Being an independent truck driver can be a stressful business. The holiday season can certainly add to that stress, with the desire to spend the holidays at home conflicting with the need to keep your business financial sound.
This year Christmas and the New Year holiday both fall on a Tuesday, which for most drivers is the worst day of the week for trucking. Many shippers will shut down, causing drivers to lose productivity for a whole week, maybe two. The fact is, the holiday season can be a good time to stay on the road and work as much as possible, especially considering the annual slowdown typically occurs in January and February. In fact, ATBS (the largest business service provider for owner-operators) Benchmark data shows Contractors run 7% fewer miles in January than November and December, because there is much less freight available in January.
Let’s look at the financial consequences of some choices often made during the holiday season:
- Ignoring fixed expenses. The average daily fixed expenses for owner-operators are $115 per day. Ignoring fixed expenses to take 7-10 days off for each holiday means $800 - $1,200 in costs each week that aren’t being offset by any revenue.
- Deadheading or driving out of route to get home. Basic operating costs and fuel can be 65 cents per mile. If you deadhead or drive out of route 1,000 miles you’ve added $650 to your costs, again with no revenue to offset the additional costs.
- Losing momentum. It’s difficult to get back up to speed after the holiday shut down. It takes time to get into the flow of freight again, which means a reduction in revenue for days or even a week after you’re back at work.
- Thinking short-term. Gift buying and entertaining increase your home costs. Significant time off during the holidays means less revenue to offset your increased financial burden. The freight slowdown in January and February also means limited prospects of digging yourself out of the hole until March or April—right before your taxes are due on April 15th.
No one should miss a holiday with their family but it is important to protect your business as well. Many drivers tend to start heading for home a week or two before the holidays—which is the wrong thing to do, especially with Christmas and New Years falling on a Tuesday this year. Depending on how your company’s system works, consider making a plan to head away from home 7-10 days before the holiday. Many trucks will already be parked for the holiday, so this could be your single best freight opportunity of the year.
Let’s look at a few other ways to make this season work to your advantage:
- Fly instead of drive. Considering your fixed and variable costs, if reasonable airfare can be found, it may make more sense to park your truck securely under load and fly home for only a day or two. Fly back and get the load running while everyone else is trying to get a load out of home.
- Make up missed holiday time in January. Even though you may miss one of the holidays with your family by working as much as possible, you can take extra time off in January and make it up to them. Freight is slower then and the additional revenue you generated at the end of the year will make your time off less stressful.
- Do not be picky. Now is not the time to be picky about what loads to haul after Christmas and through the end of February. There are some signs that the economy has softened plus January and February are always the worst times of the year for freight.
- Think long-term. The only way to offset the inevitable slowdown at the beginning of the year is by planning for it in November and December. Bring in revenue then and you’ll be in a better position to pay your bills come January and February. Tax Day also will be less of a burden.
The holidays are a difficult time for everyone in trucking. It’s good to remember that when dealing with others you come in contact with—shippers, receivers, FMGR’s, regulation enforcement, etc. A lot of people feel the extra stress so when dealing with others, applying a little holiday cheer is also likely to go a long way.