To make the Federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 and make it a living wage, there has to be some sacrifice. When the minimum wage was first raised to $7.25 in 2009, it was still very low in relation to the cost of living. To make the wage livable in today's world, we have to be creative and make concessions on a lot of our spending.
In our guide to budgeting for minimum wage workers, we want to give you the tools necessary to adapt to the wage and live within those means. We are going to assume that this is your only job, that you are not getting outside help, and that you live on your own. This means that all of your expenses must fit within this budget.
While you may think this is impossible, the challenges lie with what you are willing to sacrifice to make this wage work for you. As you will see, you can make a living, but extraneous expenses do get curtailed in the budget below.
Learn to Budget
Creating and sticking to a budget is almost essential to making this level of income work for you. If you have never set a budget for yourself before, you'll need to find a template or spreadsheet that can help you plug your numbers in to help you track your expenses. This budget will guide you through your month and give you an idea what you can and cannot spend.
A sample budget would look like this assuming 40 hours a week at $7.25 an hour for an entire month(4 weeks).
Total gross income: $1,160
Left over/Extraneous: $55
In this simplified look at your possible budget, you'll see that it is possible to live on this amount, but a few things have to be going your way. We will break down each of these categories and give you the tips necessary to lower your expenses and fit them within a budget like this.
Be wary of every dollar that comes in and track them religiously. We also did not take into account taxes due to the varying nature state by state. These are examples and the important thing to remember is that your situation could be different.
A Place To Sleep
This will always be the largest portion of your budget and is essential to a happy, healthy lifestyle. Where we live determines a lot about who we are and who we socialize with. While living on minimum wage, however, you will need to cut a few corners and figure out what you value most in a home.
In our example budget above, we used the price of a studio apartment in a mid-sized to small city. Larger cities will have much higher apartment costs, so to make minimum wage work, you may have to move outside major metropolitan areas.
This is where you must weigh what is most important to you. You could live with a higher home cost if you were within walking distance of work. This would slash your transportation expense. This may make a larger city possible. The key to budgeting is deciding which factors are most important to you.
We absolutely need utilities to live comfortably, but how comfortably you live depends on how big your wallet is. If you want it to be refreshingly cool in the summer in your home, you'll have to pony up and pay for that. The same principle applies if you want toasty buns in the winter. The real question you must answer is whether all these creature comforts are worth busting your budget for.
You must also consider water, phone, and internet in this category. Look for an apartment that takes care of water and sewage for you; otherwise, it will cut into your overall spending. If you can live with the internet your phone provides, you'll need unlimited data and a lower cost carrier.
Look for reviews in your area of the major low-cost carriers, like Google Fi or Republic Wireless. These carriers will have the lowest possible monthly costs, but you do have to pay for the phone too. There just isn't any way to live without a phone, so this cost is set in stone.
If you want home internet, you want to try and find a low-cost carrier here as well. Usually, this means lower speeds or data caps, but this may be necessary if you need the service. Just like with the other utilities, base your needs on your usage.
We did not include cable in this section because the cost of cable television could bust your budget. There are streaming television services that are much lower cost, we suggest you start there.
Here is the section where you look for a way to fit a brand new car into the budget, but unfortunately you would be living in that car if we advised that. Kidding aside, we proposed about $85 a month for transportation in our mock budget above. This budget is based on using public transportation, whether that be buses or subway.
While public transportation would be the lowest cost way to get around, it also ties you to their schedule. If you already own a car outright, meaning you have no payment, then you can use this part of the budget for insurance and gas. $85 isn't a lot, so you may be limited on what coverage you can afford, and how often you can fill up.
Transportation is one area that is difficult to get around the expense. You may be making minimum wage, but you still have to be at that job on time every day. The key to making this fit into the budget is sacrificing and moving closer to your job or using public transit regularly.
This part of your budget is also extremely necessary. However, this category also has the most opportunity to save money. The best part would be to come in under budget. Only you know what you will need to survive on a monthly basis, but here some tips to drive down your food costs:
- Use coupons.
- Don't eat out.
- Learn to cook.
- Buy canned goods.
- Stack coupons where possible.
- Shop at low-cost food stores.
- Don't stock up on food, buy food based on your needs.
You do not have to live on ramen noodles for your budget to work. Minimum wage workers can be found in the food industry, and if your employer provides a free meal per shift, take advantage of that perk. Your health is important so buy good, healthy foods; just make sure you don't pay too much for them.
We have finally arrived at the best part of the budget, the fun stuff. No matter how little we make, we are not automatons that only work and sleep. We need some fun in our lives, and this is the portion of the budget that gets squeezed the hardest at minimum wage.
Once your necessities are paid for, you can start to plan what this portion of your funds can buy. If you are into gaming, sports, or going out with friends, you can find a way to get some fun into your life. The caveat here is that you'll just need to have less expensive fun.
We would never ask you to forego the extracurriculars in your life, but at minimum wage, this is where the largest budget cuts would be.
- Unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment
- 2% at grocery stores
- 1% on everything else
You may look at this category and say that you wouldn't keep this in your version of the budget. You are thinking that money would be better served somewhere else. We would strongly advise that you always save money, no matter how little you make.
Creating a savings account gives you the extra breathing room you will need if something goes wrong. It will also make sure that you can afford larger items down the road. If you neglect to save now, you could be in a world of hurt if you ever lost your job.
It is essential to learn how to save your cash now because this skill will become even more essential later. Don't make life harder by not having a cushion to fall on in case of emergency.
When looking back at creating your budget, always keep things fluid and changeable. While the total amount of money you bring in may not change, how you use it each month will. Get creative and find ways to stretch your budget further than you ever thought possible.
We have given you a lot of tips to start your budget out on the right foot, but a lot of factors go into these numbers. Where you live has a huge impact on the cost of living, so starting in a lower cost, or rural, area may be necessary. Ultimately this budget is about what you need to be happy while working a minimum wage job.
If you create a budget that is livable and allows you to live a sustainable existence at minimal cost, then you are preparing for a better life. The skills of budgeting will be with you from then on, and you will be financially prepared for anything.