Is It Possible to Get By on Minimum Wage?

by Alexa Mason · 12 comments

Without my freelance income, I make what would be considered a “living wage” at my day job. This amount still seems very low to me. Some weeks, the income from my day job doesn’t cover my already bare-bones budget.

I’ll admit it: there’s even been a time or two when I’ve thrown a pity party for myself. (Not proud.)

Since I have such a hard time getting by on my income, which pays more than minimum wage, it makes me wonder how people who are actually earning minimum wage can survive. Let’s take a look.

My $1,600/Month Budget

My budget comes in at around $1,600 per month. While there might be an area or two where I could cut back if need be, I don’t have much wiggle room. Here’s how my monthly budget breaks down:

  • $226 = housing
  • $19 = phone
  • $300 = groceries
  • $300 = babysitting

This adds up to $845. The remainder goes to utilities, internet (no cable), gas, car insurance, and some entertainment spending. Note that this budget doesn’t include a car payment, debt repayment, health insurance, or life insurance, which I’m currently without.

How Do Minimum Wage Workers Do It?

Minimum wage in Ohio (where I live) is $7.85 per hour. My hourly wage is a little higher than this. (Not double, but somewhere in between.) I can barely, and I mean barely, pay my bills on my wage. How does someone making minimum wage pull it off? Let’s make some calculations.

A person earning $7.85 an hour and working 40 hours a week would gross $314 a week. Let’s say a conservative 10% is withheld for taxes, which leaves us with a net pay of $282.60 a week, or $1215.18 a month ($282.60 x 4.3 weeks).

Please note that my budget is low — a lot lower than the average in my area. But, if this minimum wage worker was living on my $1,600 a month budget, he would be $384.82 in the red! So, what are his options?

How a Minimum Wage Worker Might Get By

1. Use Credit Cards

Credit cards could be used to fill the almost $400 budget deficit. Over a period of a year, this worker’s credit card debt would be nearing $5,000 — AND when you factor in this new credit card payment, his budget increases.

2. Government Assistance

Let’s say the worker qualifies for food stamps. This would save him $200 a month, leaving a $184.82 deficit. If he qualified for food assistance and daycare, he’d be in the green by $116.18.

3. Get Another Job

He could work two minimum wage jobs; if he worked almost 60 hours a week, he’d bring home enough money to survive without debt or government assistance.

4. Go Back to School

This isn’t always feasible, but he could go back to school and learn a new skill or earn a degree in order to get a new, better-paying job. However, if he’s currently working 60 hours a week, or working 40 hours a week plus caring for children, this might not be do-able.

To me, it doesn’t seem like there are many good options for the minimum wage worker. What are your ideas?

What’s the best solution for minimum wage workers? Do you think the minimum wage should be raised?

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine September 18, 2013 at 7:30 am

I actually read a book on this very subject recently. It’s called “Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America”. The entire book is based on a writer who does a (I believe) 6 month study by living as a minimum wage worker and not using her own wealth as support. What she found out was very sad. That you simply can’t get by on minimum wage. Most of the people she worked with had several jobs and/or lived with family. In a minimum wage household there HAS to be more than one income. It’s a quick but very enlightening read. Check it out! (PS, no one paid me to say this I swear, it was just really relevant to the topic! Lol)

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Debt Blag September 18, 2013 at 7:41 am

I think it’s possible to get by on minimum wage (and I’ve done it for short periods of time), though if I were in that situation, I would like to think that I’d wake up every morning finding ways to make more than minimum wage.

Obviously, outside circumstance could make this impossible, and I don’t blame anyone stuck there for not being able to get out.

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Michelle September 18, 2013 at 8:14 am

Getting by on minimum wage would be very difficult. It would be even harder if you had children (they of course need food and shelter, and possibly daycare), or if you had debt.

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Darlene September 19, 2013 at 10:57 am

The more minimum wage rises the more everything else rises with it. People working minimum wage today are no better off than they were before the recent wage increase. We have to do something about inflation if we are to have a livable wage.

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Skilled Saver September 21, 2013 at 2:50 pm

It’s very hard to get by on minimum wage, and I think they people that are able to do it have roommates or come from a dual-income household. Others may be on government programs. Minimum wage simply just isn’t enough by today’s standards. Try raising a family on minimum wage – it just isn’t possible without help of some type.

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Michael Kwan September 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Minimum wage should not be confused by living wage.

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Dan September 23, 2013 at 11:11 pm

By not having a kid. Also, it’s hard to make a meaningful suggestion when you don’t account for over 47% of your budget other than some hand-waving about utilities and gas. Speaking of which, not having a car would also help.

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sld October 23, 2013 at 9:35 am

I made 7.79 hr 32 hr week . live by myself, no credit cards, no car payment even though i own one, spend about 100 month on food ,45.00 bare auto insurance,60-100 electric live in the south but i keep my thermostat up high so it doesnt come on,34 water, 40 cable dont have reception where i live so cant get free tv and live in apartment and rent is 300 mo which is the lowest could find which lets me have a dog. 80 on gas a month dont go anywhere but to work ,store and laundry. leaves me with a little left over to put in savings just in case i have to get my vehicle fixed.

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Joe December 12, 2013 at 10:04 am

If the minimum wage goes up, inflation goes up and things will cost more. So, what’s the point?
How about finding ways to make things cost less, instead of bringing pay up?

Wait! Isn’t that why most industries were outsourced to dirt-cheap-almostfree-labor countries? SHAME ON YOU, if you are still complaining. SHAME ON YOU, if you complain that your jobs were outsourced so you can, in the end, buy nice stuff for very little money!

How about people realizing the basic fact that they really don’t need all their toys and luxuries to live a happy life?
The average American, nowadays, live a life that would be the envy of some kings and queens in antiquity, yet, our ancestors lived through their lives and mankind has survived and thrived.

There are billions living in luxury, while other billions live in need. Perhaps this world would be a better world, if those billions who have a little more, consistently took the initiative to help those other billions in need, not only with donations, but with support for those in need to ultimately be able to stand for themselves without help.

It’s all a balancing act, some people would say… But, doesn’t this (a balancing act) sound like a lot of fun?

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Arminius Aurelius December 12, 2013 at 11:20 am

The facts are minimum wage is offered to high school kids or adults who never put in the effort to learn some skills or a trade . Those who put in the extra effort , more so than their co-workers , they will become valuable to their employer over and above the others . As a former owner of several restaurants between 1970 and 2004 with about 125 employees , to my great sorrow I found that a high percentage of the employees put in minimal effort . 34 years in business , I worked 12 hours a day , 6 days a week . 7 days when necessary . If I as the owner could work 12 hours a day in order to succeed , why can’t these people work an additional 4 hours a day …….. that would increase their income by 50 % …… either that or learn a trade . Or would you rather sit on your butt and cry how unfair the system is . There is no free ride.

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Neal January 9, 2014 at 8:43 am

Do other things for income. Ebay, Craigslist, mow lawns in summer, rake in fall, shovel snow in winter, offer to wash someones car for a good price, drag up that old talent that you once used and turn it into money. When I retired I brushed up on my long stagnated piano playing skills and began to fill in as a pianist at churches that pay for such a thing. Funerals and weddings come up now and then as an opportunity for a little extra cash. Sometimes it can’t be all about a regular job with the same employer every day. I know some guys who can do carpentry work and do quite a bit of it for people for free apart from their non carpentry jobs. They could certainly turn that talent into money if they ever needed to. Childcare isn’t just for teenagers. If you need the cash there are many people that need their children cared for when they work their 9-5 jobs. Don’t expect a huge wad of money for this but it can help you make ends meet.

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krystal May 21, 2014 at 11:22 am

I think that you do have some valid points Arminius. However I think you may have forgotten a fairly large part of the working population, single mothers..they usually can’t work more than the normal 8 hour shifts because the after school program closes at 6pm and only on weekdays. Then you cant exactly work weekend to compensate because children need their mom around when they’re young..What about these women? Do they not deserve the help needed, whatever that really is. I don’t have the answers but hopefully someone does

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