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How Do People Survive on Minimum Wage?

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Yesterday one of my clients reported getting a job at a fast food restaurant. Since she’s been unemployed and desperately looking for work for nearly a year, I was thrilled for her. She was very excited that she’ll be making $7.50 an hour – a whole quarter more than minimum wage.

After she left my office, I got out a calculator. I’ve never worked for minimum wage, so I didn’t know exactly how much (or how little) money that is.

Assuming 80 hours a pay period, my client will be bringing home around $462 every two weeks. That’s with no health insurance or retirement contributions.

If I brought home $924 a month, would I even be able to survive? I decided to find out.

My Minimum Wage Budget

First, I decided which of my expenses are absolute necessities. This is what I came up with:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Food
  • Phone (People will say this isn’t necessary, but I have a child. No way would I go without a phone.)
  • Car insurance
  • Gas

Note that I left out my car payment – if I was making minimum wage, I know I’d have to drive something, but not something with a huge monthly payment. So I’m pretending my car is paid off.

The Budget in Action

Here’s how those costs would add up:

  • Rent: $400
  • Utilities: $200 (current average of electricity, water, and gas for my house)
  • Food: $200 (assuming we could survive on $50 a week)
  • Phone: $25 (prepaid phone)
  • Car insurance: $100 (full coverage)
  • Gas: $140 (this is what I currently spend to drive to/from work)
  • TOTAL: $1065

Okay. I ignored my car payment. I don’t have anything fun, like cable or internet access. And I’m STILL over budget by about $100.

What About Government Assistance?

I checked on that. In Kentucky, a family of two making $1200 a month before taxes qualifies for $165 in food stamps. Even if I could make that cover ALL the groceries for the month, that only leaves me with a little over $100 a month for everything I didn’t list above.

My son would qualify for Medicaid, but as an able-bodied adult, I wouldn’t. So if I got sick or had to take a prescription medication every day, I’d fly through that $100 in no time.

How the Hell Does This Work?

There are SO many things I didn’t account for in my minimum wage budget. Clothing. Car maintenance. Birthdays. Christmas. School field trips. Toilet paper and toothpaste.

And can we talk about appliances? As my regular readers know, I’m kind of a disaster when it comes to preventing my appliances from breaking. In my time as an adult, I’ve gone through 4 washing machines, two dishwashers, and more printers than I want to think about. Even on a salary significantly higher than minimum wage, if it hadn’t been for DIY repair sites like PartSelect, I never would have kept them working as long as I did. And let me just tell you, things like that are NOT cheap to replace!

Looking at these numbers, is it any wonder that so many people are in debt? Personally, if I knew I was going to spend more than I made just to exist, I’d try to drown out that misery with TV or internet access at home, even though I know I couldn’t afford it. I’d probably use store credit cards to buy clothes (if I could even get approved for them). Payday loans would be my backup plan for emergencies. And retirement? Pfft, what’s retirement? I couldn’t even afford to get my oil changed!

Honestly, the first thing I would do is drop my car insurance. This would free up another $100 a month, but I would risk getting a ticket or totaling my car in a wreck. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if I was injured while driving and had no insurance of any kind.

I complain about my student loans constantly, but if I hadn’t gone to college and could only qualify for minimum wage jobs, there is simply no way I could make it. Even if I made stellar financial choices at all times, I would run out of money every month. I can’t figure out how any single parent could make this work.

Could YOU Make it on Minimum Wage?

I feel like I must be missing something here. With 4.4 million American workers making at or below minimum wage (and remember, I gave myself an extra quarter an hour), there has to be some kind of secret I don’t know about. It hurts my soul to think that there are people struggling with this every day – not because they are curious, but because it’s their reality.

Have you ever worked for minimum wage? How about doing it while supporting a household? Could you find a way to alter your budget to make it work?

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web designer and single mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!

Comments

  1. This isn't an easy topic. Nor a pleasant one, for me… Supporting a household with minimum wage isn’t easy (or at/below poverty level for that matter). I've lived through it (as a dependent), so here are a few other things…
     
    Besides food stamp assistance, there is cash assistance. They provide between $50 to $700 a month. The application for it is a complete and gruesome pain, and takes a very long time and many visits with your social worker.
     
    There is some health care coverage depending on income. It is run through the social security office and it covers dr's visit, preventive check ups, emergency room visits and prescriptions. There is subsidized housing where rent goes by what you earned last month. You also can get assistance with your bills, like electric and gas bills during late fall-winter-early spring through your social worker. 
     
    Additionally, there is the church. Some places will work with you and help with rent. They also have the food pantry. Lastly, the church can help you find some… income potential in form of chores.
     
    PS: Payday loans suck. If you're at that point, just get a credit card and pay it off when payday comes. Same goes for pawn shops.

    • I appreciate the info. As a social worker myself, I'm aware of many of the resources you mentioned, but I guess it was harder than I thought to imagine life as a fast food worker. I kept thinking I couldn't qualify for things like utility assistance or cash welfare benefits (because I can't on my current income) instead of remembering that I was supposed to be making minimum wage.

      I based my rent and utilities on what I pay now. Most rentals in my area are houses that don't qualify for Section 8 or other subsidies, so I didn't include those. However, I have to consider the fact that I would probably have to move into the apartments in my area, which makes me cringe. How sad that people have to give up a safer environment for their children just to afford to live. Sigh. Thanks for your insights as always!

      • You really dont want to expose your children to the kind of people that live in section 8 housing. But of course many do not have much of a choice.

        Section 8 residents are not supposed to have drugs, however many not only use drugs, they also deal drugs. This drug dealing leads to violence and the violence leads to residents arming themselves, which furthers the violence and danger to families caught in the pressure cooker of poverty/ drug addiction/ and drug sales.

        Above a poster mentioned how churches help, sure, they sometimes do. A can or two of green beans however is rarely worth walking halfway across town, and would be cheaper to just buy at the store than pay for bus fare over to the church.

        Also TANF was discussed, (cash payments) the bureaucracy has made it very time consuming to get on TANF, and the offices are normally only open during business hours (while most of us poor people are at work.) The truth is that the only people that are really able to spend the time filling out the forms and making the appointments to get TANF are only those people who are newly out of work (to qualify) with a family (to qualify) and are recently unemployed (so they have enough time to jump through the hoops.)

        The truth is that the above poster must have very little experience with being poor and attempting to get a credit card. Normally poor people have bad credit history, because they either have a repo on a car, or they have bounced checks, or they have screwed up paying bills on time. Because of this most of the time when poor people apply for anything except for a prepaid card, they are declined. Even when the poor apply for prepaid cards they often have to pay $60 – $200 upfront to the card company just to have a card and then they get a $50-$100 credit limit. If they are very good at gaming credit card companies, then they can build their score up eventually.

        In addition the above poster discussed how “there is health care available for the poor through the social security office.” Maybe this is true, in some state. This is an absolute falsehood in any southern state however. Down here in order to qualify for Medicaid, you must have a child and that child only is covered. There is no gap coverage and you do not make enough to pay for Obamacare. So what we poor people do is go to the emergency room if we need antibiotics (for something like strep throat or pneumonia) and not only do we end up missing work and pay, we end up getting a bill for $3,000+ which when we dont pay affects our credit, and also the state now keeps our income tax return which many of the poor use to buy a new to them car every year.

        The above poster may have grown up in a poor house, but they dont know nothin about being a poor adult in the US.

        • While I agree with much of what you say, there are decent section 8 areas in which to live. I know of several people renting out their homes since the recession, in good areas, and with section 8 assistance.

  2. I've lived it, and although I would never go back to that place by choice here are some additional things you can do.   Get more roommates.  The more people you live with the lower than utility and rent number goes. I'm not just talking 1 roommate, I'm talking 4.    The other thing that's huge is that make sure at least one of your jobs is in food service or a restaurant.  That way you can eat at work for free or close to it and often you can bring home extra food that normally would go to waste (like pizzas people never picked up, day old bagels, etc).  Lastly, live on the bus line so you don't have to pay for a car (not always possible, but even in small cities there are bus routes).   Yes, all these options are crappy and not the best quality of life thing to do, but it really is possible to live extremely frugally without getting into debt, but most people don't want to take the lifestyle hit that is associated with it.

    • Thanks for those suggestions! While I wouldn't love the idea of roommates (strangers in my house with me and my child = scary!!), I could do that if I absolutely had to. The bus isn't an option where I live, though – I'm in a rural area with no public transportation of any kind.

      It makes me kind of sick to think that people have to make those choices, if they can really even be called choices. Thinking about this makes me so thankful for what I have.

    • The bus is a good idea. Buses have their own problems – unreliable and often requires a transfer or two. If one or 2 buses are late, you're late to work, and it's so easy to lose a minimum job, especially for being late, regardless of whose fault. Which just adds to the argument – how do those on minimum wage do it?! 

  3. $50 a week is legit on a starvation budget…while i don't make minimum wage, sometimes i feel like it as my own poor choices have left about$25-30/week for food and random household supplies (like TP). Here's how I do it. I eat a LOT of leftovers. I make things that will last multiple meals throughout the week, like chili, casserole or a big pan of enchiladas. I don't buy name brand or pre-packaged food. I hit the store when they're turning over their stock on fresh meat so I can buy it at a discount. I make my lunch every day, so much PB&J can't be good for you. Thankfully, I don't have kids, but I think I could feed 2 people for $50. It is possible, but it is not fun. That being said, OMG less than $1000 a month to budget!!!! I wouldn't be able to make it on that. I would move back home and become a hermit, a very sad hermit.

  4. I would start by selling my house since that amount won't even come close to my mortgage.  Even if my worked the same job with me, we'd only have a few hundred dollars to cover all the rest of the household expenses for the month.  It pains my brain to even try to do this analysis.  I'll just stop and be grateful for all I have.

  5. I agree that working for minimum wage sucks! I started at less than that ($7 an hr) when I had my first job. While it was hard, I made it fine on my own. I didn't have kids or a spouse, though.

    While you are considering how to save money while making minimum wage, you aren't looking at ways to MAKE money. Side hustle as J Money calls it, or side income. Extra jobs, working part-time, going to Yard Sales on the weekends and then reselling things on eBay or Amazon.

    I did all of these things when I was working for less than minimum wage. Plus, like First Gen suggested there are other options like finding roommates. Or in my case again I bartered for things I couldn't afford. I exchanged doing taxes for getting a hair cut and color. Just gotta get creative I guess.

    • I would imagine that making more money is difficult when you have a child to take care of. If someone is spending 40+ hours a week at a minimum wage job, how many hours would this person have to dedicate to a side hustle? As a parent, the decision to spend time on a side hustle or with my child would be a difficult one. 

      • Very true! I worked two jobs in the spring and it was NOT worth the time I missed with my son. Plus who would be taking care of him while I worked one or more jobs? That's something I didn't even think about.

      • What you do, is find money making projects the family can do together, to both earn money and save what you have (or reduce expenses), For example, build a route emptying the plastic recycle bins for cans and soda bottles next to the soda machines. My husband does that. It costs him the clean trash bags. He trades out the full bags and replaces it with an empty bad. His take is that he gets the .05 per bottle/can for recycling. He bring that bag home and takes a kiddo with him to feed the recycle sorter machine at the grocery store and collect the receipt. They make a game of it, and race who can feed them faster. $100/wk for a factory setting. Not reliable, but not taxable either. That's just one thing that people who are living on low wages look for, ways to make ends meet while meeting the needs of their most vulnerable family members.

      • Parkerkathleen says:

        And you'd have to add child care to your budget.
         

  6. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book on this very same subject, "Nickel and Dimed"  which I read a few years ago and felt totally disheartened after reading it.  I need about $1000 to survive a month.  I am single, have health insurance through school and live with 2 roomies for $320 a month +phone +utilities so about $450 a month.  The other $550 has to cover my insurance, food, a very small Roth contribution and misc. expenses (gifts, public transportation, school/work supplies).  It's pretty tight and sometimes I have to dip into savings to get by, but I *made* more than minimum wage there for a bit, even working part time.  

    I honestly don't know how people in MW do it- most of my school friends and my coworkers when I worked at my old office were all on assistance to pay for food. 

  7. Live in a home with another person and rent drops in half.  That's $200 extra.  Your car insurance quote is WAAY too high for someone on minimum wage, who wouldn't drive half as valuable of a vehicle as you.  Plus, if you earn minimum wage, you can't afford full coverage, nor would you need it.  Also, state minimums only–you have no assets worth insuring.   There's an extra $250-60/mo just from these two items.  I'd venture to guess you'd save on utilities, too. 

    Actually, we're forgetting about section 8 benefits, which limits your rent expenditures to 30% of your income, or roughly $308.  So, you can find a roommate, or hit up section 8.  In the best case scenario, you use Section 8 AND find a roommate!  (That's probably illegal.)  There are plenty of income exclusions and reductions which come into play here.  Medical expenses paid out of pocket, for example.As for retirement and health care savings, she's contributing plenty to health care and retirement expenditures.  FICA comes out to 15.4% on both sides.  That pays for some of the Medicaid/Medicare expenditures and a retirement benefit from Social Security.  There's a tax credit for retirement savings for low income households.  Up to $1,000 is refundable on up to $2,000 of annual retirement contributions.   Uncle Sam gives a 50% match!Surviving on minimum wage would be difficult, but not impossible.  It requires that you work more than 40 hours a week, or painfully cut expenditures.  It also requires the realization that you simply cannot afford to bring another person into this world.  I know that rubs people the wrong way, since everyone is entitled to children afforded by everyone else, but it's just the reality of it.  The best thing we can do to help people who work for minimum wage is lower the minimum wage.  Having a minimum wage in place does not help the severe working poor; it merely reduces the number of available employment opportunities.  It's ridiculous that we agree, by fiat, that making $0 is better than making…say, $200 a week at $5 an hour.  Her situation would be vastly improved if, over the long period that she was unemployed, she could have worked for even $5 per hour.  Beats $0 an hour any day of the week.

    • tl;dr =P

      I was trying to imagine this in my current living situation, which is in a house that doesn't qualify for Section 8. But I guess that would have to be an option (though the Section 8 housing here is REALLY bad – like everywhere else).

    • Terry Pratt says:

      Good luck getting Section 8 in the USA!  Waiting lists are a mile long and you can't even walk in and sign up for the waiting list.

      Where I live, every once in a blue moon (last time was in 2007) the Section 8 people announce that a lottery will be held to select N applicants for the waiting list.  They give you a week to a month to sign up for the lottery. If you miss the announcement – it's not widely advertised – you have to wait several years for the next lottery.

      The lottery selects N applicants (3,000 last time) and places them on the waiting list.

      Applicants not selected for the waiting list are considered to have "lost" this lottery and must wait for the next lottery announcement, at which time they can sign up for the next lottery.

      Nobody knows when the next Section 8 waiting list lottery will be held, the local Section 8 website merely says that no lottery is expected in the next 18 months.

      A person can literally live a lifetime and sign up for several of these lotteries without ever getting on the Section 8 waiting list.

      • Kristine says:

        I was on the section 8 waiting list for over ten yrs…I realized after getting my hopes up year after year that it was ever going to happen so I called them one day and politely asked them to remove me from their useless list.

    • Terry Pratt says:

      Good luck getting Section 8 in the USA!  Waiting lists are a mile long and you can't even walk in and sign up for the waiting list.

      Where I live, every once in a blue moon (last time was in 2007) the Section 8 people announce that a lottery will be held to select N applicants for the waiting list.  They give you a week to a month to sign up for the lottery. If you miss the announcement – it's not widely advertised – you have to wait several years for the next lottery.

      The lottery selects N applicants (3,000 last time) and places them on the waiting list.

      Applicants not selected for the waiting list are considered to have "lost" this lottery and must wait for the next lottery announcement, at which time they can sign up for the next lottery.

      Nobody knows when the next Section 8 waiting list lottery will be held, the local Section 8 website merely says that no lottery is expected in the next 18 months.

      A person can literally live a lifetime and sign up for several of these lotteries without ever getting on the Section 8 waiting list.

      Oh, and I would be okay with lowering the minimum wage if onerous housing regulations were often lowered. I believe individuals should be free to work for $1 an hour IF they are also free to rent housing that is affordable to those earning $1 an hour.

      NIMBYs are all too happy to regulate housing to prevent people earning $1 an hour from moving into the neighborhood, and until there is a free market in housing and land use, I consider the minimum wage a necessary response to excessive housing regulation.

    • Terry Pratt says:

      Good luck getting Section 8 in the USA!  Waiting lists are a mile long and you can’t even walk in and sign up for the waiting list.

      Where I live, every once in a blue moon (last time was in 2007) the Section 8 people announce that a lottery will be held to select N applicants for the waiting list.  They give you a week to a month to sign up for the lottery. If you miss the announcement – it’s not widely advertised – you have to wait several years for the next lottery.

      The lottery selects N applicants (3,000 last time) and places them on the waiting list.

      Applicants not selected for the waiting list are considered to have “lost” this lottery and must wait for the next lottery announcement, at which time they can sign up for the next lottery.

      Nobody knows when the next Section 8 waiting list lottery will be held, the local Section 8 website merely says that no lottery is expected in the next 18 months.

      A person can literally live a lifetime and sign up for several of these lotteries without ever getting on the Section 8 waiting list.

      Oh, and I would be okay with lowering the minimum wage if onerous housing regulations were often lowered. I believe individuals should be free to work for $1 an hour IF they are also free to rent housing that is affordable to those earning $1 an hour.

      NIMBYs are all too happy to regulate housing to prevent people earning $1 an hour from moving into the neighborhood, and until there is a free market in housing and land use, I consider the minimum wage a necessary response to excessive housing regulation.

    • Actually you are way off about that being too high for insurance. It is not all based on the car you drive, it's based on many other things. I work a min wage job and drive a crappy car, only have plpd and pay $250 a month for ins. As I'm sure you can guess, I can't even begin to cover that. Hopefully I do not get in an accident or pulled over since the law requires car ins in the state I live in! The less money you make the more expensive things become, figure that out? For example, at my bank if you have below $20 in your account you are charged $5?!

  8. Mutant Supermodel says:

    That's why most of them pile up the debt

  9. I lived for a whole year last year on about $1,000 a month plus $150 in food stamps as a VISTA. It was nearly impossible to live a life anything like the "American dream." There was no way to come out with any savings for retirement or vacations or anything fun. Plus, you're always one car repair or one medical accident away from being in some serious debt. I really don't know how people do it long-term.

    • Have you ever posted about that experience? I'd love to read more about what that was like!

    • It certainly isn’t pretty, and it’s barely possible. I’ve been living on about 200 – 400/month for several years now, trying to include gifts like a family member buying me clothes for work and such. Even at that rate, I don’t really qualify for any assistance beyond the sliding fee scale at the health department or discounted services at PP. There’s no food bank in this county. I have learned to get seriously creative with food.

    • machokid says:

      i was an americorps VISTA and i nearly starved to death. i had a roommate, no car, and very low expenses but could NOT make it on that stipend.

  10. I could not make it on minimum wage now with my expenses and lifestyle.  But, if I had to start over and made minimum wage all my life I could survive easily.

    • That's a good point – I think if you've never known anything else, it would be a lot easier to adjust. My income isn't huge, but it's significantly more than minimum wage, so I've just never had to deal with that.

  11. I think minimum wage here is about $9/hr which would gross about $1400/mo. 

    I could live on it, but I would be MISERABLE.

    If I made minimum wage, immediately downsize to an apartment that cost only $600 with all utilities (including internet). I would put $100/mo into savings, $150 for groceries, and divvy up whatever is left for personal care, cellphone, entertainment, and my debt repayment.
    Basically I would be clinically depressed in about 6 weeks.

  12. I've never thought to examine the situation from this perspective… I can understand now how poverty is a sort of trap — once you get in, you need to claw yourself out because of all the negative forces working against you (high cost of living, emergencies, low minimum wage).

    Also, I thought that the US minimum wage was something like 5$? At least Kentucky has the sense to boost it up to 7.25$ :S

  13. I never had to do this while supporting a child but I've lived on minimum wage before.  It sucked.  Knocked down car insurance to only liability, had roomates, ate the bare minimum that I could and wasn't able to save a dime.  Not that I didn't want to I just wasn't making enough.   I worked as many hours as I could and would try to "miss" the mandatory break (which worked when we were really busy) as it wasn't paid for.   If you work for fast food, most offer a discounted lunch for employees if not free.

    • I didn't really think about car insurance – I was making assumptions based on my car (full coverage is required because I still have a loan) and not thinking about my hypothetical clunker. The more I think about this, the more I realize it would suck more than anything else I've ever done.

  14. I also wonder how anyone making minimum wage with a family could survive. I know a lot of people bash minimum wage earners because they do have debt and have large plasma TVs, or whatever their vice, but I can empathize. I couldn't imagine working so hard just to get by. Always being one car repair, broken arm or tragedy away from going under. I think the debt is probably a bit of escapism.

    This kind of life is something people can't just get out either. It takes money, time and energy. All resources that are pretty much exhausted just to survive. It seems to get out it you have to claw your way out fighting the whole time. 

    • The crappy thing is, many people tell me that once they've taken a minimum wage job, they get stuck in low-paying jobs forever. Even if you have multiple college degrees and prior high-paying jobs, once you take something "just until I find something else", you are forever stuck at that level. No one is going to give you $20+ an hour when they know you're making 7-something right now. It's like a neverending cycle.

      • I don't buy that. There's no holding a job over your head and not paying you a salary commensurate to your degree for the position you applied for just because you hustled fries at McDonald's right after graduation. I completely disagree with "no one is going to give you $20+ an hour when they know you're making 7-something right now.  I think it shows initiative and ambition and wisdom rather than racking up credit card debt.

  15. Also, don't forget the EITC, Earned Income Tax Credit.  With three children it is either active or partially active up to $43,350 (in 2010, anyway).

    Politically, the Minimum Wage is genius.  Economically, it's stupid.  Increased automation can replace jobs at the lower end of the pay spectrum – if you don't believe me, try to go a day without seeing an ATM, soda machine, self-serve gas station, or self-checkout line.  Drawing a hard line at $7.25, or $12.00, or whatever is completely arbitrary – companies will only be able to afford to hire a worker who earns them at least that arbitrary amount.  In the short term, a Minimum Wage job might have to increase its pay.  In the long term, automation will rule supreme (robots don't get paid) and in the intermediate term prices will increase, so that new minimum wage doesn't buy what it did before the law.

    Economically, the best solution is no Minimum Wage laws.  That's too cruel to those who would have lower paying jobs if there is nothing to replace it, so I am convinced that a Negative Tax (sort of like the EITC) is the ideal way to make up the gap between the lower paying jobs and a 'living wage'.  So lower paid professions could stay lower wage *and* they would get a living wage – the cost would be borne by all of a society, instead of just companies which employ lower wage workers.

    The second best solution?  Don't touch the minimum wage, let inflation erode the current amount, and strengthen EITC.

    • Thank you for the shorter, easier to understand version on Twitter. :)

      For those who missed it: "If you don't make enough to live on, the government will refund you money."

    • They can take their job and shove it in their %$#@*&^!
      If  others can get paid well because they have  some college and no common sense, so can a kid  or an elderly working for MacDonalds deserves good pay. With out their hard work MacDonalds would not exist, or any company. The greed need to feed from slavery.

  16. I guess I've never been paid minimum wage-I started at $7.50 in college in 2005, and I don't have any dependents (In high school, I actually started at $8.50/hr and worked my way up to $9.75 in the end, which allowed me to save up quite a bit before college, since I didn't spend much). I only worked full time over the summer though, during the school year I only worked 12-15 hrs/week, and that was all they would pay me for, so I didn't have much take home pay. But in college, living with multiple roommates and eating cheap food is pretty normal.

    My parents paid for my car insurance (on a crap car that was purchased with cash), health insurance, and cell phone bill, but I covered everything else. I really wanted to get out of college without student loans, but I just couldn't do it. I couldn't cut out the occasional movie, ice cream, or restaurant meal. I couldn't get a second job unless I quit dancing or volunteering (and/or studying), which I wasn't willing to do. I couldn't get by on that little pay without some debt, and I can't imagine getting paid so little in the long term without accumulating more debt.

  17. Serendipity Savings says:

    I made about $1000 a month for nine months out of the year for the past few years. It's been pretty darn rough let me tell ya. I think that's why I'm in so much student loan debt. But. I did have help. I met a terrific man who let me work part time while attending school full time and let me cover about a third of our household expenses. However, I could easily tell you if I went back and did it over again, exnay on the student loan debt and hell to the no on financing a car. 

  18. When_bill's__go says:

    "I made about $1000 a month for nine months out of the year for the past few years. It's been pretty darn rough let me tell ya. I think that's why I'm in so much student loan debt. But. I did have help. I met a terrific man who let me work part time while attending school full time and let me cover about a third of our household expenses….
    –Serendipity Savings

    Wait a minute, are you talking about some kind of prostitution here or what? Everything was so hard, then you met a man….So, in exchange for some kind of sex, your bills have magically decreased? More than bills have gone down, huh?

    • G Marenghi says:

      Wow, you went to a dark place when you read that comment. How about she/he has ended up in a longterm relationship where the new man is able to shoulder alot of the financial responsibility while she finsihes university.

  19. I think if I was tasked with working on minimum wage, was single and had no debt, I could do it.  It wouldn't be easy but doable.  Rent a room not an apartment…working at a restaurant that allows free meals…bicycle to work.  A couple things to keep in mind…. 1. Most minimum wage jobs that I see are entry level or meant for teenagers to work.  The mindset a person should have if becoming unemployed it to get a job, yes, even McDonald's for the short term.  I have found that it is much easier to get a job when you are already employed.  Work on moving back up the ladder of employment.  Don't be stagnant.  I meet people everyday that tell me they have been unemployed for years.  That tells me that they simply don't want to work.  You can ALWAYS create work.  Laws of averages… get a lawn mower and go door to door asking if the resident need their lawn cut or any "odd job"  you will eventually find someone.  It is all about networking.  Meeting people and telling them what you can do for them.  Mow lawns, clean houses, wash windows, run errands.  sell crap on eBay.  Life if tough but it is only as tough as you make it.  

  20. Yes, I've worked for minimum wage. (Well, below minimum really, since it was in a restaurant and they didn't have to pay minimum wage. I was supposed to get tips but didn't…)

    At any rate, I could make it on today's minimum wage pretty easily. It wouldn't be fun, but I've lived on a whole lot less than that in the past, and it's completely doable.  But, it's doable if you don't live "normally" — where normal = a car payment, a student loan, a fancy cell phone, credit card debt, etc. — and if you live in a low cost of living area or have roommates.  

    Hm, I may have to write about this in a post.  I realized I'm starting to ramble ;)

  21. It may be doable, but it leaves no room for error, as you can see.

  22. Wow, minimum wage is very, very low. Our minimum wage (Australia) is $15.51 hour, but cost of living here is much higher. No, I could not live on minimum wage (yours or ours). In Australia we also get a family tax benefit, so if you have a child or 2 you get fortnightly payments from the Government as long as you earn under $150,000 a year, plus $700 at time time for each child which helps.

    We also get parenting payment if you earn below a certain amount. With all that together, as in minimum wage and the government benefits you get I HAD to live like that much of this year. It was extremely hard and there was no way to pay off debt, have any paid for entertainment and no we didn't have cable, don't drink alcohol, smoke or do anything other than the basics. It was hard and I cannot imagine having to live like that constantly.

    I really, really do not know how anyone lives on minimum wage alone anywhere. It would be so incredibly hard. You would need 2 jobs or a second source of income somehow. Thats what we did when we were on minimum wage.

  23. LBC Teacher says:

    This is a great post! On Morgan Spurlock's show Thirty Days he and his fiance worked minimum wage jobs for a month and showed what it was like. I know it's on Netflix streaming, and probably iTunes. It's worth watching and definitely enlightening.

  24. Mercedes Kamencik says:

    I worked minimum wage (Which netted me between $700 and $800 a month if I were lucky to get extra hours) for about a year when I was between colleges and didn't know what to do with my life.  I was paying $500 a month in rent, which ate up most of my pay, and living off $5-10 a week in food and whatever was left over went to gas.  I didn't go out with friends, I didn't have television (I did have DVDs which I watched over and over and over), it was winter in the upper mid-west, but I blocked every vent in the house and only heated one room, and even then I only had the 'heat' up to 55 degrees.  I took cold showers because I didn't want to waste the water waiting for the hot water to come up through the pipes….  It was a humbling time for me, but it made me oh so grateful for all of the things that I have now.  And because I made it through that, I know I can make it through almost anything.  (And also that minimum wage is not below me, like some people seem to think)

    • Wow, thanks so much for sharing your experience. No matter how hard things have been for me in the past, I can say that I have never had to go to such extremes to survive, and I'm very thankful for that. I can't even imagine how difficult that must have been for you!

  25. smartmoney says:

    Ok, I've got to ask, what does everyone complaining about living on min wage spend their money on?  My fiancee and me both had great paying jobs but I had a medical issue and my comfortable job laid me off while I was on medical leave – leaving me with tens of thousand in medical debt.  My fiancee had a good paying job but it was very stressful.  I paid off the bulk of my debt with my savings, we had a baby, my fiancee quit her job and I got a min. wage job and she got a part time job making min. wage.  We make combined about $1300 a month. We have a 3 month old and get no help.  We put $400 into savings a month, pay all our bills, cable, internet, grocery shop, put money away towards our child's college fund and still have some money left over for other things.  Next year we will be debt free and we will be putting 30% down on a house that is within our means and plan on paying that off within 5 years.  We choose to live with min wage jobs, we live a stress free life where when we leave work its not thought of until the next day and get to spend more time with our child.  I think some of you would benefit from reading Walden.  

    I used to value material possessions over all and when I made good money I overspent and had debt.  Now I value my family.  I'd easily sell everything I own (I've sold off or gave away about 70% of my belongings already) and not even think twice.  

    But you do have to have discipline – I work with people who cry about how broke they are and can't afford gas, then payday rolls around and they go to the amusement park then the cycle starts again.  

    In closing I'd rather make less and life a stress free life as long as I can give my son a good life.  Debt free and living in a house you can afford in a good neighborhood is possible.  I really wish I would have documented my journey – because most people find it unbelievable.

    • You sir, ….are fool of horse poo…that story is unbelievable as it is seems you've left out some info.

  26. Hi Andrea, let me first say how much I laughed and enjoyed  your story on to poor to shop at walmart, because as I read that I was saying to myself omg thats me lol. Getting back to this story now believe it or not I am existing not living but existing on even less per month. Being unemployed since April 2010 I recieve a whoping 804 per month in unemployment benefits and 119 per month in food stamps, able bodied adult  I dont qualify for  health insurance. I live in chicago so a bit more expensive than kentucky here is my break down.
    rent 750.00
    car pymt 0 thanks to mom paying it off for me till I go back to work then pay her interest free(thanks mom) dont say that enough
    car insurance 100.00
    utilities 300.00 gas, electric and yes cable & internet they are nessasary if I want to find a job and not go crazy in the mean time.
    food lets just say the food stamps cover that which they dont uasally last 3 or 4 days of the month me and the dog get creative
     so 750+100+300=1150 out of 804= short 346 per month from the get go
    which is why I have taken in the roommate from hell( whole nother story there) but it keeps me a float .
    the real test of time and creativity will come at the end of the year when my unemployment runs out and I have no other spare bedrooms to rent out, and if you could have just seen my dogs face just now when writing this like he can read  PRICELESS if he does not bite later lol

    • Hi Dan – thanks so much for sharing your story. My hat would be off to you if I was wearing a hat. I will send as much good karma your way as I can in hopes that something gets better for you soon.

    • Dan, you are currently living above your means. You may even have to move to the NW Indiana suburbs and ride the train in for job searches. You can do this, but it does mean more sacrifice on your part. Your mom is artificially floating you for now, but it can't last forever. You'll feel better when you're in an apt. you can afford (with lower utilities most likely), no roommate, and paying your mom back. You just plain sleep better at night when you live within your means.

  27. I live in NYC, working full time 40+ hours/wk on a stipend of $250 a week, a "internship" for 2 YEARS now, in a field that I did not major in, while I was in college (class of 09) I have a B.S. Degree and grad. top of my class. I filed for unemployment  which gives me an additional $138 a week. I still can't make ends meet: Rent is $1,050 a month, groceries are $100 every two weeks ( I am one of the few lucky ones to live on my own with my bf so its spilt but never 50/50), student loans (2 combined) are $250 a month, phone bill $53 a month plus transportation is $104 a month! You do the math! Forget about backpacking across Europe and exploring the world in my youth! I'll be backpacking to the welfare line at this rate!

    • Parkerkathleen says:

      My daughter is trying to obtain an internship, but the cost factor of living in a major city and trying to get by is a major deterrent.  Yet if she wants to succeed in her major, it will eventually be a necessity.  ( Yes, she graduated with honors also. )  Unfortunately, her father and I are retiring and will have a limited budget to help with.  I didn't know about the added unemployment income.  That would help.

    • Tim Griesdorn says:

      You should consider an income based repayment plan for the student loan debt. It should reduce the payment drastically.

  28. Parkerkathleen says:

    Minimum wage in Pa. works out to be $876.40 a month after taxes.  I don't think it's livable, but others think it is.  Obviously a car has to go, rent has to be cheap, and food has to be obtained either from a food bank or through  food stamps.  They will defer student loans if you have them, but they do accrue  interest.  A bike make be a necessity. ( the pedal type )  This doesn't include any type of insurance.

  29. I've been out of work for two years and my husband can't work. We are pretty much broke, and everyone is telling me to go work for minimum wage. Even if I did, no, we couldn't survive on that. Maybe if the job included health insurance, but right now I'm paying $260 a month for a bare-bones insurance plan. We rent a house, but the house is cheaper than most apartments around here. No, it's not big enough for roommates. I have no debt–no credit cards, no car loans, no student loans. I guess the big luxury here is cell phones ($75/month) and Internet access ($15/month), which is on a special plan that Verizon offered us and if we let it go, we'll never get the same prices again. We don't eat out. We don't go out to clubs or buy expensive stuff. All our furniture is used (inherited or from the Salvation Army).

    I'm at the end of my rope–I worked my way through college, had a good job for 7 years, and now I'm about to lose it all. Our savings are gone. We have one car and Lord knows when it might need repair. My husband needs a tooth pulled and we can't pay for it. I guess the bare bones health plan will pay for his hospitalization when his mouth gets infected.

    I wish I were dead, to be honest with you. Everything I've worked for…has come to nothing.

    • I'm so sorry to hear that you're going through a hard time. I wish I didn't know that feeling of being so overwhelmed you can't see any hope, but I've been there. It's horrible. It sounds like you and your husband have made good decisions, yet you are still struggling. I wish I could offer some kind of comfort or a promise that things will get better, but I know that's not what would be helpful for you right now. If you need to talk, don't hesitate to email me. Hugs to you!

    • Dear Hopeless,

      I am sorry to hear of your difficult situation. 

      I tried to get a job for several months, but because I had been a stay at home parent to a special needs child had not worked in 11 years, it was very hard to find anyone who would hire me.  Additionally even though I didn't have great work experience, many potential employers considered me over qualified for entry level work because I have my BA and am a few classes short of getting my MA.  With my reduced resources, I am struggling to finish my degree. I aspire to eventually having a higher paying position, but I realize I need to do whatever I can to help make ends meet now.   Please don't despair – the only way you will get out of your situation is if you do something about it, and trust me I know it can be depressing, but you just have to do something every day to help yourself.  One thing I did was put out the word to friends and family that I was looking for work, and would take anything offered, even odd jobs – no matter the pay or type of work.  I believed that it would put a couple of extra dollars in my pocket, but also could provide opportunity to demonstrate my work ethic, because you never know when an opportunity will present itself.  Also, before I got my job I made it a goal to put out at least a dozen contacts a day – either sending out resumes, emails, or calling on job ads – every day, no matter how depressed I was.

      After months of searching I accepted the only job that was even offered to me…a part time position at an amount less than I was hoping to or needing to make. Though I will say that after reading this thread…I have a renewed gratitude for being offered the beginning salary I was rather than minimum wage. Within three months my hours were increased to 35 hours a week, and within  six month period I was promoted to full time with a $2/hr raise with benefits. Although I am still terrified about how to live and support three children on what I make (especially since my ex is not helping financially at this time), I am grateful that I have a job. I truly believe that any job is worth having because it can be an opportunity to build skills, network, develop your work experience and prove yourself – which can lead to higher pay or a better job.  I am a hard worker, reliable, and have an excellent attitude – and go to work everyday with a desire to demonstrate this to my employer.  I am grateful to have my job, and I regularly let my manager and supervisor know this.
       
       I am still working for a wage that many of my friends are horrified by, and my ex husband disparages me for earning, but I know that every little bit helps. I can pay for things like gas and groceries and utilities, and though I am terrified for my future, I guarantee you that I am better off than when I had no income coming in.

      Good Luck

  30. Can't be done, can it? this is why so many choose not to work and receive public assistance. and we put down on them.  I clean houses, and make decent money when I work, but work is slow right now, i keep thinking I will just go get a job so I can at least rely on my income, but minimum wage it is for me for starters. I have had to get food stamps and put my kids on medicaid in the past few months. this is the most humiliating thing I have ever had to do. although I must admit a huge relief when one of the kids gets sick, and as much as I hate pulling out my EBT card at the grocery and hoping noone comes behind me in the line I have to admit it has been awesome to actually be able to buy some groceries,  fruit, yogurt, spices, so many things I couldn't afford to buy before.  Now i can plan a meal instead of saying ok I have $8 today what can I feed the kids tonight with that and will it last to tomorrow too.  I have no health insurance, I applied for medicaid for myself but since I actually work I don't qualify, doesn't matter how little I'm making.  I cannot afford to go to the doctor or buy meds for myself. so I just don't.  I have slowly built mounds of debt trying to keep clothes on the kids, even paying for school supplies, sometimes groceries and household items like toilet paper etc. medical and dental expenses for them before I got them on medicaid, Christmas, everything extra they need it seems. My car is paid for but it needs a couple thousand dollars worth of work, I just keep driving it, praying it keeps going, my septic is backing up and my oldest son has to try to unstop it every couple days, the lid is caving in, I can't afford anyone to come fix it, my bathtub is cracked and the floor underneath rotting, I could go on and on, I work as much as i can and I work hard but I honestly I have no idea how to make enough money to support myself and 3 kids even with child support, I find myself sinking more and more everyday. something's gotta give and soon!

    • Hi, Kirstie. So sorry to hear about your situation, but I feel your pain. I had to go apply for Medicaid awhile back when my son's father got fired from him job, and it was absolutely humiliating. I didn't apply for food stamps even though I would have qualified at the time, simply because of the stigma you mentioned. Do you have any kind of support system – family, friends, church, etc. – that could help you get back on your feet? For what it's worth, my thoughts are with you and I hope things get better. Feel free to email me if you need to talk.

      • Thank you Andrea. Its reassuring to know that many others couldn't make it on so little either. Sometimes you feel like you must be doing something wrong if you just aren't making it. And you think you should be able to make it on a certain amount, but it just doesn't work. Maybe if it was just me, no kids I could predict and control the outgo a little bit better, but it's so much harder with kids as you know. Things weren't so bad a couple years ago, the kids dad owns his own company and the economy has severely affected his business at the same time as my work. before then he helped out with the extras and paid for the kids and my health insurance. it has just slowly gotten worse and at times he doesn't even have money for child support which is why I eventually applied for food stamps. Hopefully the economy will improve, and I can find something that offers a little more consistency. 

  31. Kenny_gwin2002 says:

    The government bases the total house-hold income on 2.They don't care if your single.Everyone can find someone is the way they see it.That is why a person cant make it on min-wage.This is the true reason the government wanted woman to work.Now the household is doubled taxed by 2 working instead of 1 and the min-wage can be less since it based 2 working in a house-hold.. 

    • Kenny_gwin2002 says:

      Now that the light buds coming on,you know you need to make at least 14.50hr or make 580 week to live single

  32. I live off of less than what someone would make on minimum wage in a month, in a state with much higher rent and living expenses. $725 a month and I have three kids, but you know this, you've been to my blog.
    It's hard. Really hard. I'm not even sure how I manage it at times. That's why I get so frustrated when I see articles and/or news reports talking about welfare recipients as if people in need, living WELL below poverty are leeching off the system and getting "free" money that (barely) helps them to survive. It's sickening.

  33. Just making it says:

    I am a 30 year-old divorced woman, I work a minimum wage job at 7.25/hr. I also attend college full-time (Lots of Student Loans and a lucky Pell grant). I have 2 serious medical conditions, Hyperthyroidism and Poorly-healed injuries sustained by getting hit by a drunken driver when I was younger. I am lucky if I am able to get 22-30hrs a week of work. I take as many extra hours as they will let me. I live in a neighbor hood where you stay inside after dark because that is all I can afford. My rent is 650 a month, electric is 50, gas 70, water is 70, internet is 60 (I do not have cable), Cell is 120, Car insurance is 70, daily medications 80, food 400/shared by 3 adults, Auto gas about 80. That is 1650 a month. I make barley 650 before state taxes. I also sew costumes for local groups, which brings me about 50-200 extra a month, but this varies.

    The only way that I can live with a roof over my head and food on a table is through a small community of friends. My best friend Matt and my Fiance Ryan both live with me. We split the bills 1/3. They both work, Matt full time at 8.25/hr and Ryan 20 hrs a week at 7.25 (They had hired more high-school kids and cut his hours, but he just landed a full time $10+/hr job at a factory today!!!!) Both have College degrees in good fields (not something silly like basket-weaving) but the fields are not hiring because of the economy, both are paying back student loans. It is hard but we make it. None of us are on any form of assistance except for a plan from the Gas company to spread out high winter bills over the summer months, Helps so much!!

    Our communal friends are all in the same situation and the three of us are considered to be the most "Well Off" We know what sacrifices we have to make to survive. We eat once or twice a day, I cook the meals, they clean the dishes. Meals are filling, as healthy as we can make them, and makes large quantities. We do not have soda, chips, or large amount of junk food (well we do have a tiny chocolate stash to make old-fashion hot coco but not candy bar chocolate) We do not go out to bars, actually none of us really drink, we shop for all of our items and food at discount and thrift stores. Every now and then one of us will get a little extra cash and we will eat out or order in from a average place or we will all go to to the movies. If cash gets tight we pawn any dvds, or electronics then buy them back when we are able to and cut back on food and make every drop of gas count and walk it if we can.

    We only drive to school, work, and the stores, Ryan dose not have a car, he found both jobs within walking distance and Matt's car is a inherited 1980's banger LOL. We love it. I drive a economical paid-off car I have been paying on from 2004 to 2011. We have been living in a small 2 bedroom row house where I have been asking the landlord to repair a few key items for 2 yrs (broken toilet,half my sink is rusted out and pours on the floor if any liquid goes down it, living room ceiling leaks, Shower is in the basement with no heat. (Horrible in winter.) and Cabinets falling off walls just to start. I have shed many frustrated tears in this house. I had to purchase a stove and funded all of the repairs to needed to keep this place livable. Sigh, I have had my house broken into four times and my car twice in two years. We conserve energy and bundle up before turning up the heat. It is rarely over 65 in our house. We take lukewarm quick showers and do laundry when we can afford it (basically every two weeks) Almost every pipe leaks in this house and the ceiling has fallen twice I have paid for repairs as we can afford them. But we keep trucking on. 

    We have loads of fun playing board and dice games together, we exercise together (all of us are trained fencers, and many of us have sports backgrounds) We get involved with community events and find the most random adventures. I love sewing for the local theater group and playing music with my friends and hosting our 1 bill, 1 pot parties (everyone puts in at least 1 bill of money (1,5,10) and we make something in the pot with how much money everyone throws in LOL, dorky I know) Yes it is hard and life stresses us out. Money is a constant worry and one deviation from our routines or a surprise fee can shake us to the core. But we keep going.

    This is why we have never given up. This is why we make our sacrifices. It will always get better.

    I was finally, after 5 yrs of trying, able to secure a 20,000 loan for a home. I found a HUD owned – foreclosed duplex (2bdrm, 1 bath, basement, kitchen, living-room and finished attic on each side) for under that, in a really nice middle class neighborhood within a 30 min walk for Ryan for work and still close to Matt's and my work. It had been remodeled recently and had a few tiny repairs (all affordable) needed, I got a accepted bid 3 days after it hit the market.  I think I burned up all my luck points on that one. My new mortgage is 150 a month. Add in insurance and Taxes = 210.00 a month.

     Matt is going to rent one side of the duplex for 200 a month, with one of his closest friends, and will cover his own bills, save the net and cell plan (we all share and are on a family plan) Ryan and I will cover the mortgage with Matt's rent, and our own bills, as well as the trash, maintenance/repair of both properties and yard, and any modifaction and remodling done to the properties.

    Yes. we worry about money. Yes. we don't like having to look over our shoulder with fears of an attack by a Rouge bill or wonder if we can afford to eat that day and what. But at least things are getting a little easier. That is why we haven't given up and have trucked on. Life likes to pour Lemon-aid in our eyes, but we laugh it off knowing that we are in it together and that we have people who will fight for a better life with us. Living this way has taught me what is truly important in life. I am broke but I still have a smile on my face.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story. I know many people who are struggling in much the same way right now and it infuriates me to see people stereotype them as lazy. It sounds like you guys are working harder than anyone I know, ESPECIALLY those with high incomes. I am so glad you're able to find happiness amidst your tough circumstances and I hope things continue to improve. If I can ever help in any way, please don't hesitate to give me a yell.

    • Congratulations on buying your home. Now it is time to get your financial house in order. Renting one side to your friend for $200 month seems too cheap. Make it be whatever you would charge a stranger.Offer your friends the opportunity to be your borders for another year.the living room can have a futon, or 2 single beds in the other bedroom.

      In general:

      Here is how you can live for free, and save up for a house deposit, or pay off an existing house. If renting, you are the one on the lease.Any boarders/roommates are your responsibility.Charge them fair market rent.

      For example, you rent a 4 bedroom house/apt.Rent is $800 month + utilities.

      You charge each tenant $450 month and you pay the bills. They supply their own food. They clean up after themselves, but you still clean kitchen/bathroom floors, counters etc.You also supply toilet paper.

      You are now living for free, and making a bit of a profit.Save the money you would have paid for rent, and the profit for a house deposit, or make extra payments on your mortgage (if this is your house, you are renting out rooms)

      Make sure you have written rules for the house. What is required of them.When rent is due.Concerning visitors. Times for watching tv in the livingroom, if at all.

  34. I just wanted to say that as a mother of five, my husband and I have fought back to back through this depression  OOPS. I mean "recession".  Before my husbands company was moved out of the country, and I was laid off we were a regular middle class family albeit a large one.  We have always lived within our means and frugally.  We rent, and save money to build our home on our little piece of property we bought together someday.  We already know the mortgage game, and refuse to go into debt over a house that will never be ours.  
    An eye opening experience was when we couldn't afford rent, food, utilities, or any other basics, and had every single social service we encountered close the door in our faces siting they didn't have funds, or there was no availability.  We even had one of the "social service" agents send Child Protection to us because we were too "poor" to properly take care of our children.  I applied at several factories in my area for third shift work, but they wouldn't hire me.  (It paid $12.00 an hour)  I had to settle for an overnight job in Wal-Mart out of desperation.  (I worked nights, my husband worked days).  The main thing here that people don't understand is that it is government policy that creates these issues.  We have five children, so IF we weren't able to pay our rent, and got evicted (thank goodness that didn't happen) We would have to find another rental with FOUR bedrooms.  ($$$$$!!!!!)  We all know what caused the outsourcing of American factories, and although we both have college educations (which we are both still paying for), we can't put our skills to good use and start up a business of our own because we simply can't afford all of the government fees, licenses etc.  
    On top of everything, although we were very grateful for the EITC (we could catch up on all of our bills, and prevent a disconnection or two), we were audited by the IRS because apparently they don't believe we could survive on our wages.  The whole system needs an overhaul, and our congress needs to start working for US.  Sorry for the rant, but so many people are pointing the finger at the "illegals", or the "free-loaders", or the "rich" and nobody seems to really see that it is our failing republic that is responsible for our standard of living dropping to third world levels.

    • Wow, thanks so much for sharing your story. I agree that the system is broken. As long as our leaders are able to make the choices that benefit THEM most instead of the people they represent, I think things will continue to go downhill. I'm not sure what it will take for things to change. I definitely hope your situation has improved and I'm sorry for the difficulty you've dealt with.

  35. Rent: $300 (One Roommate to split)Utilities: $50 (with a roommate. We keep our house at 64 in winter and 75 at summer, we only heat/cool one room at a time, usually bedroom during night or living room during weekends. We take quick showers. We tend not to use any lights and read outdoors/use the computer at the library)Food: $120 ($30 a week, I also pursue bodybuilding. The key is to buy in bulk. Potatoes are dirt cheap where I live for example. I buy a 50 lb bag every now and then for the bulk of my food)Phone: $10 (only use the phone for work or emergencies)Internet: $20Pets: $50Car insurance: $0 (Walk everywhere I go)Gas: $0 (walk)Health Insurance: $150 (High deductible. With the walking and eating cheap produce, staying in shape is important to reduce costs. Averages around $100 a month for insurance, an extra 50 on average per month for doctor visits, eye exams etc)TOTAL: $700 average
    I could possibly cut out pets and internet. I could get by on $20 a week on food if I wasn't into sports and such. I could possibly live on $590 a month
    I average $15000 a year on minimum wage. (7.25, with tax refunds and working 40 hours a week on average) I have $6000 a year left, which I spend on a combination of retirement and investments which helps me bring in additional income. I'm currently looking into food stamps to help with my bills, so I can save more for retirement or even a down payment for a cheap piece of property if things keep working out.

    I'm also looking into selling old junk on ebay, and visiting flea markets on weekends to make additional income. It takes a lot more planning and frugal living, but it's not all that bad. Most people don't have the discipline. I didn't grow up with a lot myself, so I guess I was used to it.
     

    • Thanks so much for sharing! I'm glad to see that it's possible to make it on minimum wage in some areas of the country. It sounds like you've had to make some difficult choices, and I also notice you don't have debt payments. Good for you! I'm sure things aren't fabulous but it sounds like you're doing a great job. Thanks again for visiting!

  36. Christopher says:

    Thank you for posting this. For the last week I have been writing a list of necessary expenses and the near impossibility of living a half decent life on a $1000/month budget to copy and send to state officials just for any feedback and recognition. I have been living on my own since I was 14 and had to live a not so proud life in order to survive. Needless to say I was incarcerated at 17 and when I was released at 21 I could finally join the work force because I honestly had no desire for the lifestyle I had to live. With the only things on my resume being a GED and a criminal background my work options are very, very limited and the pay is always small. To be honest though it was easy to live under those conditions in the early 2000's, I had a selection of cheap apartments in "bad" parts of town that could go as low as $150/month rent for 2 bedrooms and without a/c the utilities would usually amount to maybe as high as $150 all together when the weather demanded use of cooling or heating. That left plenty of play room for cable/internet and car necessities. Whenever times got a little rough I could donate plasma for ~$200 a month and Im also handy with cars and working on houses so I coul also take an odd job here or there.

    But at some point that all came to a screeching halt. Now the cheapest studio apt in town is $450 a month in the "gun shot" district and with the gas crisis you can kiss about $400 to $500 away just on gas and utilities. Now I stay with 3 other roommates and although one of them is my best friend I'm miserable and unmotivated. Maybe it's my character flaw but I just can't function right and I get easily frustrated when I'm constantly surrounded with other people. I want to get a small place to myself again but even after I come out from the debt I accumulated when trying to hold on to my old place I look at what is available and I just don't see it working.

    Thank you again for pointing this problem out and it has further motivated me to complete my letter and maybe, somehow, find out why it is that realtors have been deregulated.

    • Wow, Christopher, sorry to hear about your situation. I have a friend with a criminal background and I've watched her struggle for years to find a job where the paycheck was even worth it. Thank you for sharing your story, and I sincerely hope things get better for you soon. I wish I could help!

  37. I lived on minimum wage and sometimes less for years. Some of that was during college, but college was a long time. I have 3 degrees (required for the work I do). I'll never get rich, but I now make enough, with a bit of care, to support the 2 of us in my family. My husband moved repeatedly for my career, & when the economy crashed, he wasn't able to get new work, so he created his own business. So far it's not really profitable, but it's been growing. In any case, for years, I lived on on minimum wage or less. How? I combined things. I got some jobs like watching a shop that was quiet, so I had time to either read textbooks or do other piecework. In grad school, I marked correspondence papers for $5 apiece; I could mark at other jobs. My husband marked while doing security guard work. I worked in the library – and got to know resources that made doing papers faster. I worked as a film/video projectionist for classes, & got paid to show films for my own film history elective. I showed films for campus film nights – free entertainment. I worked as a night dispatcher, and when there were quiet shifts, I read or graded papers. I reduced expenses. I lived with a boyfriend in co-op housing where rents were cheap because tenants did maintenance. In exchange for plastering, we had a 1 bdrm apt (incl utilities except phone) for $270/month, when other local apartments were going for $500/month. My share was $135/month. Parking was free. We didn't own a TV, & used campus computers. I had a car, so I paid for insurance, but I didn't use much gas – my jobs were close. I took one-off jobs – the campus bookstore hired extra help for beginning of term rush. I answered ads for psychology surveys, for $5-$25. I got a waitress job at a pizza & pasta place that allowed employees working over 5 hours to have a free lunch, & that threw out leftover pizza and pasta from the buffet – so they let me take that stuff home. Sometimes there were pizza 'mistakes' and staff was allowed to eat it rather than throwing it out. For the time I worked there, we ate leftover pizza, pasta, & salad bar 4 days/week. Our campus had fruit trees – I asked if I could pick and eat the fruit, and got that free too. I worked one Saturday/month at a food co-op & got a 10% discount on their food. There was a local farmer's market, and if you went around closing, everything was reduced. I bought meat and cheese ends and haunted reduced/bruised/damaged/dented bins. Clothes came mostly from thrift stores. When we moved to other cities for grad school, I still lived this way. I had scholarships that covered tuition & books, and ultimately graduated with 3 degrees, without ever having so much as filled out a loan application or asked for a penny from family or anyone else. I worked and went to school; that was it. I have never had a ton of money, and never will, so we still do a lot of penny-pinching. I don't own a car now; I live in Brooklyn, NY, and it's expensive, so I rely on public transit & Zipcars. We don't go on vacations. We rarely eat out. We get a lot of entertainment for free – he writes reviews, and my hobby, photography, gets me the occasional photo pass. We live in a tiny, winterized former fishing cottage, and I'm hoping to pay off the mortgage before I retire, maybe in 20 years. If I can do that, I'll be happy. So we still live mostly as we always did – in a more expensive city, but with my work, that's a necessity. I couldn't live in NYC on minimum wage, but the skills and habits I learned when I did so really help.

    • Wow, thanks so much for sharing your tips and tricks, Rosa! Many of them were foreign to me since I live in a rural area – for example, I've always had to drive at least 100 miles round trip for work – but I'm sure anyone reading who lives in a city could take a lot of lessons from your book! It's obvious that you've worked very hard your whole life, and I hope that pays off for you in a big way. Your story is very inspiring and I'm so glad you posted it here. :)

  38. Tony Locke says:

    Something I don't understand: if you only are able to qualify for a minimum wage job, what business do you have running a household with children? People who only earn minimum wage shouldn't have three children to support. They shouldn't have one. I'm not trying to seem heartless, but having children before you're ready is an express ticket to poverty. Are we ever permitted to examine the life choices of these people and evaluate if their situation is self inflicted?

    • Kristen says:

      I have a job that makes $1.75 more than minimum wage and i have a child. Why did I "choose" to do such a thing? My husband, abandoned my daughter and I 2 weeks after she was born. Prior to that I was a nursing student with a part-time minimum wage job. i didn't plan on a divorce & I was close to finishing my degree, so I wasn't worried about building an extensive resume outside of my field. I've since had to stop my degree and get a job (sometimes 2) to support my child alone. I didn't chose to struggle. Every low-wage earner that has children is not some self centered idiot. I could try to hold out for a higher paying job, but where does that leve my child? A responsible & sensible adult would not plan to be a poverty stricken parent, but sometimes life just happens & those are the cards you're dealt

    • I was engaged, and a month before the wedding my fiance kicked my dog in the face. I called it off, and a week later found out I was pregnant. We tried to make it work (after all, we had been together for 7 years) but his violence escalated during my pregnancy and at 8 months along he tried to suffocate me with a pillow while I lay in bed crying. Two weeks later, I fled out of state to stay with family (which is another yet different kind of miserable situation that I am trying to work my way out of). So did I choose to struggle? I sure as hell didn't see all this coming, and I'm not sure how I could. But I am working my tail off to get out of it, working 16-32 hours a week, taking classes part time through community college online. Just hoping there will be a light at the end of the tunnel soon and thankful that my son and I have been fairly healthy.

  39. There is no chance I could make it on minimum wage, it's crazy. Although you have to think about section 8 housing, which would cut out rent, and in NY, a minimum wage job would probably cover medicaid and food stamps to a lot more than $180, probably in the $300's, so it would make it a little easier.

  40. I would not have a kid if i cant afford it. most people do not think before they have kids if they can do it or not.

  41. Actually you can qualify for Medicaid. I'm considered "able bodied" (nevermind a bad back and a bum leg- the gov't doesn't know about those), and on Medicaid at the moment.
    We're also living on my job, $10 an hour. About $900 a month on a good month. Plus food stamps. We're managing… just.

  42. Bridget says:

    This is really cool. I've often wondered myself how my family and I make it through each month lol. Seriously, it's very difficult. Right now we are still learning about all these programs we never even knew existed. We're not new to being poor; we've been poor for years, but these programs aren't exactly advertised. Most of them I had no idea even existed, much less whether we qualified for them. Our monthly take home is around $1750, so I don't have it as bad as the woman in the article, but I also have a 3 person family, with a child that will not stop growing, no matter how much I plead with her. After rent (we've been on a Section 8 waiting list forever now; I feel like we'll never get our first voucher) which is $550, gas bill, water bill, sewage (ever 3 months), electric bill, shampoo, toilet paper, feminine products, etc, we still have to buy groceries that our whopping $102 per month of food stamps doesn't cover. Why do I have the internet you ask? Because I homeschool my daughter (yep, no free school lunches). Maybe it'd be easier and cheaper to put her back in public school, but I've seen the system at work here, and I want my daughter to have a chance at college. Ah, I guess what I'm saying is, we struggle. A lot. I honestly have no idea how we even make it, or our neighbors who live in this ghetto here with us. I know that I donate plasma when I can, I do my best to find things to sell. That's the best part of it all; once in a while if we ever DO have the money to get something nice, a few months down the road we end up having to sell it because we can't afford the spike in the gas bill or something similar. We go to the mission (no car, take the bus) when we can for a free lunch. It's all just so frustrating and infuriating.

  43. There was a writer who did a study on it and you can't possibly survive on minimum wage. The book is Nickel and Dimed.
    Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is a book written by Barbara Ehrenreich. Written from the perspective of the undercover journalist, it sets out to investigate the impact of the 1996 welfare reform act on the "working poor" in the United States .http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel_and_Dimed
    "Too lazy to work" and "a job will defeat poverty" are ideals held by traditionalists. Suggesting problems with the argument, Ehrenreich investigates many of the difficulties low wage workers face, including the "hidden costs" involved in such necessities as shelter; the poor often have to spend much more on daily hotel costs than they would pay to rent an apartment if they could afford the security deposit and first-and-last month fees) and food (e.g., the poor have to buy food that is both more expensive and less healthy than they would if they had access to refrigeration and appliances needed to cook).

  44. Katrina says:

    It is very VERY hard living on even a job slightly above minimum wage. I am a Married mother of 4 but my husband is currently unemployed. I make 7.99 an hour at a job I’ve been working at 5 years!! I saw someone mentioned about the cash assistance thing. I applied for the one time payment about 2 years back..I figured I could use the money to help me catch up on some bills. I got denied because they said I made to much money. Hah! I have no bills other than the necessary ones. Rent, Electric, Water, phone & Gas to get to work. Also, I have vision, dental & 401k come out of my check (about $130 a month) My cars are payed off & as of last month I no longer have car insurance. I barely scrape by every month. I honestly don’t know how I do it.

  45. debtfreeclub says:

    I make $1100/mo after taxes. I live at home so pay minimal household fees ($225/mo), but I'm also a single mom in debt with low credit who is trying to find a home. I feel for people making low wages, because I am one of them. Most months I have to skip a bill or use a credit card instead of saving or paying off debt. My savings right now are at about $3.00. Yes, THREE DOLLARS. basically if something happens to my daughter, I'm screwed. And I put my pride aside and asked for help (food stamps) and was told I made too much. I have a college degree. I'm not stupid. At one point I was working three jobs. I'm a hard worker. I'm just tired of working so hard for little to no pay off. I'm glad to have read this post. I wish everyone the very best of luck.

  46. Poor to Rich says:

    We are a family of 6 living on a one income minimum wage right now, for $1,000 my adult daughter is on disability but contributes $200 a month for rent and I do recieve $300 a month for child support (apparantly about to stop for awhile as he is getting permantly laid off) __So $1500 a month without any food stamps or government assistance. It is hard but it can be done and we spend right an average of $250 a month to $300 a month on fairly healthy food. We do have a car payment of $180, heating cost of $100 a month and a low electric bill of $40 a month. We also of course have phone and internet but keep things pretty basic and frugal. Our rent is the largest bite at $475 a month as we target small rural areas for cheaper housing and it is small, but shelters from the weather and gives a comfy place to sleep at night. __We don't let failure be an option and figure out how to live within our income and just make it work (for the most part)

  47. I worked for a high end clothing store for almost a year and was paid minimum wage. I used this money mostly towards my car that I had purchased the year before and the insurance. However, I was living at home at the time and my parents refused to let me pay rent. I guess I should consider myself lucky. I don't think I could support an entire household on minimum wage but people have done it, so it is doable. I admire and applaud them because obviously it is not an easy thing to do.

  48. punkie529 says:

    Before I got married, I lived off $12,000 a yr. Student loans, child support, and a part time, temporary job. (The college book store, during their busy times.) First thing I did was buy a 15 yr old car, which took me down to $10,500 for the year. Luckily, it got great gas mileage.

    Monthly-
    $400 for rent, I was insanely lucky and it included utilities.
    $35 for car insurance (thank you for not getting caught all those times speeding in my teens!)
    $120 for food. We ate a lot of ramen noodles.
    $75 for phone

    Stash a little for an emergency, and the rest mainly went to gas for the car. I remember crying when my boyfriend at the time opened the cabinets and they were empty because it was Thursday night and I didn't get paid until Friday. I remember being completely humiliated (but even more in love) when he went out that night and bought $300 worth of food for the kids and I.

    I don't know how other people can do it, I was insanely lucky, like I said, on the rent and the car insurance. I was also lucky in that I never allowed myself to get into any debt besides student loans.

  49. Sierra Carlson says:

    I lived like this in college, and then during several years of my marriage. I know how to live on a survivalist income. We lived in gunshot neighborhood, ate potatoes and ramen noodles. We would buy one pound of ground smushed turkey and make casserole that would last the two of us two days. Everything was rationed. Only if it's brown do we flush it down mentality. I often wore gloves with the fingertips cut off (not the fancy ones they sell in the stores these days either) to do my typing because we kept the house so cold in the winter. Then after ten years of marriage and saving money we had one child. We both worked full time, on separate shifts to avoid childcare and had mortgage on a house that was two miles from our last one where people were accidentally killed by gun crossfire more than I care to remember. Even though we were making decent money and had health insurance through jobs we lived frugally. No vacations, no alcohol, no cable, etc. Health Insurance was our number one priority because we both had bouts with life threatening diseases that meant medication for life and frequent dr. appts. Because we were both hit with this young in life we were never able to obtain any type of life insurance. We had learned the hard way when to save money we did not have car insurance. One winter storm later we lost a car valued at 4000 and had to pay for another one on top of that as well as paying for the car of the person my husband hit. We learned that it does not pay to scrimp on certain things. We never had student loan debt or credit card payments. We would certainly never buy anything unless we had the cash for it and everything was budgeted. So then into my 40's, the recession hits, we lose jobs, health insurance, and house is underwater. Then my husband dies of cancer. I am on my own with a teenage girl. I lived several good years because of social security death benefit payments. But due to my daughter's sudden health issues I was unable to work full time. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Thankfully she is still alive. We live on 900.00 a month and free health insurance that covers everything. So right now we are doing fine. If I work to make more money I lose the health benefits so we are stuck with this. Yet soon she will be 18 and we are both out of health insurance then. We both have potentially fatal conditions that require expensive medical testing. What will I do without health insurance I do not know. I pray that I will be able to obtain employment that will offer insurance even if I use my whole paycheck on it. I can go to food pantry and we have a local homeless shelter in town that provides free shower and once a week use of the laundry machines.

    My point was that no matter how much one tries to do the right thing, doesn't use credit, saves money, and live very frugally, life can still kick you in the rear.

  50. I do it. But very differently. I make about $1,500 a month but save $1,000 per month for a second house. I'm 30 years old. No kids. My house is paid off, property tax is $2,500 per year. My car is paid off, student loans paid off. Bills are as follows:
    Rent/Mortgage $0
    Phone: $30-share a family plan with a friend.
    Internet/Cable: $72/month.
    Gas and Electric $20/month (I dont' use much)
    Food $100/month-this is easy shopping at Grocery Outlet and growing a garden, making beef jerky & bread at home, etc. This includes dog food for my two dogs
    Car Insurance $40/month
    Water $10-$15/month
    That's all my expenses. When I do shop for clothes, i do it at Thrift Stores, and Gifts are always Gift Cards from redeeming my credit card points each year. No money to spend on gifts.
    That's it. Easy Peasy.
    I have medical and dental through my job though and do my own oil changes on my car.

  51. Having a college degree doesn't mean you won't be working minimum wage. My husband and I both have college degrees, and after you factor in the cost of child care- we both are making minimum wage- barely surviving to support our family of 6 after he lost a decent job that at least covered the bills. It's like a trap- it's nearly impossible to get out of poverty. It takes all of your energy just to survive day to day- I don't even want tot think about the interest our student loans are racking up because we've had to put them on deferment, because we have all we can do to be able to afford to do the laundry and put food on the table and afford basic needs like toilet paper etc…

  52. Frugal by choice says:

    Fortunately I'm not in this boat at this time but in my line of work (finances), I try to help people figure out how to make ends meet. It's really hard to budget for a family on only one low paying income. Some things I've found that seem to make a big difference is the ability to determine the difference between "real" needs and wants and being able to control one's self and only getting the needs. Another BIG factor is "creativity" in everything (finding ways to get things cheaply or free). Most families throw out enough food and clothes to feed and clothe one or two people. If they knew someone needed it and would eat it they would gladly give it to them. Maybe you could mow their yard or rake their leaves for their leftovers? Buying things 2nd hand and selling on ebay are ways to save and make money. If you are eligible for assistance, apply for it. Outlet grocery stores with bent cans can save you money if there is one around. Being willing to do what's necessary, determination, and finding ways to make and save even small amounts is key. Above all make and live on a budget. Know where every penny comes from and goes. Save and invest (in things that make you more money). Finding someone that will mentor you can help you find ways out of this kind of situation. Networking, having as many people helping you look for jobs and solutions can help. The main thing is creativity and finding ways to make it work.

  53. My husband makes 10.00. So while that is not minimum wage it is close. I am currently in school so he is the only earner in our household. Let me assure you that living on this piddly amount of money SUCKS! My husband has severe ADHD that is not very responsive to meds. He tried to go to school but was unable to focus on his school work. He is not capable of keeping a job and when he does have one he makes very little. We have 2 kids and every payday we are always very short. Often it is do to my husbands impulsive purchases.We do get foodstamps and the kids are on Medicaid. I can't wait until I'm out of school and hopefully will have a good job. Wish someone could have shown me the future before I married him. :(

  54. The most important thing I did when I was making minimum wage was to have a plan for NOT making minimum wage anymore. Sitting at home nights watching Survivor is NOT going to improve your life, but learning a new skill WILL.

  55. I am one of the people with severe learning disabilities…thank goodness for spell check… anyways, I was never able to get my ged, i went back 5 times and failed all 5. I have severe asthma, and my meds cost through the roof… i only make 600 a month… i make it, but barely… if there was a way to make more money i would be doing it. I guess only time will tell, but i understand now, why there is people selling drugs.

  56. I am a disabled American. I get 800 dollars a month pay all my bills(rent, gas, electric, insurance, gas for my car, my cell and my daughter's cell) + go to college full time. If I can do it, ANYONE can.

  57. Been there and done that… And I have two kids. I get very little child support and I make over min wages (here in illinois its $8.50 i make a wopping $9.75) barely… Here is a break down of my bills for reference
    Income from work $1300 child support $280 on a good month $450 (its rarely a good month)
    Bills
    Rent $450 includes water
    Electric $120 winter $50 summer (i only have one window ac unit)
    Credit cards min $120
    Insurance $60
    Cell phone $50
    Daycare $90 (i get assistance from the state)
    Total $990
    This is before food gas pull ups etc. I could get food stamps and have before but it hurts my pride too much so id rather look for sales and suck it up. So after the bills above are paid I have about $610 give or take. It usually tight but i manage. I should also mention I have $50 taken from my ck to automatically go into my savings and 3% to my 401k and my ymca membetship $12 a paycheck. For extra money I work any overtime as it becomes available. I buy secondhand name brand everything. I buy sell things online i recently found a pair of nice boots at a thrift store for $4 and resold them for $20 online it took very little effort. I resell all my kids old clothes and shoes. I buy seasons ahead when i find stuff 90% off same for most other things. My son starts school for the first time next year and ive already bought his stuff brand new back in september so when everyone else is buying their kids $30 bookbags my son will already havr his retailed for $40 i bought for $3.99. You can do it if you really try.

  58. The minimum wage had made achieving goals and life very frustrating. I am 24 years old, work a minimum wage job and cannot financially support myself due to the low pay. Therefore I must live with relatives or be on the street. I am a American Citizen yet the pay i’m getting by paycheck is like a low-wage bum or an alien. Pennies on the dollar.

    I have been working for nearly 7 years and not once have gotten any promotions or upgrades despite my good work ethnics. I’ve hinted for advancement and extra job hours but the company is set in the job position I have ontop of not opening any jobs I can work that don’t require degrees. I have searched for other jobs for the past 7 years, and have gotten nowhere. Even applying to crappy jobs like washing tables resulted in nothing.

    It is DUE to my low-wage paying non-benefit minimum job that I cannot advance in life. I cannot afford a apartment or car due to the minimum wage. I feel stuck, I feel trapped and it is downright EMBARRASSING to me that I cannot afford my own place or a car, while other people my age can and have. I wish I could go to college but the expense is so high the system locks potential students like me out.

    I have gone to those job work-shops, I have gone to those job-fairs. Nothing. All they do is give a little advice on how to fill resumes and that’s it. No actual real job connections, no real networking. I’m literally taking the small amount of money I have and trying to save it back while paying for a bill or two. Again, it is like saving pennies on the dollar.

    It’s downright disgusting, and I despise how the American Job System is locking and cheating people like me out. Those who have did well in high-school and graduated only to come out in a no-job degree-only world. The only way to go to school is by debt, and it’s a debt that I would be enslaved to because of the pay.

    I want to advance in life, I want to get a better job. I want a degree. But it is VERY hard when making so little ontop of relatives who are financially burden themselves. Ontop of being a minority it makes things very difficult.

  59. I'd never be able to make in on minimum wage… The numbers just don't work out. It's really an American tragedy. I'd recommend "NIckel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich. She took on living at minimum wage as a project and failed miserably 3 times in a row. The math just doesn't work out.

  60. My aunt and uncle both make minimum wage and are able to save around $500 a month doing this. I'll ask them the details of their budget and post it on my blog after they okay it.

  61. Here are the details of my aunt & uncle's budget. http://www.chubblywubbly.com/saving-money-while-e

  62. I survived for a few years on minimum wage, but all I had to support was myself. I even had a surplus to waste on cars and stuff, but looking back on things, it wasn't the wisest of decisions, and I could have managed the money better.

    To be fair, my actual hourly wage was above minimum as just about any job used to pay above minimum back then (the minimum wage has shot up a lot recently so I don't know if that's still true), aside from stuff like dishwasher, but as I lived in a big city, I had the benefit of choosing from other "low skill" jobs that nonetheless paid at least a few dollars an hour better than minimum wage; the last time I was truly at the minimum wage was when I was 16, doing summer jobs. Since I was doing university at the same time and only working 20 hrs a week or so, my yearly was probably around minimum wage.

  63. Change Perspectives says:

    What people seem to not understand is that minimum wage is all about setting the lowest value that 1 hour of work is worth. It it not deemed the amount you need to live on. When a child / young adult gets their first entry-level job (Fast food service, for example), this amount determines how valuable their time is. As you improve your employment portfolio with experience and education, the value of your time goes up, and you progress into better paying positions, which in turn, become enough to sustain a household comfortably. The problem the world is facing now is over-population, so we can not use my model above, there are not enough jobs at the proper pay-scales to employ enough people this way.

  64. Giselle says:

    Pre-motherhood I had all the time in the world to work as many as as 3 part-time jobs while, luckily, going to college. I took out loans and overspent now owe $30,000+ in student loans alone. I was top of my class but chose to stay in my small hometown to be near family. For the last 5 years I have either been a stay at (my parent's) home mom or worked part time for very close to minimum wage, with a BA! I'm far from satisfied with my finances right now.

    If you are struggling financially there are many programs available that can help.
    Food stamps, medicaid, cash assistance called FIP (I was told that "welfare" does not exist anymore but FIP, Family Investment Program, does) which is cash assistance for up to 60 months, child care assistance and WIC which are all on the same application through DHS in IA anyhow. FIP reimbursed me for my gas for commuting to finish up my BA, I believe they will pay for gas for a job seeker too. FIP also made a one time payment for car repairs up to $1000, this was not an advertised benefit, I was lucky enough to be working with a woman who asked how my tires were.

    There are also food pantries, thrift stores, the free section of Craig's list, the cell phone program (I believe it's called Assurant Wireless). Then like others have said there are income based housing options and section 8 vouchers (which cannot be combined). And in my area anyway there is heating assistance that provides a one time/year $ amount so it will last as long as you can make it. Many energy companies will also provide free energy audits to the homeowner, if you're lucky enough to own, or your landlord will participate.

    Also, you can get help with finding a job or leaning job skills from the Workforce Development. It is either the Workforce or Promise Jobs that occasionally send me voicemail & emails about upcoming job fairs and job openings in my area. Although, I have yet to hear about a job that requires a BA.

    With all of the financial help, leaving a minimum wage job can be devastating. Last year I took a better job going from $8.50 35 hours/wk to $15.35 and 40 hours. All I had to do was drive 45 minutes each way. Driving cost me $400+/ mo in gas, I lost all food stamps which was roughly $200/mo, lost the day care assistance I don"t even know how much that was but I had to find a new sitter ($250/mo) because of the different hours, my son lost Medicaid but there is some program that covers kids for $10/mo (Hawk-i in IA, probably similar programs in other states).

    I couldn't afford to work out of town for $15.35, I went back to $8.50, very depressing.

    So over the last year I cut back even more on bills that I thought were necessary. I cancelled life insurance saving $70/mo, moved back in with my parents saving rent, utilities internet and babysitting which amounts to about $450. Last week my fiancee and I switched our car insurance from AmFam to Esurance and saved 50%!!

    Do not overlook the power of making a call and saying, "I can't afford this." Almost everyone you owe money to will be willing to work with you to find something more affordable. My student loans are also on an Income Based Repayment Plan (IBR), I "repay" $0/mo right now and my family of 3 qualified for this while my income was $32,000/yr!

    I highly recommend writing everything down that you spend money on and closely examining each item.

  65. Been there, doing it. I work 7 days a week for close to minimum wage. 56 hours. My rent payment is $1025. (NJ is expensive!) I don't use heat in the winter or A/C in the summer. (I can't afford to)
    I walk or cycle to work. 6 miles one way.
    I use a prepaid phone. I steam rice, vegetables and chicken and eat them with some butter and salt twice a day. I spoil myself with bananas a couple times a week.
    I can't afford cable. Internet $25 a month.
    No health insurance. (Luckily, I don't get sick!)

    In the end I still manage to save at least $100.

  66. A single guy can easily live on $10,000/yr with a roommate. My mortgage for my small $80,000 house is $600 per month but I only pay $300 thanks to my roommate or tenant. My total mortgage is $300 X 12 months = $3,600 per year.

  67. Who pays $400 a month in rent in New York City?

  68. The_Grey_One says:

    Why aren't we "the people" talking about how fucked up this is more publicly!? Why do we remain scared when we could get mad instead!? And we have every right to get pissed off! For one of the wealthiest nations on the planet to leave millions of its loyal citizens unemployed or living below the poverty-line is beyond exploitation, it's a war on the middle class which will not be here for your grandchildren, nor will an affordable college education exist (we see this happening already with exorbitant amounts of student loans piling high above the ceiling), retirement is a joke when we'll have to keep working until 65 or 70 years of age and then have no money left over for medical expenses or to leave your family (or even raise one for that matter). Weather you want to admit it or not, the middle class is going bye bye and we'll all be the poor soon enough… I'm almost considering leaving the country because of the rate of inflation vs rate of wage/salary adjustment…. bring back the 99% (we at least had there attention then, just didn't solidify the message plainly)!

  69. Were can I find a 1 OR 2 bedroom in NYC for $900 a month. please help. My two kids and I been in the shelter for 4years trying to find housings. There not excepting no more sec8 or housing applications. The city does not have any more programs that is willing to help low income paying families. I'm working and so is my fieance so splitting the bills won't be a problem. A struggle Yes but a problem no.Living with public assistance and working minimum wage with two kids n the help of my love isn't as bad. I thank God for my blessings everyday cause someone somewere out there got it 10 times worst then we do.

  70. Okay, so this is an old post, but I want to comment anyway. I haven't made minimum wage in several years, but when I was in college I made close to it; plus, I only worked 15-18 hours per week, so yeah. You might say I was privileged to be in college, so maybe my story doesn't count, but here's how I did it:

    I did not expect to have money to do things like have a kid. Instead, I, my fiance, my brother, and a roommate, all lived together in a very crappy little 2 bedroom apartment. At the time, we wouldn't have qualified for food stamps (since we were in college), or at least if we did qualify, we didn't know it! So how did we eat? My personal favorite dish was a box of (generic!) Stove Top stuffing, a can of chicken, a 25-cent gravy packet, and a can of (generic!) pineapple. I'd stir the chicken into the stuffing, top with gravy, and then put pineapple on top of that. Another favorite was a cheap (1.00) can of Chili Con Carne stirred into macaroni. We even had enough money leftover for the occasional big, plastic jug of vodka, too.

    Naturally, I would not attempt to raise a child on minimum wage. Heck, I never even had enough money to go to spring break, or even out to the bars during this period in my life! I understand that sometimes one must take whatever job they can get, at least temporarily, but if one manages to stay in a job for even a few months, one generally gets a raise to more than minimum wage.

  71. Well thats the question I ask myself every month. Although my father isn’t working anymore, he gets 900 dollars a month in Social Security. Welfare gives us about 300 a month in food stamps. I work part time to put myself through college. We my checks are 300 every two weeks. Seeing how everything is going up, that leaves me with nothing. We make do, but its very hard. I mean Welfare sends us letters every couple of months asking us to verify the income that is coming in the house. It has become a pain in the ass, they think that we randomly got a load of money from somewhere and threaten to cut off our only source of food. My dads checks goes straight to bills. Its what we are accustomed to. Ive been looking for more jobs since January thats gonna pay me more because i have over 5 years of clerical experience and havent gotten a call yet. I am 21 years old living below the poverty line with my father, i get teary eyed thinking about it. It hurts because i see my father struggle day in and day out wondering how we gonna pay all our bills. Thank god he has the social security health insurance because his health is bad. I try my best not to get sick, cause i cant afford a doctor. Even if they raise minimum wage the cost of living will continue to rise. It wont be long before people like me and my father wont have nowhere to go.

  72. I used to survive on $800 a month back in 2008. My rent was $350 and my bills were $200. I didn’t do a lot of driving. I ate hot dogs & spaghetti. A $10 homemade pasta meal can last a week. Breakfast was bottled water & a breakfast bar. My entertainment was basically walking in the park and watching TV. I’ve spent most of my life working for low wages. I feel ashamed of myself sometimes when I see people my age driving fancy cars and living in nice houses. It’s going to take a few years for me to have enough money to buy some furniture. I walk into furniture stores and look around and wish I had an extra $2000 to spend. Whenever I save up my money, I have to get my car fixed so I can go to work and earn money to save and get my car fixed.

  73. I worked slightly above minimun wage jobs (up to $2/hr more) through high school and the following ten years. I made too much (about $30 above limit) income to receive food stamps, so I ate Ramen noodles 3 times a day – which is not healthy whatsoever (at one point I weighed 98lbs – at age 27) I struggled with deciding what bills to pay (or not pay) and which doctors/medications I needed each month. I did not have cable, internet, fancy clothes, entertainment. Many times I sat on my couch with candles at night to save money on my $15 electric bill. When it came to the point where I could no longer work because of health issues, I then went through the gruelling process of Disability benefits (SSDI). After two years of going through that, I was awarded benefits because of my disability. Receiving a check might sound like a relief, but there’s no glamour to it. The amount each month was below what I was making while working (and figures out to actually be below a minimum wage income), there were no food stamps, or housing costs assistance attached with it. However, it helped greatly with my medical expenses, which is what I so desperately needed. I didn’t ask to be born sick, just needed some help with those expenses while working. Its been nearly three years that I have been on disability. I have lived in a camper with no running water, no sewer, no air conditioning, meger heat, and electrical limitations. I had to sell my car over a year ago because I could not afford to get it fixed in order for it to pass inspection. Walking over a mile to get to the grocery store in 90 degree heat or in the rain, while people shout at you out their car windows just makes one feel absolutely terrible. Well, all that said I do have a slightly uplifing turn to my story. I have been renting a bedroom from friends for over a year now. I owe them much thanks for sharing plenty of food with me. Two months ago I returned to work (10 hours a week), and just yesterday I sent my resumes out and applied for two jobs online. I walk several miles to work and everywhere else I go, but I am now saving for a motorcycle (cheapest mode of transportation when there’s no bus system available). I know I can’t live with others too much longer, so having a bike will allow me to get a new job that has more hours or more pay. I also try to sell artwork online and promote it via social media networking sites. I am a very strong willed person, and once you realize you don’t want to live poor anymore, you do something about it. Go to college, get a degree. Yes you will have student loans, but you will have a higher paying job and live comfortably while paying off debt. Education also decreases crime. Higher educated individuals don’t rob gas stations because they need money.
    Thanks for allowing me to share my story; I hope it will help others. ~Dylan

    • Thanks so much for sharing this, Dylan. I really hope things improve for you and I can tell your attitude will take you far! It’s not easy to focus on the positive when you’ve faced so many challenges, but you’re an example of what can happen when you refuse to give up. :)

  74. I’ve just come across your blog. I find it very interesting. My first question is – where in the US could a person pay $400 for rent? Where I live, the rents start around $900 and up according to the size of the apartments. I would blow my whole minimum wage pay on just rent! Even the one room rentals are around $600 and up. Where would I go with $900 a month? I wouldn’t have any money for anything else. It’s awful. I don’t know how anyone lives on that wage. It’s so sad and unfair.

    • I’m in a rural part of Kentucky. Rent is cheap because there is absolutely NOTHING here. No mall, no decent restaurants, no decent jobs… Which is why I still had a car in my breakdown of spending – you can get super affordable housing, but you make up for it with your vehicle expenses commuting to work.

  75. try doing it on 400 a month with a part time job because their are no full time jobs available. all the while serching at the very least for another part time so you get to keep a roof over your head.

  76. Elizabeth says:

    I know I’m super late to this posting, but I found your post, and the comments on it, really interesting. I live in North/Central NJ where rent STARTS at about $850 for a dumpy one-bedroom. Auto insurance is MANDATORY and illegal to register a car without it, and it is HIGH based on the overpopulation here. My husband and I pay $1,100/month rent for a (really nice) one bedroom that’s pretty spacious for the two of us. We have to pay for our own electricity, gas, and cable/internet/phone. This brings our housing costs alone to about $1400/month. I make approximately $2200/month and my husband, disabled, makes $356 because our combined income is “too high” for him to be elegible for free Medicare, so he pays $200 for his medicare monthly, PLUS copays out of pocket.

    Long story short, I know there are people out there who have it a lot worse than us, and thankfully we don’t have any children yet. We are impatiently waiting for a time when we are not struggling so much before we have children. I have an associate’s degree (NOTHING these days…) and he has some college credits, but never finished (due to disability), but he plans to continue. Like I said, I net about $2,200 take home monthly, but the $1,100 in rent is a large burden on us plus all utilities, cable/internet/phone, car insurance, GAS to get back and forth to work (35 miles roundtrip daily), and FOOD!!! FOOD is so expensive, and oh yeah, we make too much for foodstamps period. Geeze, if they wanted to give us $20 a month to help, I’d gladly take it. I mean, I know of a family getting nearly $600 (!!!!!) a month foodstamps, while living with the mother (Grandmother of the 2 children of family) with no rent or utility expense at all!!!! I just don’t understand how the Government decides on who should get help and who should not, when people such as that live rent and stress free, while others like myself and husband work hard JUST to get by (barely, at times).

    Anyway, sorry for going off into a rant! It’s just a topic that opens up so many doors, especially to those frustrated with working hard for little-to-no extras.

  77. Rebecca D says:

    If you have a home you own that was just modified under HAMP, an elderly parent, are a single parent with no siblings of your own, have one son living at home, another in college, and have a Master’s Degree and dual experience in education and business…and can’t get hired to save your life…my kids are over 19 so no cash help, my modification depends on making payments of 1350., about 3 more months of unemployment. Left a part time job with no benefits to take a full time job after being laid off to find out that the charter place I accepted work at hires and rehires every year blowing out 10 teachers and staff at a clip. It looks as if I am creating this problem but I’m not. I never believed this would ever happen to me or my family. Minimum wage will not even cover the mortgage. At 59, even in great health and shape, as soon as they see the birthdate, fughetaboutit in CT. Very weary as its been 3 years since the loss of my long term position permanent position at a private school. Very weary.

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