It’s finally happened.
More than five months after my husband received what amounted to an ultimatum from his superiors at the sheriff’s office, he’s finally got a new job. Technically, it’s a job transfer – a lateral move from detention officer to patrol deputy. But in many ways, the transfer is an entirely new job, complete with a steep learning curve, a different schedule, and new privileges.
Along with all the positives, however, are some hidden costs neither one of us considered. And it’s those hidden costs that are on my mind today.
Hidden Cost #1: Food Budget
When my husband worked in the county’s detention center, he received free lunches. Granted, those meals were prepared by jail inmates and amounted to nothing more than cafeteria food, but they were nonetheless free.
Now that he’s on patrol, the days of a free lunch are, literally, over. His first week on the job, he learned the hard way just how much many of his colleagues are spending to feed themselves on the road. At my request, he kept a log of his patrol partner’s food receipts during the work hours. Here they are:
- Monday:Breakfast – $5.60; Lunch – $7.27
- Tuesday: Breakfast – $6.19; Lunch – $6.98
- Friday:Breakfast – $4.65; Lunch – $8.18
- Saturday: Breakfast – $5.52; Lunch – $8.20
Over those four days, my husband’s colleague spent an average of $13.15 a day on food. My husband works 15 days out of every month, or 182 days a year. Extrapolate that food allowance over an entire year, and his colleague will be spending a total of $2,393.30 to feed himself on the job. Keep in mind that the average salary for a sheriff’s deputy in the United States is somewhere between $43,000 and $47,000, and in our neck of the woods – where the cost of living is lower than the national average – my husband and his coworkers make quit a bit less than that.
The Solution:Even though my husband has opined that the vast majority of his patrol colleagues are dining out for all their meals, I’ve told him in no uncertain terms that he won’t be able to do the same. We just can’t afford it; we have higher financial priorities. So, he’ll be brown-bagging it instead. We just got back from the grocery store, where he bought a pound of smoked turkey breast, some nice rolls, and the fixins to make a salad; in all, he spent just over $14. He estimates his cache will be enough to feed him on the job for at least a week (3-4 work days), maybe a little more. Either way, it’s far more than he was spending on food before this new job, but it’s a necessary compromise.
Hidden Cost #2: Additional Equipment
One of the other hidden costs neither my husband nor I anticipated when he received his new job transfer was the additional equipment he’d need on patrol. Yes, the sheriff’s office supplies his patrol car, his uniform, and his weapons, but they don’t cover everything. He’s already presented me with a list of items that will make his job easier:
- Smartphone (so he can check his email on patrol)
- GPS unit (so he can get around more easily; I’m shocked his patrol car isn’t already equipped with this device)
- Small cooler (so he can keep his drinks cool)
- Office organizer caddy (so he can keep his patrol car neat and tidy… you can blame that bit of OCD on my influence)
Of course, if he buys these items and uses them solely for work-related purposes, we’ll be able to write them off on our 2012 tax returns, but it still won’t be enough to offset those hidden costs in their entirety. I’ve added up the costs of the items he requested – including the service plan for the smartphone – and we could be looking at well over $1,000. For a guy who is making less than $40,000 a year, that’s quite a chunk of change.
The Solution:The small cooler ($10) and the organizer caddy ($12) were no-brainers, and he’s already purchased them. I’m talking with my dad – a CPA – regarding the tax implications of the smartphone and the GPS unit, which he’d ideally like to be able to use off the job as well as on duty. My husband will be eligible for a free phone upgrade in the next few months, so depending on what my dad says, we’ll reevaluate the smartphone discussion then. As for the GPS… well, hopefully there are some good Black Friday sales on those this November.
Hidden Cost #3: His Waistline
My husband, however, is most concerned with the last of these hidden costs – the affect his new job will have on his waistline. As a detention officer on the in-house version of the SWAT team, my husband is used to being on his feet all day. In his new position, he’ll be sedentary most of the time. He’s concerned about the impact this will have on his overall health.
While the hidden costs related to my husband’s health are relatively intangible at this point, there are a few ways it could potentially affect our bottom line:
- Higher insurance premiums if his weight or blood pressure were to change his health status
- Loss of a “good health” discount he currently receives for being in good shape
- More trips to the doctor, leading to more co-payments and more missed days of work
Now, all these hidden costs are hypothetical – they may never materialize. But they are on our minds.
The Solution:In the past, my husband has been at-times lazy when it comes to getting to the gym. After all, he wore a pedometer on the job and knew he was taking nearly 15,000 steps a day – more than enough to justify an occasional missed workout. Now, however, he’s making his physical health a priority; he’ll workout either before or after work on most days, and try to get to the gym on his days off as well. His overall goal is to engage in at least 30 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity five to six days a week, while continuing to eat healthy (homemade) meals on the job.
Ultimately, we’re hoping that by acknowledging these hidden costs, we can minimize the negative financial impact of his new job on our finances. He’s only just begun his new duties, so I’m interested to see if we can keep costs under control – and whether or not any other unseen factors creep up as his continues on.
Reader, what hidden costs are in your line of work? How do you deflect them?