7 God-Awful Ways To Survive on Minimum Wage

How much beans and oatmeal can you eat?

New York, USA. 5th December 2013. Fast Food workers and Unions supporting a living wage for all workers rally and march in New Y

As the debate over raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour continues to rage, it's worth asking how the people who earn it are coping now. The internet offers a wealth of survival tips for minimum wage workers, most from people who probably make well above the minimum. Plus, there is the first-person testimony of people who are surviving on the minimum wage, and are prepared to talk about it.

It's not a pretty picture.

Quite a few Americans are surviving on minimum wage. According to the latest statistics available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for 2012, about 3.6 million Americans earned the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or less.

Most are young people under age 25, who may or may not be able to rely on help from their families. However, their numbers include about 3 percent of all salaried workers aged 25 and above.

A minimum wage job adds up to a pre-tax income of $15,080, if the worker gets full-time hours and does not take time off. For most, that adds up to a real income of about $1,000 per month. That is above the official poverty line for a single person, but below it for a wage-earner with a child.

Here are some of tips for surviving on that amount of cash:

1) Move to a rural area.

It doesn't sound reasonable to relocate for a minimum wage job, but it could help, according to an article on WikiHow. A room or small apartment can be much cheaper in a rural area, say $100 to $200 per month.

It's better to choose a place where the climate is relatively mild, the article points out. The nationwide average heating bill is now about $200 per month.

And, it goes without saying that the best choice is an economically depressed area. The living is cheaper in regions where low-wage jobs are the norm.

According to an analysis prepared for The Huffington Post, a single, childless worker would need $10.20 an hour to fund the basic necessities of life in Hanson County, South Dakota, population 3,331, which has the cheapest living costs in the entire United States.

Unfortunately, South Dakota is not a warm-weather state.

All of the above means that a minimum wage worker can't make ends meet anywhere, but is likely to eat more regularly if housing costs are kept as low as possible.

This AOL Real Estate slideshow identifies 20 rural areas that combine great living and excellent job growth prospects. Some, like Watkinsville, GA, are in mild-winter territory.

If you're relocating, some states have a minimum wage above the federal minimum.

2) But not too rural...

A minimum wage employee needs to be within walking or bicycling distance from the job, in order to avoid the costs of car ownership. All of the above tips come from Wikihow, along with a helpful link to an article on surviving without home heating.

3) If you have a car, drop your car insurance.

This is illegal in most places, not to mention extremely risky, but it may be necessary. An estimated one in seven American drivers has allowed their car insurance to lapse due to economic pressures.

4) Sign up for food stamps.

A worker who is supporting a child on a minimum wage job is eligible for food stamps in most cases. The child will also get free Medicaid coverage, as a child living in poverty. The adult is now required by law to have health insurance, but assuming the employer does not offer coverage, the employee will get a substantial subsidy or even free coverage under Obamacare.

5) Eat a lot of beans and oatmeal.

This tip comes from a woman who works in customer service.

You might have thought that this diet, common among residents of third-world countries, was no longer prevalent in the United States, except among vegans. But you would be wrong.

6) Cancel your cable, internet and phone services.

The now-notorious sample budget that McDonald's prepared for the edification of its employees allocates $100 a month for cable and phone costs for a couple, each of whom earns a minimum wage salary.

Internet service and cell phone costs are not listed separately, implying that this line item actually covers the common "triple play" home service, plus cell phone costs.

The average monthly cost of that bundle of television, telephone and internet is $128. The average cell phone bill adds about $50.

Clearly, a minimum wage worker is better off canceling all of the above and allocating that $100 to something else, like beans and oatmeal.

7) Rely on payday loan services to cover critical bills.

In localities that do not restrict or outright ban them, payday loan services, located mostly in poor neighborhoods, extend short-term loans at an annualized percentage that is typically 391.34 percent.

Clearly, this can lead to a vicious cycle of epic proportions, so they are best avoided even at the risk of having the lights shut off.

Waiters and waitresses are paid much less than the minimum wage. See what you can do here.

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Yeah, you can't really survive on the minimum wage. So what? That's not the purpose for which it's intended.

May 08 2014 at 10:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm very successful now but there were times over the years when the economy tanked and I had to live economically. I was younger then. This experience might help these people.
You can really save on food by doing most of the work yourself. If you can't cook then you need to learn.
The very best foods were invented by peasants, not Kings and Queens who never cook or even get off their bottoms. Chicken hotwings were invented by peasants, not presidents. So were tacos and pulled-pork sandwiches.
(You'll have to buy the $1.19 a pound pork roast and burger buns and slow cook the pork yourself.)
Home made is always better because it's made with love.

Some staples to have on hand : 5 pound bag of self rising flour, granulated sugar, margarine, cayenne pepper, salt, 10 pound bag of potatoes, gallon jug of vinegar.
The flour is good for pies, pizza, pancakes, biscuits, gravy thickener.
Use margarine like butter for butter cookies, frying, on baked potatoes, etc.
Cayenne for making hotlegs (use the 49 cent a pound legs instead of $3.99 a pound wings)
Potatoes for french fries, baked potatoes, hash browns for breakfast (you need a grater), gallettes, boiled potatoes and of course mashed potatoes.
Vinegar for pickling anything including cucumber salad, health slaw, three bean salad, German style potato salad, pickled garden vegetables, salsa, pickled beets, sweet and sour pork, on and on.
A little study on your part and you can eat very well.

Heat was a problem, mostly at night when it's the coldest. Trying to heat your entire residence is expensive.
Instead turn the big energy guzzling equipment off and just heat one room, like your bedroom at night to cut your bill. Wear warm clothes like two pairs of long Johns, two pairs of thick socks, and throw electric blankets over the furniture. A typical electric blanket uses about 16 dollars of electricity a month. If you do this right you'll actually start sweating. Quilts help also. Anything with fur will keep you toasty - dress for success.

Walking, buses, bike riding, any alternative to owning and operating a car which is a black hole for money even for people of wealth.
A computer, though we didn't have them when I was younger, can make your life better. Information like recipes, techniques, health issues, how to do anything is helpful.

March 25 2014 at 4:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I retired from a major company and my annual wage from my retirement check is just ovdf $11,000 per year. And OH MY, would I love to be able to pay only $200 per month for heat. So far this year my monthly average for a year would be just over $300 per month.That is if it warms up real soon, if not it will be another month of $600 fuel! Got to love it, and I do live in a rural area!

March 25 2014 at 1:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

some of you people assume too much or take too much for granted or too naive or you think everyone is healthy young or live in a city over 2/3rds are not in your boat! get real -theres disabled, remote, orphoned, old, young- young takining care of old, old taking care young- (some both)- the lists go on -a lot of them cant get disabilty or stamps you assume everyone has access to transportation or that theres jobs that dont exist- too many other factoids out there yes there is a percentage out there that abuse the system or into drugs or just plain stupid blame that on your faulty education system or your lack of law while they tell the rest of us too eat cake

March 24 2014 at 11:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And while we're at it. . . .
If a Self Employed person makes $7000. per year,
Just WHERE is that person going to physically get $840.00 to pay the goverment for
Social Security taxes?
Oh, please tell us WHERE.
Does the Government really think a person or family can live on $7000.00 per year and STILL pay $840.00 into their "Retirement" account?
What magic corner of the room does $840.00 just show up in a shoe box?

March 24 2014 at 11:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shirley Valandingham

Here's a little common sense. Don't make babies until you make enough money to support them. Other people are working to support their own families not yours. Get a phone plan to talk not to text, play games and download videos. If you can't afford something don't buy it instead of charging it and then being upset because you are expected to pay the bill. Minimum wage jobs are entry level positions so you have a work history. They aren't meant to be a lifetime career.

March 24 2014 at 11:18 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Shirley Valandingham's comment

When the majority of jobs in some states are minimum wage,how are those entry level jobs?? get real!

March 25 2014 at 9:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shirley Valandingham

Here's more common sense. Don't make babies until you make enough money to support them. Working taxpayers are working to support their own families not yours. Don't buy phone plans so you can text and upload pictures. Use the phone to talk to people. A minimum wage job is entry level not a lifetime career.

March 24 2014 at 11:12 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Sarcasm. How special. The truth is that many of us will at some point find ourselves in a lower economic situation than we expected. And there are ways to manage. Why is it that people on welfare and other form of public assistance feel they are "entitled" to an I-phone or some other expensive smart phone? I see people with I pods, I pads, etc but complaining they cannot afford anything but "beans and oatmeal. I see these same people who complain about what they don't have, but they do have money for a number of tattoos, salon nails and hair extensions. They have money for play stations. Some of it has to do with priorities. After my divorce and my ex's refusal to pay his CS, I had to give up the cable and the internet and go back to bare minimum phone service. I didn't qualify for any kind of assistance because allegedly the ex was supposed to be paying CS. But I had to make do. I walked to the bus or to work. That's what you do when things get tough. You don't stand there and complain, you do what you have to do until things improve. Oh wait, silly me, this is the entitlement era. You aren't supposed to see these as entry level jobs that you work your way out of. You are supposed to sit around making no effort to improve and just start holding your hand out and demanding more and expecting to do nothing more for it.

March 24 2014 at 10:51 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I worked for minimum wage for many years. I learned some things the hard way. Most of this is common sense, but here are some ideas that may be helpful. Rent a room in a private home or studio apartment that includes utilities.. Be a good tenant and HONOR your agreement. Don't drink, do drugs, or use tobacco (saves a lot of money). Don't get a pet (it costs more than you think and limits your options). Work very near where you live. Get a bicycle with a rack and/or basket. Do keep an inexpensive gym membership (Planet Fitness is only $10-$20. month). Do keep an inexpensive cell phone/plan if possible. Use public library if you don't have a computer. Keep email accounts. Get a second or third part-time job(s). Do let your family and friends know if you need help, but be willing to work (cut grass, clean, do laundry, wash windows, etc.) to earn more money. If they don't have work, look on Craig's list. Sit for pets, children, or elderly for extra money. Buy your clothes and furniture at thrift stores. Get a Bluebird/American Express card at Walmart (No monthly fees). Eat eggs, noodles, potatoes, soup, cereal, carrots, spinach (and beans and oatmeal). Take a multi-vitamin. Don't spend all your money. Deposit 20 percent of your earnings into a separate savings account with no debit card. Don't create debt. Don't bum or borrow money ... ask for opportunity to earn money. Build a small network of true friends. You will need them at times and they will need you. Consider joining a church or other groups and/or volunteer. The best opportunities come when people know, like, and trust you ... and when they see you are a kind, courteous, hard worker, willing to help them. If you work very hard and stay away from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco ... stay focused on what you can do for others ... save money even if just a little ... opportunities and increased income will come your way ... things will get better. Don't give up! Good luck.

March 24 2014 at 10:20 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to thothsellshomes's comment

But that requires effort and the willingness to accept that you aren't "entitled" to anything and everything you want, when you want it. That's not the mindset of the current generation of young adults and kids.

March 24 2014 at 10:53 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Don't have kids...lots of people on minimum wage have too many kids. They can't afford to support themselves yet alone support kids.

March 24 2014 at 10:04 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kim's comment


March 24 2014 at 10:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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