which one saves you more?

When you look at the average numbers, it seems obvious that working from home could be easier on your budget. But it’s important to consider what you’re actually spending instead of just looking at the averages alone. 

For example, here are some findings from a Business.org survey of workers who transitioned from working in an office to working from home.

  • 47% reported spending more money on their internet bill
  • 56% reported spending more on their electric bill
  • 49% reported spending more on groceries
  • 52% reported spending more on childcare
  • 27% reported spending more on office supplies
  • 21% reported spending more on rent/mortgage payments to have space for a home office

If you look at these findings, it actually makes sense. If you’re home all day using electricity and eating, then of course you’re likely to spend more money on those things. Your employer may not foot the bill for new pens, staplers or other office supplies when you’re at home, much less a complete home office. And you may spend more on internet service if you have to upgrade your plan so you can work. 

In the survey, work-from-home workers paid more for childcare but this may have had more to do with daycares and schools closing down during the pandemic. However, it’s possible–though not always easy–to work from home with kids in tow and cut out this expense altogether. This may require rearranging schedules, coordinating with your spouse or partner, or getting help from friends and family. But you may realize substantial cost savings if you can make it work.

Chime Savings Hack: If you know other work-at-home parents with young kids, you may be able to save money on daycare by coordinating a childcare swap with each parent taking turns watching the others’ children. 

So which is better, working from home or working in an office? Here’s how they compare at a glance:

Work From HomeWork In an Office
You might spend more on…But spend less on…You might spend more on…But spend less on…
  • Utilities
  • Electric
  • Childcare
  • Food at home
  • Office supplies or office space
  • Meals out or coffee
  • Socializing with coworkers
  • Commuting
  • Clothing
  • Coworker gifts
  • Meals out and coffee
  • Socializing with coworkers
  • Commuting
  • Coworker gifts
  • Clothing
  • Office supplies
  • Utilities
  • Internet service
  • Food at home

 

Here’s one more tip for saving money, whether you work at home or in an office: Ask about employer reimbursements.

Your employer may offer reimbursements for certain expenses or include others, like daycare, as part of your employee benefits package. Making the most of all the benefits you’re entitled to as an employee can help you maximize your savings. 

Bottom line

If you’re given the opportunity to work from home, don’t jump in without running the numbers first. Go over your budget to see what you’re paying now for things like utilities, internet, housing and childcare. Then consider what you might save (or spend) by working from home. 

And if the math works out to saving money by working from home, make a plan for that money. For example, you could add it to your emergency savings account or use it to pay down debt. Thinking ahead means money saved by opting out of the office won’t go to waste. 

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