Hometime is always a priority, but sometimes it needs to be scheduled with more precision and balanced with driver rates. Keeping up with rate trends and understanding the factors that affect a driver’s income may help avoid frustrations.
As with many families with a driver who is away most of the time, hometime is a big focus for us. Although it’s not always the best situation to be apart for long stretches of time (holidays, birthdays, etc.), it’s also important to make sure that our family’s finances are in order.
Coming into the trucking industry as the spouse of a driver can leave you feeling a bit confused, especially when you aren’t familiar with different terminologies and how driver rates are affected. Even when my husband, Will, explains it to me, I admit I don’t always understand everything he says.
I realized rates became an important topic for me to understand when Will first became an owner-operator. We had our share of misunderstandings and disagreements, mostly stemming from me wanting him home for birthdays, our daughters’ school events or appointments. Often, he wasn’t able to be home during these times, and it was easy for me to assume he didn’t even want to try.
Since then, it’s taken several conversations and intentional time devoted to learning about factors like rates that impact the amount of income for an owner-operator. Here are five things I learned about rates.
1. Owner-operators vs. company drivers
When Will transitioned from being a company driver to being an owner-operator, I started hearing about rates a lot more. As a company driver, his pay was based on miles driven. As an owner-operator, the amount made on a load is percentage based.
Instead of being paid by the mile, he is now paid a percentage. From that percentage, he pays his business, truck finances, maintenance, fuel, and, of course, himself as the driver.
When rates are not high, drivers basically do the same amount of work for less money. Less money for their businesses means less money for their families. Less money can mean more financial sacrifice and possibly having to sacrifice more time away from home.
2. Keeping up with rate trends
As I started realizing the importance of rates, I started keeping up with the rate trends myself. This helped me understand when rates were low or high, so I could better prepare for Will’s longer stretches away from home.
It also helped keep my emotions in check. I found I was less frustrated or disappointed whenever we faced delays or extended periods when Will was not home.
3. Factors that affect rates
Many things cause rate fluctuations, such as the season, weather, the economy, fuel prices, the stock market, politics and elections, the state you live in, etc. For this reason, it’s important to learn about the variables. I admit this has been the hardest for me, and I’m trying my best to learn and keep up.
The easiest way for me to learn is to talk to my husband, ask questions and familiarize myself with the terms he uses. We talk about trends he sees on load boards and from conversations he has with his colleagues and friends in the industry.
4. How to stay more informed on current rates
Will often refers me to DAT.com, and it’s been useful for me to look uptrend lines and truck-to-load ratios. I can also see in real time what the rates wherever Will is located at the time and where he can go next to earn more.
It’s also helpful to take a look at what your state manufactures and agricultural trends. For example, what kind of agricultural products does your state produce? What are the seasons for the harvests?
Knowing when the busiest times of the year are for agriculture can help you stay informed, so you know what to expect for hometime. If you want to take it one step further, research the states your spouse travels to the most.
5. Don’t forget about the cost of fuel
Another way to stay informed is to know what fuel costs are. This is the hardest aspect to learn because it’s never constant. Sky high fuel costs can sway decisions about whether to stay on the road longer or drive home.
There’s a lot to learn, but there’s an opportunity to learn together. If you’re like me, you’ll take the time to ask questions and get answers from your spouse. Family time is important, so understanding all of the reasons why your spouse may be on the road longer may help minimize arguments and frustrations. This means happier times when your spouse is home.