In orientation class each week, I ask the drivers why they left their previous company. Often the answer is “miles.” What does that mean? After talking with many drivers over the years, it seems that “miles” is synonymous with “money problems.”
Money problems can be caused by too few miles. But money problems can also be caused by other things. When someone has a problem, the most important problem solving skill is the ability to see what is causing it. If the problem is perceived to be one thing, but is really something else, that person will never be able to solve their problem, because they are addressing the wrong thing.
Years ago, before electronic logs, I had an old timer come in and tell me he wasn’t getting enough miles. I called his fleet manager in and we looked it up. To our surprise, the guy was getting 4000 miles a week! Obviously, he needed to be walked down to safety to be counseled and watched a lot closer, but the big surprise is that this man thought his problem was miles. How absurd! So we peeled the onion further and learned that he had three kids in college, all with new cars and cell phones and that this driver was paying for all that.
Clearly, his problem was that his expenses were too high. Yet he thought it was a lack of miles. It did not occur to him that driving more would not solve his problem. In fact the opposite would happen. He would ruin his safety record and likely hurt himself or someone else. He could quit, which he did, and job jump from company to company, wasting time in orientation and learning new systems. Yet changing jobs would not solve his problem. In fact, the wasted time in multiple orientations would make it worse! The moral of this story is when you have money problems dig deep.
Let’s assume first that the problem is miles. Do you control your miles? To some extent, you do. I have always had some drivers who always get good miles and some who never do. What is the difference? Some people work harder than others. Have you ever been going down the interstate and had the same truck pass you several times? Why is that? It is because he’s stopping frequently, talking and absorbing all that negativity at the truck stop, then burning fuel as he speeds down the road. That is no way to make money. The smart driver is aware that time is important. That driver is disciplined. He plans his day before he starts the clock, and then puts in a good day of work. That driver gets more miles and burns less fuel.
How many miles do you get at home? Obviously, none. Do your bills keep coming while you’re at home? Yes. But home is important. So you have to do the right things to maximize your financial ability to spend time at home. Get with your spouse and come up with a plan and a budget. If your expenses are too high cut them. Don’t you think someone can go broke, even if they made $200,000 per year? Don’t you think someone could save money on $50,000 income per year? The difference is managing expenses to income. Proper time and money management means more miles and more time at home.
Managing your home time is important to your budget and your family. Drivers who deliver their first load on a Monday tend to have good weeks. Drivers who deliver their first load of the week on Tuesdays tend to have bad weeks. Plan when you go home, but equally important plan when you leave. The most deliveries are made on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Learn the freight cycles. Freight tends to be bad during holidays. Freight is softest on the first week of the month and strongest on the last week. Freight is softest on the first month of a quarter and strongest on the last month. Fall season of October, November and the first three weeks of December are harvest time. So when should you be home and when on the road to maximize your miles? Stick around, ask questions and you will learn the flows so you can maximize your miles.
Sticking with a company and learning the customers makes more miles. Job jumpers never get ahead. They spend too much time in orientation and never learn the new company’s system. Who lets you park at their facilities? Who will load you early? These are not things in the directions. They are learned by trial and error. Long tenured drivers get more miles because they know the system.
Be a runner. Do you cherry pick loads? I find that my high milers take everything offered to them. They know that running is good and that involves taking it all, short, long, heavy, light, north, south, east and west. These are runners. Those who try to outsmart the system get frustrated because they don’t see what our planners do and they are just guessing. If they guess wrong, they take the chance that the load they want doesn’t exist and so they sit. Those who try to outsmart the system sometimes get the load they want, but sometimes they outsmart themselves.
Maybe the problem is not miles. “Blame,” “Denial,” and “Excuse” will defeat you every time. Don’t accept the general answer, “It’s miles.” Take charge. Ask yourself the hard questions. How do you manage your time? How do you select your loads? Add up all your expenses and give them a hard look. Control your time and your money or it will control you.
Drivers have inconsistent paychecks because they are paid by the mile. Miles vary by week, month and year. Although, the paychecks are not the same each week, the bills are. When a driver and his spouse don’t budget and take charge of their money, the result is a tense conversation on Fridays. What a stressful way to start the weekend. And it causes drivers to be out on the road more instead of at home.
List your bills. Track your spending. Work with your spouse to make a budget. Since your pay is different from week to week, plan expenses to be 80% of your average income. That way you’ll always have the money for emergencies, slow times or extra time off.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend 4 of those sharping my ax.” Today, making a good living in trucking is more about trucking smarter than harder. Sharpen your ax and I think you will see the benefit in money and lifestyle.
Happy and Profitable Trucking,