Jesse M. Herschbein, CPA
Lives in: Wayne, NJ (Passaic County)
Works in: Midtown Manhattan
Earlier in 2011, I faced a crossroads in my career. After spending nearly 15 years in the New Jersey public accounting arena, I was seriously considering a move into working in private industry. This change of mindset eventually brought me to a growing development company, Upsilon Ventures, located in the heart of midtown Manhattan.
I pictured myself in a smart car on the Lincoln Tunnel helix. Then I wondered, “How would I do this? Would I drive, take a train, or even worse, the bus? Would I like the commute? Do I even like New York? Aren’t New Yorkers different? What about the tax thing? How will this affect my family? Is it safe?”
Now that I am a seasoned six-month veteran of the NYC commute, I hope to shed some light onto what goes into making the change to a NYC-based place of employment.
My Morning Commute
- I pack my belongings, lunch, iPod and phone into a backpack at about 6:45am.
- I take a NJ Transit bus from my local Park-N-Ride (Wayne, NJ).
- I get on the 7am bus, which leads me directly into Port Authority.
- I walk across town to my office location, 41st Street & Madison Avenue by about 8:05am.
The Bus Isn’t So Bad
Buses and trains from NJ are an interesting animal. Regulars use them with an extreme degree of efficiency. Non-regulars seem to get lost in a cloud of confusion wondering, “What ticket do I buy? Where can I park my car? What bus routes can I take?” Fortunately I have found people on the bus to be very helpful, so commuters shouldn’t be afraid to ask a question. NJ Transit even has tools to help you learn how to ride. In no time, you will find yourself zipping along on mass transit. During your commute, you will eventually get to know the regulars and the regular flow of people. You will meet the sharp-dressed man who always wears a great tie, the woman who always carries an iPod and expensive handbag, the guy who always is in a bad mood and yells at the bus driver, and the rider who always packs too much stuff. I find the best way to get through the commute is to listen to some good music or a good podcast, and I have observed fellow commuters reading, browsing the web on an iPad, talking on the phone or peacefully taking a nap.
Getting home is the hardest part. It seems like every day the lines to board the bus, the traffic on the river crossings or accidents on your route home seem to be the most disruptive and frustrating. You just want to get home and, due to congestion, you cannot. But I find the best way to get over that frustration is to think about how comfortable you are sitting on a bus or train, and not being stuck driving in all that mess. And there’s good news. In the end, you will get home, just not right in the timeframe you expected.
Living the Life
One thing that no one will tell you about is how your work/life balance will change due to your new commute. You’ve probably added an extra hour or so to your previous commute. And that extra hour in the morning and evening can radically change your normal home schedule. Things such as grocery shopping, meeting with friends, personal appointments and such all need to be coordinated around your new routine. On the other hand, any items you need to do that would normally require a trip into NYC can be handled with relative ease now that you are already there. And since you’re not driving, you can use your commute time to do a few things or unwind before you get home.
I love living in New Jersey. I love working in New York. It provides me with the best of both worlds, the beauty, variety and comfort that only New Jersey can bring, and the hustle, action and excitement that only New York City can offer. If you are considering the move, or you are already doing it, I encourage anyone to embrace the challenge and expose yourself to a very unique work/life arrangement.
Jesse M. Herschbein is the controller of Upsilon Ventures in New York City, a specialty marketing and development company that produces Citi Pond at Bryant Park, The Holiday Shops at Bryant Park and Celsius at Bryant Park. He has spent more than 15 years in the public and private accounting arena in New Jersey and New York. He specializes in accounting and auditing services of small to medium-sized enterprises, outsourced CFO services and business consulting services. Jesse is the immediate past-president of the NJSCPA Essex Chapter and serves on the NJSCPA Young CPAs Council. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Anthony Mezzasalma, CPA
Lives in: Aberdeen, NJ (Monmouth County)
Works in: Red Bank, NJ and Manhattan
My employer is Johnson Lambert & Co, LLP, an eight-office CPA firm specializing in auditing insurance companies – many of which are located in downtown NYC. Our office is located in Red Bank, NJ, which I think is an ideal location to base a CPA firm that services clients in New York City. Many staff, including myself, commute to NYC about 25 percent of their time to work with clients. To tell the truth, Monmouth County has not proven to be the most NYC commuter-friendly area (more on that later). However, I only travel to NYC when it is absolutely necessary, making it only an occasional annoyance that, in the end, is good for the client and good for my employer – which means good for me.
Generally I take the High Speed Ferry out of Belford, NJ. Except for a private helicopter, the ferry is the most expensive way to travel to NYC (about $42 round trip). So why do I do it? The luxuries of the ferry are well worth the higher price. Parking is free, and the ferry has a golf cart that will pick you up from your car and drive you directly to the ferry terminal. Or you could take advantage of the valet parking. Once you board the ferry, the seats are comfortable and the air conditioning works really well. There is even a bar with snacks and beverages. Then the waves of the ocean gently rock you to sleep, and 40 minutes later you arrive at pier 11 on the east side of lower Manhattan just blocks from Wall Street and the world financial capital of the world.
There are other public transportation alternatives available. NJ Transit's North Jersey Coast Line is about a $30 roundtrip from Red Bank, plus the cost of parking. What I like is that you can get off the train at Newark Penn Station and transfer to the Path to head downtown or you can stay on the train to arrive at Penn Station New York, which is in midtown. However, in my experience, the train is susceptible to heavy delays. New Jersey Transit also offers bus service to NYC from locations throughout Monmouth County. The downside of the bus is you have to pay close attention where to get off or you might end up far from where you initially anticipated.
By nature, there is always some walking involved in public transportation. This is a pro of commuting to the city. When I work in Red Bank, I walk 20 feet from my house to my car, drive to the office and then walk 20 feet from my car to my desk for a grand total of 80 feet (round trip) of walking per day. In contrast, when I commute to the city, there is a minimum of a half mile of walking (about 2,640 feet), which helps to keep fit and active and works to mitigate the lack of time for exercise when your commute is so long.
Based on my experience commuting to the city, I have developed some pointers for NYC commuters:
- Pack an umbrella.
- Make sure your compensation is significantly higher (20 percent or more) than a comparable job in NJ (to compensate for higher commuting cost, and higher state tax).
- Take the ferry, if you can afford it!
- Take advantage of any employer programs that allow for taking commuting cost out of your paycheck pre-tax, which could add up to substantial savings in federal income tax.
- Consider moving closer if commuting is in your long term plans.
- The NY State marginal state tax rate is higher than NJ’s (in most taxpayers' cases.)
- You will have less time available for other activities such as family time and working out.
- Commuting is very expensive.
- When you take public transportation, you are at the mercy of the train/ferry/bus schedule. If you work late one night, you may find that you can’t go home the same way you came to work.
- When you take into consideration commuting time, there is no such thing as an eight-hour work day.
- Public transportation puts you in close proximity to many people, which increases your exposure to contagious diseases.
In conclusion, commuting to and working in NYC every day and living in New Jersey is a tough path to take. The general rule of thumb is three hours total commuting time per day door to door. This takes a toll on personal relationships and on your body. Being located in Red Bank and having clients in NYC is a perfect medium. I have the short commute most of the time but get to experience the energy, fast pace and large client base of NYC. If I were to permanently work in the city, I would definitely move into or much closer to the city. Although, raising a family in Manhattan is much different than raising a family in the suburbs of New Jersey.
Anthony Mezzasalma, CPA, is a senior associate at Johnson Lambert & Co, LLP, an eight-office CPA firm located in Red Bank, NJ. Anthony has extensive experience in auditing insurance entities and employee benefit plans. Anthony is involved in the NJSCPA’s Pay it Forward program and E-Young CPA Writers Pool. Anthony graduated Summa Cum Laude from Monmouth University. You can contact him at email@example.com.