As of 2019, the average gross salary of an owner/operator is $220,591. However, this figure does not take into account the expenses incurred each week. On top of standard expenses, the installation costs of a new tractor can run a hefty price tag (over $100,000). For owner/operators, this presents a unique challenge of navigating their budgets.
The key is this: Like any business owner, you need to have a thorough understanding of your cash flow as a trucker, especially if you’re an owner/operator. By asking the necessary questions—“What are the costs of my expenses?” and “What is my net profit after taxes?”—can save you from encountering many financial troubles. By identifying your specific losses due to expenses, you’ll unlock the key to success as an owner/operator.
Here, we present five of the biggest owner/operator expenses and how to account for each in your total budget.
Fuel is by far the greatest expense to those owning and operating a truck; the average fuel cost for owner/operators ranges from $50,000 to $70,000. You don’t have to estimate your fuel costs each week, month, or year, though. Plan in advance by sorting out your truck’s average cost per mile. This is done by dividing your fuel cost per gallon by average MPG, then multiplying that number by the expected number of miles you’ll drive. Once you have that number, the next thing to do is figure out your fuel efficiency.
The most effective way to get the ideal fuel mileage is by finding the best RPM to run your engine. When you pull your load with torque and not horsepower, you’ll burn less fuel because your truck will use less energy.
The truck itself is another large expense, and the primary truck-related expenses pertain to maintenance and tires. Though the price for maintenance may vary depending on other factors, such as the age of the truck, make, and model, alongside the quality of maintenance, you can still expect it to run you approximately 10% of overall costs. It’s helpful to budget for more than you think your maintenance will cost to avoid any financial surprises. Make sure to set aside a maintenance fund.
Furthermore, the average annual tire expense for retreading can exceed $4,000. This number is contingent on variables like miles driven, load weight, number of tires you have, types of tires you purchase, and wear patterns of the truck. When it comes to making the most cost-effective decision in purchasing tires, it’s important to consider the cost and expected lifespan of the tires.
3.Food & Drink
Even for the everyday person, dining out can quickly add up. Owner/operators are constantly on the go, and the prices of food and snacks are often significantly higher on the highway. This means it’s especially important to budget for eating at restaurants, snacks, and drinks. Once the budget is set, do your best to stick to it.
There are a couple of ways you can cut costs when it comes to food and beverage. Invest in keeping a mini-fridge and microwave in your sleeper. Owner/operators are also given a per diem tax break for travel expenses, including meals. As of last year, the per diem rate is 80% of $66 per day. Just be sure to save all receipts for qualifying tax deductions.
As a hired truck driver, you hardly have to worry about taxes because the company handles such matters. However, owner/operators are responsible for paying a variety of taxes, including but not limited to the fuel tax, federal heavy vehicle use taxes, self-employment tax, and so forth. To avoid any unnecessary stress or confusion, use of a professional tax preparer to ensure you receive every possible deduction and your returns are handled properly.
Trucking insurance also packs a hefty price tag, costing owner/operators anywhere from $8,000 to $14,000. Some coverage is required, while other insurances are optional. Common insurances needed are Truckers General Liability, Primary Liability, Physical Damage, and Non-Trucking Liability. Be sure to examine your coverages carefully as all insurance isn’t created equal. An insurer might offer cheaper coverage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the protection you’ll need on the road. Just as essential as having an insured truck is having health medical coverage for yourself. Be sure to factor this must-have into your budget as well.