Updated: Aug 17
As an owner-operator, you’re a small business owner. That means you can’t just focus on how much money you’re making, you also have to focus on how much money you’re spending.
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Owner-operators have to deal with many of the same common business expenses. Understanding these expenses, and figuring out how to minimize the amount of money coming out of your pocket, is an important task for any business owner. ATBS is here to help, as we identify five of the biggest expenses faced by owner-operators and how you can better control them.
Are you a self-employed truck driver that needs help managing your expenses? Click here!
Fuel costs are the largest expense for most owner-operators. On average, you may spend between $50,000 and $70,000 a year on fuel. The easiest way to figure out how much you can expect to spend on fuel is by calculating your truck’s average cost per mile. This can be calculated by dividing the number of miles you expect to drive by your average MPG and then multiplying that number by the fuel cost per gallon.
As a truck driver, you actually have some control over how much money you spend on fuel. There are several ways you can modify your driving habits right now that can put extra money in your pocket.
Slow down - generally, 10 mph equals 1 mpg
Find the “sweet spot” - lower RPMs burn less fuel
Be smart with braking
Stay in higher gears when possible
To learn more about each of these topics and put these practices into action, read our article here.
Truck & Maintenance
Your truck is the second biggest expense you’ll face as an owner-operator. Truck expenses include the truck payment, maintenance, and tires. Even if your truck is completely paid off, maintenance and tire costs are still enough to be your second biggest expense. On average, maintenance is around 10% of total expenses.
The most important thing you can do to keep your maintenance costs down is plan preventative maintenance around home time. Try to catch stuff before it becomes a serious issue so you can wait for the part you will eventually need or get it fixed quickly before it becomes a big issue. This can be done with good pre and post-trip inspections and checking for any leaks or drips. The best way to manage your maintenance is to overestimate how much money you will need for truck repairs and put that money into a dedicated maintenance account.
Tire expenses will vary between $1,000 and $4,000 each time they are replaced. Before buying tires, take into account the cost of the tires as well as their life expectancy.
Insurance on a single truck typically starts at around $3,000 - $4,000 for a leased owner-operator and $15,000 - $30,000 for an owner-operator with authority. Insurance expenses can rise depending on how extensive the coverage is. Some of the different types of insurance that are typically required include bobtail, occupational accident, and physical damage. On top of your truck insurance, you will also need health insurance, which averages around $6,000 - $12,000 per year.
Insurance is an expense that can vary significantly, depending on how much you want to pay. However, paying less for insurance usually means a higher deductible, which comes with a greater risk if an accident were to occur. To learn more about insurance, click here.
Food and Drink
Food and drink is a large expense that owner-operators might not expect. Eating out at restaurants every day can add up quickly. However, owner-operators are given a tax deduction known as Per Diem. The IRS allows you to deduct 80% of $69 for every full day on the road and $51.75 for every partial day on the road.
Even though these costs are tax deductible, it is money you still have to spend. The easiest way to lower your food and drink costs is to buy food at the grocery store and keep it cold in your truck. The cost of groceries is a lot cheaper and healthier than eating out at restaurants.
As an independent contractor, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires you to make quarterly estimated tax payments based on your business profits. Your quarterly estimated tax payments include:
Self-employment tax: The self-employment tax rate is 15.3%. It consists of Social Security (12.4%) and Medicare (2.9%) taxes.
Federal Income Tax and State Income Tax: This is calculated on your tax return.
Those who expect to owe at least $1,000 in taxes are required to make quarterly payments of self-employment and income taxes. ATBS recommends that drivers set aside between 25 and 30 percent of their weekly net income for quarterly taxes. When you are self-employed the payment of Social Security and Medicare taxes is your responsibility. This is unlike those individuals who are classified as an employee as these taxes would be withheld from a paycheck and paid by an employer.
When it comes time to file your taxes, you can minimize your tax liability by claiming every legal tax deduction and credit available. Understanding and recording all the deductions and credits appropriately will help you avoid penalties, reduce the risk of an audit, and minimize the amount you have to pay in taxes.
How to Control Your Expenses
Know Your Numbers
Do you know your break-even point? Do you know your cost or profit per mile? Don't operate your business in the dark. Make sure you keep your numbers up to date so you know how to stay profitable.
Keep Good Records
A good business always tracks its financials and monitors them at least monthly. A profit and loss statement can be used to make sure you are reaching your revenue and expense goals to hit the bottom line you need to achieve your own personal success.
Plan Your Routes
Aside from just taking the shortest route, plan out when you're going to get to certain places on your trip and where you're going to fill up. If possible, avoid driving through places at times you know there will be a lot of traffic and fill up in places where the net price will be lowest.
Maximize Your Time
If your truck isn’t running, you aren’t making money. Make sure you’re managing your time to make each week profitable. Don’t sit for long periods of time when you don’t have to. When you’re forced to shut down, use this time to be productive and complete tasks that need to get done. Anything you can’t do yourself, outsource to different services and professional partners. These expenses could be seen as investments that may actually save or make you money in the long run.
Work With Professional Business Partners
Running a business is difficult. It’s even harder when you’re on the road driving all day. Having someone that can help you run the business side of trucking can be a big asset. It can also be a tax deduction. Paying a company to help you with your accounting and bookkeeping allows you to focus on what you love...driving your truck!
Over 150,000 owner-operators have made the choice to hire ATBS over the past 20 years. We offer a variety of services including accounting, bookkeeping, and tax preparation. We also offer unlimited business consulting for our RumbleStrip Professional clients. A dedicated business consultant will help you keep your business “between the lines,” just like rumblestrips on the highway. If you’d like to learn more about ATBS services or want to get started today, give us a call at 866-920-2827.