Finding the Right Balance

December 1, 2014

“Get them miles, get them paid and get them home.”  This is the holy grail of good trucking companies like ACT.  The paying is a no brainer.  The miles and the “home” can be in conflict if not carefully thought out, budgeted, and communicated to find just the right balance.

What is the right balance?  The answer to that question is different for every family.  But if the family does not come to an understanding on what the right balance is for them, then conflict and stress can ensue.

Why is this something to balance?  The reality is that drivers make money and are paid by the mile.  Miles vary by day, week, month, time of the year, and downtime in the shop and other factors beyond everyone’s control.  How many miles does a driver get at home?  Obviously, none, and therefore no money is made during home time.  Do your bills continue when you are at home?  Of course they do.  But home time is important.  As the old saying goes, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”  And we all recognize that family is the most important thing.

So let’s look at the perspective of all involved:

From the perspective of the spouse at home, she may feel like a single parent because her husband is on the road all the time.  What does that look like?  Well, it means getting the kids up and ready for school, fixing dinner, supervising homework and after school activities, taking care of them when they are sick, getting them to the doctor and dentist and doing baseball and soccer games on the weekends.  Additionally, often the spouse at home pays the bills every Friday. The bills are the same but the Friday settlement is always different depending on such things as the amount of advances taken, the number of miles run, when the driver fueled and other such things.  So it’s not unreasonable to think that she would like her husband home as much as possible and have some help.  It’s also necessary that we provide enough income for her to pay the bills.

From the perspective of the driver, he is away from home, essentially camping out in a truck for days or weeks at a time.  Some of that time is driving, but a lot is waiting, waiting for a load, waiting to get out of the shop, waiting for his name to be called for a shower or driving around looking for a spot to park for the night.  He misses his family and worries when things go wrong and he’s not there.  He looks forward to being at home, seeing the family and resting in his own bed.  Stressful Friday conversations about the bills are not a good start to the weekend.

From our perspective, we are just trying to coach all this for a lot of drivers to help them be successful.  Gosh, how do you put all this together for a successful family and a successful driver?  I suggest that it doesn’t just happen.  Communication and planning from all involved is the only answer.

First, the family needs to talk seriously about the balance between family and miles.  Everyone has different bills and different situations at home.  They need to be on the same page.  Once an agreement is reached as to home time, this will determine how many miles you can budget.  Talk to us to determine if your goals are realistic.  We can also help you, especially new drivers, understand the times of the week, month and year which tend to be busier and which are slower.  Plan more home time when freight is slower, plan to be out on the road more when freight is strong to make more money to build up savings for the slower times.  Living paycheck to paycheck doesn’t work well in this business.  Take control of your budget.  Manage your money, or your money will manage you.

Once you and your family have determined the right balance and translated that into average weekly miles you are ready to do your budget.  If you are a contractor you must do two budgets, one for your business and one for your home.

Company employees have an easier task.  Figure your rate of pay and multiply it by your budgeted miles, take out for taxes and benefits.  This is the amount you have to run your home.  If your home expenses are more than what you make, you will have to look for ways to cut your budget at home or be out more to get more miles.  If you get behind, you can work harder for a temporary period of time to dig out.

For contractors, you must first do a budget for your business to determine your budgeted profit (this is different from your weekly settlement which only shows cash flow, not profit).  Take all your revenue, miles, and f.s.c., and subtract from that your expenses to learn your profit.  The largest expense by far is fuel, so any reasonable budget will set a goal for mpg.  That and your buying habits will determine your fuel cost.  Subtract all other expenses, including maintenance, truck payment, tires, insurance, income taxes, self-employment taxes and road expense to finish your profit or loss statement.  Your accountant should be able to help you.  Once you have determined profit, then use this number for your household budget, making sure again that your expenses are not more than your income.  If so, cut expenses.  You really are unlikely to run a successful business unless you are on top of your numbers.

How does one maximize their miles for the time they are away from home?

Do smart home time.  There is a way to be home and get good miles if you play it right.  When do you get out of the home?  This decision usually tees up your week for a good check or a bad one.  If you deliver a load on Monday, odds are you’ll have a decent week.  If your first load delivers on a Tuesday, you probably won’t. Getting a load to take home through the weekend to deliver on Monday is a win.

Get your paperwork scanned and into payroll on time.  I can’t tell you how many times a driver has called complaining about miles, but didn’t turn in the miles he ran.  This is just silly.  Talk to other drivers who are getting home and doing well on miles and learn what they do.

Plan your day before you turn on the truck in the morning.  How many times have you had the same driver pass you several times during a trip?  That driver will never make it.  They are stopping at every truck stop, wasting fuel and breathing and spewing all the negativity they can.  You have to work to get miles.

Last piece of advice, all high milers I have known take every load.  Heavy or light, long or short, into the sun, into the wind and mountains.  They take them all…and run.  They don’t sit around all day looking for that perfect load.  They know that they get more miles and all drivers have good and bad loads anyway.

The secret to success in family and trucking today is taking the time first for communication and planning.  Work as a team with your family and follow up regularly on your plan to make adjustments as needed.  As the old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”  The investment you make in the time needed to plan, will more than pay off for you and your family.  Let us know if we can help.

Happy Trucking!  ~Tom