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Truck Driver Money-Saving Tips: Budgeting for Home Time

August 25th, 2022

Emily Eisenschenk

Emily Eisenschenk

Emily began working with ATS as a driver manager in the vans division. She was new to the transportation industry, but trucking is in her family. Previous to working at ATS, she had five years in the finance industry as a personal banker.

So you want to go home for the weekend, or maybe you have a doctor’s appointment that you need to be home for. Can you afford to go home? As a lease driver, this is something you need to pay close attention to before you decide to go home without a care. 

Drivers can get behind on weekly truck payments and work themselves into a hole if they don’t plan their home time. Typically, weekly lease payments are deducted from your settlements, but if you have no settlement check coming in because you aren’t working, you’ll be in the negative. The last thing you want is to end up thousands of dollars in debt and behind on both your truck payments and your personal bills. 

While every truck driver certainly deserves to go home for some rest and relaxation and to see their families, you should also consider your budget. It can be frustrating to come back to work after a relaxing weekend only to realize that you’re behind financially and won’t start earning take-home money until you first make your back lease payments.

As a driver manager at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), I work individually with each of my lease drivers to make sure they’re balancing their financial responsibilities with their home time. I’m here to help you do the same thing. 

In this article, you’ll learn helpful strategies to help you budget for home time.

Block letters spelling out "budget" with coins stacked on top.

4 Budget Tips for Truck Drivers

Before we dive in, let me explain something.

When you sign a lease agreement, you’ll be agreeing to a set of fixed expenses that’ll come out of your settlements every week. If you take a week or two off, there’s no settlement to deduct the fixed expenses from. That means when you come back to work, the money you’re bringing in will go to back payments to get you caught up. The money that is owed and should’ve been paid earlier is referred to as arrears.

Then your settlements will go to the current week’s fixed expenses. All of these fees are deducted before you’ll see any money coming to you. Keep that in mind as we move forward. 

To make sure you can relax during your home time and come back to work afterward without facing financial ruin, follow these four tips. 

1. Set Two Budgets

Budgeting is the number one way to ensure you can take home time when you want to. Just like I make myself a budget and stick to it before I go on vacation, you can too. 

But before you can determine how much money you can afford to set aside each week or month, you need to have a clear understanding of what your current budget is. If you’re being realistic, you should make two budgets. 

The first budget should consist of your business expenses.

Figure out your total expenses by calculating both your fixed expenses and your variable expenses. Fixed expenses include your truck payment, insurance, account services, Federal Highway Use Tax and rental payments for an in-cab computer system. Variable expenses will obviously change month by month, but they include your maintenance account, fuel and tolls.

Be sure you know when these fixed costs come out. For instance, if you’re a lease driver running with ATS, fixed expenses come out on Mondays. Other companies may do it differently.

To get an accurate estimate of your expenses, I recommend that, as a guideline, you use a previous month’s expenses in which you felt successful.

The second budget should consist of your personal expenses at home. Include everything from a mortgage and a car loan to utilities, credit card payments, childcare expenses, groceries, fuel and anything else you need to take care of at home. 

These two budgets together will help you understand how much money you need to make every single month to make sure your bills are covered. 

Having a clear understanding of how much money you need to make to break even each month is crucial. If you went a week without income, could you cover these bills? 

Writing down your monthly expenses and breaking them down further to understand how much you need to make per week — or even per day — will help you figure out if you can afford to take time off or how much money you need to save to take time off. It’ll also help you choose loads that’ll make you profitable. 

Now think about how much money you have left to spare after you’ve covered your expenses. How much money can you afford to set aside every week?  

2. Set Money Aside Each Week 

At ATS, drivers can contribute to a reserve account. A lot of the major carriers have a similar program. It allows drivers to put extra money aside regularly. The reserve account is similar to a savings account because you can take money out and use it for anything at any time you want. 

Some drivers will set aside a percentage of their settlement or they’ll save a set amount every week no matter how much they earn. You can adjust the amount of money you’re regularly setting aside depending on your financial goals.

The nice thing about the reserve account is that it goes straight into your account when you get paid, so you never see that money — out of sight and out of mind.

The funds from your reserve account can be used to pay your fixed deduction expenses. Then, when you come back to work after home time, you aren’t behind on any payments. 

If you don’t have a reserve account at your company, I highly recommend setting up a savings account and setting up a regular transfer of funds from your checking account to your savings account. That way, when you get paid, money is automatically sent into your savings account.

It’s much easier to save money when you automatically transfer it over and never “see” it. Some people struggle with the idea that if they have money and can see it, they have to spend it.

3. Save Up At Least One Week’s Worth of Expenses 

You should always plan for unforeseen circumstances. 

There’s potentially going to be a time when you need to take extended time off. Make sure you have a security blanket to protect yourself.

That’s why it comes in handy to set money aside each week. If you're starting at zero and don’t have anything saved up, make a goal to save up enough money to cover you for an entire week. But don’t stop there. Once you meet that goal, continue to set money aside in your reserve account or your savings account. 

That money will come in handy should you encounter an emergency — whether that’s a family or medical emergency or even a bad breakdown. It’s also good to have money to cover taxes as an independent contractor. 

In this day and age, where we’re facing a pandemic and the looming threat of a recession, it’s never a bad idea to build up your funds just in case something happens.

Unforeseen circumstances really have the potential to put you under. If you’re out for too long, you can get really behind on payments. Even if you’re away from work, that truck payment still exists. Just like I need to make my car payment every month or the bank will take it from me, drivers have to make their weekly lease truck payments or they can have their trucks taken away.

4. Plan Ahead

As tempting as it can be to escape for the weekend and go home, it’s very important that you plan ahead. 

Most over-the-road drivers take one day off for every week that they’re on the road. That means they might take home time on average every two or three weeks and take off for a long weekend. Many companies will require their drivers to put in these requests ahead of time so they have time to route them home. 

For instance, if you’re on the west coast and you want to get home to the east coast the next day, it’s simply not going to happen. 

When you plan ahead for home time, it also gives you the opportunity to save enough money to cover your fixed expenses for the time you’re out. That way, when you get back from vacation, you aren’t making back payments. 

If you decide to take two weeks off without planning ahead, when you come back to work, your settlement checks for that week will go toward the two weeks of fixed expenses that you missed when you weren’t working and didn’t have a settlement. You’ll also need to cover the current week’s fixed expenses. It could take you weeks to catch up. That’s weeks you’ll go without any money coming to you. 

Instead, think about how much time you want to take off and how much that will cost you. For instance, let’s say your operating costs for one week are $1,000 and you want to take a week off for a vacation in six weeks. If you don’t want to get behind on your fixed expenses, you need to save an extra $1,000 before your vacation. Ultimately that breaks down to saving an extra $167 per week. 

Even if you’re unable to save up $1,000 before your vacation, covering at least a fraction of your expenses before you take home time is better than nothing and will place you in a better position when you get back to work.

Writing notes in a planner.

Should I Take Home Time or a 34-Hour Reset?

There are times when you might feel like you really need a break but you can’t afford the home time. You must take care of yourself and get the rest you need. You should never feel like you’re burning yourself out. 

Consider the fact that you have an option to take a 34-hour reset instead of home time. This can be a nice alternative if you don’t think you’re in a good place financially to take home time.

So how do you know which one to take — home time or a reset? Consider what time of the week it is, how much money you’ve made that week and if you have the time to make it work. 

For instance, let’s say your fixed expenses reset on Monday and that’s when they’re due. It doesn't necessarily make sense to do a reset on a Tuesday or a Wednesday then. You may not have made enough money yet to cover your expenses. But if it’s Friday and you’ve made enough money or if it’s Saturday and you’ve just dropped off a load and you’re waiting for a Monday pickup, then fit it in.

If you’re lucky and everything aligns, you may be able to do a quick reset at home.

Increase Your Truck Driver Salary

Digging yourself out of a hole is never fun. Plan ahead to make sure you can comfortably take home time and still operate an effective business that runs in the green. 

If you follow these tips, you shouldn’t find yourself in financial ruin, but medical and family emergencies do happen. I advise that you have a good understanding of how your company will support you in times of emergency. For instance, ATS has policies in place to help you financially if you encounter unforeseen difficulties.

We also have the Anderson Assistance Foundation, which helps drivers in times of dire need. 

Budgeting aside, as a driver you also need to know how to maximize your income so you can ensure you’re making as much money as possible out on the road. Check out these tips for saving money on fuel and boosting your income.