Kyle Nazario

How much have I spent to work from home?

How much have I spent to work from home? - "watercolor of a white male software engineer working from home. He has three computer monitors on his desk and each one has a dollar sign on the screen"

I had to buy a new office chair last week. I was sitting in it, leaning back, and the frame snapped. I’m fine, but the chair’s dead.

I bought a new one. Cost me $429 on Amazon dot com. Not the first piece of office equipment I’ve had to buy, having worked fully remotely since February 2020. The chair got me thinking, though - how much have I spent to be remote?

Part 1: Adding up the stuff on my desk

A standing desk with a laptop and two external monitors

(I just moved, please excuse the bare walls and bad cable management.)

First, I added up the individual pieces of gear I’ve purchased over the last few years.

Name Price (USD) Month/Year purchased Price adjusted for inflation (April 2024 USD)
Fancy office chair $480 2/21 $572
Motorized standing desk $500 2/21 $596
VESA mount for non-VESA monitor $19 1/23 $20
Dual VESA arms $140 1/23 $147
Keyboard tray $55 12/20 $66
2TB spinning hard drive for Time Machine backups $37 2/22 $41
LG Ultrafine 4K $700 11/21 $790
CalDigit TS4 docking station $346 11/23 $353
2560x1440p Acer monitor $278 10/16 $361
Ergodox EZ keyboard with tilt, keys, palm rest $345 4/21 $405
Logitech MX Ergo mouse $100 2/21 $119
Cat8 ethernet cable $16 11/23 $16

Total: $3,486 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Considering I’ve worked remotely for over 4 years, that comes out to about $872 per year. Not bad!

You could create a similar WFH setup more cheaply, too. I have RSI, so I sprung for a standing desk, split keyboard and VESA mounts to bring my monitors to eye level.

I feel pretty good about having spent this little. Well, time to call it on this post and-

Wait. Crap. We forgot about housing.

Part 2: Never do the math on housing

In 2020, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the Denver suburbs. I had not planned to be remote, so I just worked from my kitchen counter.

A standing desk with a laptop and external monitor on a kitchen counter

In 2021, my spouse got a job with the University of Florida. We packed up the cats and got a two-bedroom apartment in the Gainesville suburbs. I figured we could use the second bedroom for storage and as my office.

After a year there, we moved to Athens, Georgia. We got a roomy two-bedroom at a nice complex downtown. Being downtown was important for my spouse and I. We both dislike driving and love being able to walk places (plus, downtown Athens is beautiful). The second bedroom was my office again.

How much did those second bedrooms cost, though?

I can’t find the 2021 prices of the Gainesville apartment complex, but currently a 1,051-square-foot two-bedroom apartment is $1,688 per month. A 805-square-foot one-bedroom apartment is $1,553. That’s an 8% difference.

Our rent was about $1,500 in 2021, or $1,723 in inflation-adjusted April 2024 dollars. Assuming we paid an 8% premium for the extra bedroom, that means our rent was $138 per month higher, or $1,656 for the whole year. Not bad for an in-home office and storage area. Space is cheap in the suburbs.

In Athens, we got a 940-square-foot two-bedroom unit in 2022, partially to be my office and partially because there were no one-bedroom units available in that complex. 1

Under the complex’s current pricing, the 940-square-foot two-bedroom we were renting now costs $2,800 per month (part of why we left!). It’s 17% higher than an 822-square-foot one-bedroom unit that costs $2,390 per month. We paid $2,445 per month in 2022 and $2,625 per month in 2023. Assuming we paid a 17% premium each year for the extra bedroom, it cost us $4,988 in 2022 and $5,355 in 2023. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $10,771.


Name Total rental cost (USD) Month/Year purchased Price adjusted for inflation (April 2024 USD)
Extra bedroom (Gainesville) $1,440 7/21 $1,656
Extra bedroom (Athens) $4,988 7/22 $5,278
Extra bedroom (Athens) $5,355 7/23 $5,493

Instead of having spent just $3,486, I am actually out $15,915. My gear and office space actually cost $3,979 per year between February 2020 - 2024. That is… much higher than I thought.

A second bedroom is also good for storage and putting up family when they visit. But for that price, I can get a storage unit and they can get a hotel.

Part 3: Where I make myself feel better by thinking about cars

No matter how much it costs to work from home, it lets me avoid driving. After three years of commuting into Atlanta, 2 I would pay not to drive.

But let’s do some math. In Denver, I worked in an office from April 2019 - February 2020. I made sure to get an apartment close to work, so my commute was just 8 miles. Let’s price out two alternate universes - one where I kept my short commute, and one where I drove the average American commute of 42 miles.

We’ll use UC Santa Barbara’s commute calculator. Let’s assume the price of gas is the inflation-adjusted national average for 2021 ($3.56 / gallon). Let’s also assume my car gets 31 miles per gallon and I don’t pay to park. We’ll break out the cost of gas and the total cost of ownership (gas, maintenance, insurance, depreciation). Everything’s adjusted for inflation.

Distance (mi) Price per gallon (USD) Fuel cost for 1 year Total costs for 1 year
8 $3.56 $2,640 $2,765
42 $3.56 $2,640 $14,515

Well. That makes me feel better. Even a short commute costs almost three grand a year. That’s fine on a software engineer’s salary, but still pretty high in absolute terms. Mandatory car ownership is a regressive tax.

The cost of the average commute is even crazier at $14,515 a year. Reading AAA’s ownership cost formula, it looks like that comes from depreciation, financing, insurance, taxes and repairs. Their formula assumes my vehicle is worth more than it is (and thus loses more to depreciation), but just as a ballpark figure, it’s shocking. The average American’s commute costs as much as multiple years of paying for an extra bedroom in downtown luxury housing, and you have to sit in traffic for hours every day. No thank you!

Conclusion: Housing is the WFH killer

When I started this blog post, I naively thought the most expensive parts of my work from home setup were the desk, chair and monitors. Those are peanuts compared to renting an extra bedroom in expensive downtown luxury housing.

I just moved to a cheap town. However, if and when we move back to a high cost-of-living area, I do not plan to make this mistake again. I’ll fit the desk in my damn bedroom.

  1. Athens is experiencing a years-long, painful housing shortage. The University of Georgia has built one dorm since 2014, despite enrolling thousands more students. Plus, Athens is a top destination for people moving out of Atlanta. Oh, and the college football team is a humongous deal, driving a thriving short-term rental market. August leases get booked up to six months in advance.

    Also, if you want to be downtown and don’t want to live in ramshackle college student housing, there’s exactly one option. I toured a unit at a different downtown building with four bedrooms and one window.
  2. Atlanta is home to some of the worst traffic bottlenecks in America. My commute hit #4, the aptly named “Spaghetti Junction.” It’s worse than it sounds.