Is Living on Minimum Wage Possible?

One Dollar Bill

by Ryan

Is minimum wage really that hard to live on? I was at a friend’s house last night for a small party and met a girl there she mentioned that she chose Hawaii because it was a place where you could do a lot of the things you enjoy for free and a lot of people don’t really focus on career paths. She then also mentioned that she would be happy living on minimum wage because it wouldn’t affect her lifestyle much… besides becoming slightly infatuated for the rest of the evening, I realized I had my next blog post set when she said that she could live on minimum wage quite confidently. Even though she said she could, is living on minimum wage possible?

What is minimum wage?

In the U.S. the current minimum wage rate is $7.25 (it may have changed depending on when you’re reading this post so check the post date). Based on that pay rate let’s do a little math.

In a given year full time workers put in approximately 2,080 hours. Multiply that by minimum wage and they’ll be pulling in $15,080 yearly ($1,257 monthly) before taxes. The tax rate for someone in this bracket is 15% for federal, state taxes will vary, we’ll simply use the 15% here to estimate on the low end. That means take home would be $12,818 a year, or $1,068 a month.

What can you buy with that?

How far your money goes will depend on where you’re living of course. In any part of the country you can probably find a decent place to live, most likely with roommates, for about $400-$500 a month. You can also fit in groceries for about $150, and your utilities will be about $40-$50. You may also have a small clothing allowance of $20-$30 a month if you thrift. Using a high estimate you’ll spend about $750 a month on expenses, which will leave you with $300 a month in disposable income. What you do with that will be above and beyond what it necessary to survive so things like eating out or recreation.

So is living on minimum wage possible? Yes, I think living on minimum wage is possible. I even wrote a post about how I do it, a few months ago. However, I think that if you’re even semi-ambitious you’ll move beyond $7.25 an hour in a very short period of time. What you do with your excess funds at that point is up to you, but realize that worse case scenario, you can survive on minimum wage with proper money management.

Have you ever lived on minimum wage? If not, do you think you could?

Do you think minimum wage should be higher, or is it enough to survive on?

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim April 24, 2010 at 11:41 am

I agree that it is indeed possible to live on minimum wage. Despite what others may believe, it is not absolutely necessary (unless you have children) to have a large structure to live in.
I have lived in Houses, Apartments, in a Garage, Campers, Hotels and Motels, on Ships, in a Semi-Truck, in a Van, and in a car with the passenger and rear seat removed made into a bed with storage back through the trunk. Incredibly, the car is by far the most comfortable and convenient of all. No joke.
You can take showers at Truck Stops, Fitness Centers, etc..
Very relaxing and enjoyable and assuring to know that you don’t need all those things that people think they need to be happy.

bryan May 6, 2010 at 9:05 pm

I’ve lived on minimum wage before. You can, but you have nothing like say, health insurance a lot of times. Any emergency like a sinus infection from a fight with the flu that you couldn’t treat properly, or something like a tooth ache, bankrupts you and threatens either the roof over your head, or the ability to make the money to fund that roof over your head. forget cable t.v. it ain’t happenin’

Kharim May 16, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Well it depends on how much you spend. But it’s really hard to live on minimum wage these days. I live in Jamaica and there is no way you would survive here on minimum wage.
.-= Kharim´s last blog ..I Love My Blog. What About You? =-.

Deborah San Gabriel May 29, 2010 at 7:25 am

“In any part of the country you can probably find a decent place to live, most likely with roommates, for about $400-$500 a month.”

Where? Even in the smaller, less desirable cities in the middle of nowhere, you’d be hard-put to find a place for that. What if you have a family? Are you going to go insane with overcrowding? How will the parents find alone-time? Where will the children play?

“You can also fit in groceries for about $150,”

Less if you stack grocery and manufacturers coupons, and shop the sale items as much as possible (I’ve tried some wonderful new foods this way). But the cost of produce varies from state to state, region to region. Also, not all of us have vegetable gardens or are allowed to have them. (But tomatoes can be grown by the window, and fresh flowers can always be grown inside.)

Coupon. Coupon. Coupon. If you don’t have a printer, invest in one – it will pay itself back very quickly in terms of on-line coupons (those inserts will soon be fading away). Or try trading on Freecycle.

“and your utilities will be about $40-$50.”

Nope. Even if you’re on public assistance, you can’t get gas and electricity for that. What about if you have to pay for your own heat?

“You may also have a small clothing allowance of $20-$30 a month if you thrift.”

I rarely spend on myself anymore (one of the joys of being older and not needing to have a Carrie Bradshaw wardrobe) except for cold-weather gear. But I do spend that amount on my family.

Forget about sewing and knitting. This isn’t our mother’s Simplicity Pattern days. Fabrics and yarns are expensive. Used to be it would be less costly to make your own dress. Those days are long gone.

Thrift shopping? Wash EVERYTHING in hot, soapy water. Otherwise you risk scabies or bedbugs.

“Using a high estimate you’ll spend about $750 a month on expenses, which will leave you with $300 a month in disposable income. What you do with that will be above and beyond what it necessary to survive so things like eating out or recreation. ”

Through trial and error I won’t have to buy toiletries (deodorant, shampoo) and cosmetics for the next year or so (again, check freshness dates on cosmetics, or ask at the store). But I otherwise don’t think you can do minimum in the U.S.A., not now.

With all due respect, you failed to mention health insurance co-pay; med co-pay; life insurance if you have a family; supplies and tuition if you’re on your way to a new career or have a serious hobby you hope to turn into a career.

Most free dental clinics no longer do cleanings and other prophylactic work – you’re faced with removing the tooth, or suffering (and possibly getting sick). So you have to budget in emergencies like this.

You are describing a **very** minimal existence, depressing almost. If you can do it, all power to you (library books, videos, etc – these can be cut from the purchasing budget).

I can and do do without a cell phone, but it’s a headache.

I think your thesis may be well-applied to those who enjoy white martyrdom (an ascetic existence). But I for one don’t want to be stranded in the desert with a Bible but without a dentist.

It also works, if it works at all, if you don’t have children at home – why make them suffer, when they had no say in this?

An interesting read, nonetheless. Thank you for posting it.

Deborah San Gabriel May 31, 2010 at 8:11 am

Thanks Ryan for your detained and great response. I would like to reply to this:

“Life insurance is a luxury and it’s necessity is debatable … .”

I would say no, not if you have children. Anything could happen to either parent, at any time, but life insurance is particularly necessary if one is a single parent with no other parent to fall back upon in the event of the custodial parent’s death.


So yeah, you might be able to do it in a less-expensive city if you don’t have children and are willing to share with others, like in a co-op house. But for those of us who have, by choice or necessity, left that life behind, it’s impossible where I am (Greater Boston area). Our city is truly the model for many who face the very real “medicine or food this month?” Your very fortunate in your rent, I wish our region could be like that. Here, a 2-br even in a crummy little industrial town runs @1,500 (lousy, bedbug infested, etc.) – @2,200/month (small but clean).

So, what if one does not find meaning through an in-demand field? The road is that much harder. But an in-demand field is going to pay more than any federal or state minimum wage. As for other minimum wage jobs – the McJobs – does one really want to live one’s life without meaning? For example, IMNSO, retail jobs are a complete waste of time. Library assistant at a low wage, not a waste of time.

Of course, there’s the rare thing, such as the folklore and mythology MA student (like Comic Book Man on The Simpsons) working at a comic book store! Can he support a family on his own? But, like you wrote, “the article doesn’t present an argument from the assumption of having children.”

Do you know why Edith Wharton, who had established herself as the Martha Stewart of her day, became a novelist? Writing design books, she was tops, but it really didn’t pay in those days. She started writing fiction because she had expensive tastes. Oh, for the day when talented writers could almost be assured a decent income!

I can see your scenario for a single person without many needs, who has mastered the household budgeting process. (And hopefully meds are included in such a person’s health insurance.)

But say this, for example, another case: once you go to a min wage job and say (not you, just in general) you have been receiving gov benefits, your co-pays go way up; you are only allowed to make a certain amount a month, etc.

Anyway, a great little blog, Ryan, and I thank you for being out there.

Tanja Wanderlust July 7, 2010 at 5:41 am

Very possible to live on minimum wage. I have always lived below minimum wage myself and i was even able to save some money for travelling.

I have never in my entire life used up all my monthly income. Had never been below zero at the end of a month in my whole life. And seriously, I d´ont understand how people can get to the point where they simply walk around and spend money on useless things.

I´d be happy with that $1,257 a month really…
.-= Tanja Wanderlust ´s last blog ..The Acer adventure =-.

Kevin Isaac July 23, 2010 at 6:30 am

I can’t believe what I’m reading here. Have you people thought of what the owners and managers make. So if I am hearing this correctly, a business owner can make 5 million a year, his manager maybe 75 thousand a year, and you 12 thousand a year. What if the owner made 4.5 million a year, and gave 100 thousand a year to the manager, and gave you 30 thousand a year. The owner would still be filthy rich, but just made a little less so the people on bottom could at least live halfway comfortable, and not have to barley get by. It sounds like slavery to me. The gap between the owner of a company, compared to the people that make all his money for him is insane!! People need to wake up!! When I work 40 hours a week, I expect more than just being able to squeek by. It would also help the economy. The owner keeps all his millions in the bank doing nothing but gaining interest for him. People like you and me would spend more, there for putting more money into the economy, helping it grow. The minimum wage should be $12 an hour, and when congress gets a pay raise because of cost of living, the minimum wage should raised as well. Until then, were not home of the brave, but home of the SLAVES.

MakingAMillionDollars July 24, 2010 at 1:26 pm

I think you can do anything you have to, such as living in a tent or small mobile home. There are people that have been foreclosed on in this country right now living in tent cities and making ends meet with a minimum wage job. I truly believe to make ends meet though and to live a somewhat average life most that I know make minimum wage have 2 jobs and just work long hours. That is a much more feasible budget to live on these days if you have no other skills and have to collect minimum wage.
.-= MakingAMillionDollars´s last blog ..My Stock Portfolio – Just Bought 50 Shares of F Ford Motor Co =-.

I wish I made minimum wage September 7, 2010 at 2:24 am

My sisters and I live WAYYY below minimum wage. My sister gets 650 a month in unemployement (we live in a factory town and work picks up around christmas but layoffs go out again) and I babysit but only gets 20 a week when the people CAN pay because jobs are stable. I don’t have a car, cell phones, computers(@ a friends house now), health insurance. I tried going to community and even with the pell grant it didn’t cover my books and other nesscities. So now I owe 3700 for 2 days of classes and a whole other story in itself. lol….Income…about 700 on a good month…My rent is 600 dollars a month and electric runs about 25 a month. How we survive on 25-75 dollars a month is BEYOND me @ times…but its definitely possible. I see it everyday in other people besides us. And we’ve been living like this on and off (layoff schedules) for the past 4 years. I know people that have a household income of 80,000 dollars a year but have no money to buy their 1 kid clothes and are expecting another child and have no money to buy a crib. They refuse to give up their life style of entertainment. People do and sacrifice to survive.

Jeannine Vassallo September 15, 2010 at 12:29 pm

a recent study revealed that on average a Maltese family manages to save 1000 euros a year.

Jacob October 28, 2010 at 11:45 am

Yeah, the health-problem thing does throw a wrench in there. As does the former student thing.

I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree a couple years ago and it seemed people were literally afraid to hire. I certainly didn’t hear back from many folks. After 18 months I was provided an opportunity through networking, nailed the interview (entry level but still nice to have!) and after 11 months was laid off for budgetary reasons.

I’m also terminally ill. My COBRA is just over 425 dollars, and a federal and private student loan (going to the most affordable school I could find) set me back 260 combined a month. What’s more, my disease is only in a very bad state, not “iron lung” status. It’s enough to negate receiving regular health insurance rates but not enough to get disability. When the COBRA expires I’m told I can be eligible for HIPPA that would be about twice that.

Since, where I live, the gas stations and McDonald’s haven’t responded to me during the course of two and a half years, I found myself in a predicament. I have an interview next week for a job that pays 8.42/hr. Just going in batches of 4 weeks, that’s 1347.20. My tax rate, young and single with no dependents on a standard deduction, is just shy of 20 percent when I made 10/hr. So if I halve that rate I take home 1200 in 4 weeks. I like to cook from home, and batch cook, so my dinners could be 7 dollars but freeze for half the week. Cereal’s relatively inexpensive, as are sandwiches. Say two boxes a week for 5 bucks and 9 dollars a week for sandwich meat and bread. 14+5+9=28 a week for food x 4 = 112. I go through 10/wk in gas, which thanks to shift bidding and living outside of the more expensive city means it’s my only option; fortunately I get better fuel economy and have lower emissions than anyone I know.


That leaves me 363 dollars. A quick look on my local Craigslist reveals one room available at 350 in a place that I called that is soon to be condemned and is offered for the next month only. -Quite a few- places offer split rent of a room. 3/4 of these are within a mile or so from a street that’s famous throughout the -entire- county for being where most of our murders and drug trafficking take place. To be safe here, the cheapest place with basic utilities is going to be 450 shared with someone else.

No emergencies, no toiletries — and I never have been a person to have crap like personal music players or HBO; bare bones — and I’m one hundred dollars in the hole, spending more than I make, despite earning more than minimum wage.

BUT if I didn’t have the loans or the health insurance it does seem like it could be a doable squeeze. =)

Stephen Finders November 2, 2010 at 5:04 pm


Let me bring some light into this discussion. I am a married male, 23 years of age. I have a 1 year old daughter and my wife is pregnant. I work for 9.00 per hour. With my wages, we count on one check for Rent and gas, and my other check for Utilities, food, and extras(wants). My wife does not work, she is a stay at home mom/student. We do have some debt, we slowly pay it down, but we manage in these hard times in the United States. If anyone has any questions about making with kids and things of the like, feel free to ask.

javaking November 7, 2010 at 12:19 pm

It is hard at times but yes I do live off social security check of only $1060.00 a month . Here is my monthly break down of how much I spend. Rent and utilities inbcluding cable and internet $600.00. gas and auto insurance $130.00, food is 150.oo laundry and household supplies about $40.00 and my emergecy fund is $40.00. I do have a part time job as a host in local restaurant for about about 20 hours a week but that money is going to savings so I can take the next 6 monthes to a year off.

Dan December 4, 2010 at 3:04 pm

As a college kid that has to pay for things, I find these figures high. The author’s figures of $30 per month on clothing is rediculous. I spend $30 per 6 months on clothing. Also, it is very easy to eat a healthy diet on $4 per day: Frozen vegetables are 89 cents, a pound of pasta is a dollar, store brand juice is a dollar 50 cents, bananas are a few dollars for a bundle, potatoes are 2 dollars for 5 pounds, most other fruit and vegetables are cheap as well, beans are under a dollar, meat is not needed.

$400-$500 a month is a high estimate for rent. You can pay low as $200 a month w/ utils without too much strain with a roommate in an old appartment. Also, the author failed to mention the possibility of buying a cheap piece of land for $1000- $2000 and building a cheap self sustainable cabin for $3000 and not having any rent if one had everything paid for up front.

A car is not needed, even if you live 15 miles away from your job, only a nice bike is needed. Vehicles are inneficient and expensive, and can be unpredictable. You will also keep yourself healthy with a bike. Bike repairs and tires average me $60 per year.

As far as other groceries are concerned, you can get a bottle of shampoo ($1) to last for 3 months, store brand bars of soap ($2) to last for 2 months, toothpaste ($3) for a month, laundry detergent ($6) for 3 months, Deodorant ($2) 2 months. That would make grocery bills more like $140 per month= $1680 per year.

Health insurance ranges from $600- $1000 per year on average for basic – decent coverage.

So lets say you find a cheap place to rent with a roommate= $200 month= $2400 per year
Then you spend 140 a month on groceries and 60 a year on bike= $1740 per year
Then you have some decent health insurance = $1000 per year

The total of this is $5140
Which could be much much lower if one owned land and lived in a yurt or a small cabin.

Ryan M. Fm September 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I live in New Orleans Louisiana and I make $8.00 dollar’s an hour doing screen printing, my rent is $650, power is $100-120, water is $40, phone is $60(witch my girlfriend pays) and it cost me at lest $240 it eat for a month, that’s $1030 and I have a can I need to get to work everyday witch cost me in insurance $100 bucks not to add gas that comes up to $80 dollars a month so add that up and I make just enough to the penny to live. I have no family, just me and I make .75 cent more them the minimum wage. I know I don’t need a $60 dollar cell phone(that I don’t pay) or insurance and gas for my car but I need it for work. Some months I have to ask my girl for help and it makes me feel like a loser. There are just no jobs in this city at this time and it suck. Minimum Wage guys, may God have your back !

Tiago Pereira February 2, 2012 at 5:54 am

Well, I think living on minimum wage it’s perfectly possible… depending on the area and country.

Here in Portugal, our minimum wage is 485 euros a month (637,29$ in US, 402,56£ in UK) and it’s very difficult to live, or even survive, on that kind of amount recieved.

Just for you to have an idea, an apartment rounds no less than about 300 euros. Below that threshold it’s possible, but very very rare. After that, you have costs with food – about 75-125 euros a month, with low brands. That makes 425 euros. But… we have some other things to pay also, like gas (20 euros or so), water (10-15 euros normally), electrity (40 euros, 60 euros, on that threshold)… and all that means a 70 euro minimum cost on that kind of stuff. Total? 495 euros. More 10 than minimum.

And I’m not counting taxes (11-12%, about 437 euros remain), other stuff like paying the administration of the building, like 20 euros, clothing (never less than 20 euros each time we go), mobile phones (normally 12.5 euros a month), internet (minimum 12,89 € monthly…), and so on, and so on.

You don’t live here with the minimum wage, you survive and you survive badly. Plus improving your income could bring disadvantages, because taxes by the yearly income rise quickly… I’m thinking of, when I turn 18, get rid of this country, maybe go to UK or US, at least you have there means to live more “breathly”…

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