Living on minimum wage. It’s something many have had to do, especially when we were younger. Maybe you had a minimum wage job when you were living at home with your parents or as you were working through school. Or maybe you are living on minimum wage right now. Depending on where you’re at in your life, minimum wage can be a right of passage or a serious threat to your financial health.
How to Live on Minimum Wage
Working for minimum wage isn’t anybody’s dream career. But here in the waking world, it’s a reality — especially when you’re young and fresh out of college.
Even if you’ve already got several years of work under your belt, you might find yourself in a minimum wage position; food service and retail jobs are a common fallback when you’re shifting gears or heading toward something new.
Although there’s some nationwide conversation about increasing the minimum wage to slightly more livable figures, most of us out there in the single-digit-dollars-per-hour trenches can’t hold our breath waiting for that to happen. Besides, by the time those changes actually take place, inflation may mean the paycheck is, in effect, almost exactly as meager.
But even in states like Kentucky and Pennsylvania, where minimum wage earners are still looking at a paltry $7.25 per hour, living on minimum wage is possible… even if it’s not ideal.
Here’s our best advice for making that minimum-wage paycheck cover your not-so-minimal expenses.
It’s All About the Budget
When your paycheck doesn’t leave much wiggle room, every cent counts. That’s why you absolutely need a budget if you’re a minimum wage earner.
If you don’t know where your cash is going, you’re helpless to put it to better use, and you can quickly find yourself in a debt spiral — and trust me, that is not where you want to be. Besides, budgeting is a smart financial habit that’ll still be worthwhile once those paychecks start increasing.
If the idea of sitting down with a pencil and paper makes your eyes glaze over, there’s good news: You can let the magic of the digital age do most of the footwork for you. Wealth management apps like Mint allow you to connect all your various financial accounts and credit cards, so you’ll automatically be able to see exactly where your money is going.
From there, you can look for expenses to cut — which, when you’re on a minimum wage allowance, may be pretty ruthless. Do you really need your Netflix account? How about that daily coffee? Cutting alcohol could save you dozens of dollars a week… and leave you feeling a whole lot better.
Once you see which categories are wicking away your hard-earned dollars, you can set custom budgets for each. Start with your basic, non-negotiable expenses: rent, groceries, a generous estimate for utilities, transportation expenses, cell phone, savings. Only then should you add in the extras.
By the way, yes, it is possible to save up a stash of cash even when you’re not making much of it — and it’s super important to do so. Here’s a guide to starting a small nest egg when you’re living paycheck to paycheck.
Find Other Revenue Streams
Here’s the thing: Living on minimum wage is possible… but it’s definitely not cozy. Especially if you’ve got a family to feed.
Finding extra sources of revenue is a great way to ease the financial tension.
You may think you don’t have any time for a side-gig. After all, minimum wage jobs are not exactly known for their breezy, steady schedules.
But even if your weekly calendar always looks hectic, there are tons of totally doable ways to make money fast.
Of course, none of them are going to make you an overnight millionaire… but every cent counts when you’re trying to pay those bills!
Don’t Let Debt Weigh You Down
When you don’t have much cash money to your name, it’s tempting to start putting things on credit.
But of all the different kinds of debt out there, revolving credit card debt may just be the worst. Compound interest charged at high annual rates means you could end up paying almost double each dollar you spend on your card in the long run.
That’s why it’s important to strategize your debt repayment process and pay off that credit card debt fast. Then you can focus on whittling away others, like your mortgage and student loans.
Living on Minimum Wage: A Temporary Stop on Your Financial Journey
The best thing about minimum wage is that you’re probably not going to be making it forever.
Although scoring a new job is never easy, if you work hard and stay persistent, you can find opportunities that offer better compensation… and require less time folding shirts or dunking fries into hot oil.
And once you do, your time living on a shoestring salary will have made you a super-savvy saver, ready to conquer your financial goals and put those nice, fat paychecks to good use.
Who knew minimum wage jobs came with such great returns?
Have you ever had to live on minimum wage? Are you doing so right now? What tips or tricks have you got for anyone that’s living on minimum wage?
Jamie Cattanach has written for The Penny Hoarder, VinePair, SELF, Ms. Magazine, Roads & Kingdoms, The Write Life, Barclaycard’s Travel Blog, Santander Bank’s Prosper and Thrive, and other outlets. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel and frugality.