How Do People Survive on Minimum Wage?


Yesterday one of my clients reported getting a job at a fast food restaurant. Since she’s been unemployed and desperately looking for work for nearly a year, I was thrilled for her. She was very excited that she’ll be making $7.50 an hour - a whole quarter more than minimum wage.

After she left my office, I got out a calculator. I’ve never worked for minimum wage, so I didn’t know exactly how much (or how little) money that is.

Assuming 80 hours a pay period, my client will be bringing home around $462 every two weeks. That’s with no health insurance or retirement contributions.

If I brought home $924 a month, would I even be able to survive? I decided to find out.

My Minimum Wage Budget

First, I decided which of my expenses are absolute necessities. This is what I came up with:

  • Rent (My parents own my home and I don’t currently pay rent, but most people do)
  • Utilities
  • Food
  • Phone (People will say this isn’t necessary, but I have a child. No way would I go without a phone.)
  • Car insurance
  • Gas

Note that I left out my car payment - if I was making minimum wage, I know I’d have to drive something, but not something with a huge monthly payment. So I’m pretending my car is paid off.

The Budget in Action

Here’s how those costs would add up:

  • Rent: $400 (the amount I would be paying if my parents would let me - I realize it would be MUCH higher in some areas)
  • Utilities: $200 (current average of electricity, water, and gas for my house)
  • Food: $200 (assuming we could survive on $50 a week)
  • Phone: $25 (prepaid phone)
  • Car insurance: $100 (full coverage)
  • Gas: $140 (this is what I currently spend to drive to/from work)
  • TOTAL: $1065

Okay. I ignored my car payment. I don’t have anything fun, like cable or internet access. And I’m STILL over budget by about $100.

What About Government Assistance?

I checked on that. In Kentucky, a family of two making $1200 a month before taxes qualifies for $165 in food stamps. Even if I could make that cover ALL the groceries for the month, that only leaves me with a little over $100 a month for everything I didn’t list above.

My son would qualify for Medicaid, but as an able-bodied adult, I wouldn’t. So if I got sick or had to take a prescription medication every day, I’d fly through that $100 in no time.

How the Hell Does This Work?

There are SO many things I didn’t account for in my minimum wage budget. Clothing. Car maintenance. Birthdays. Christmas. School field trips. Toilet paper and toothpaste.

Looking at these numbers, is it any wonder that so many people are in debt? Personally, if I knew I was going to spend more than I made just to exist, I’d try to drown out that misery with TV or internet access at home, even though I know I couldn’t afford it. I’d probably use store credit cards to buy clothes (if I could even get approved for them). Payday loans would be my backup plan for emergencies. And retirement? Pfft, what’s retirement? I couldn’t even afford to get my oil changed!

Honestly, the first thing I would do is drop my car insurance. This would free up another $100 a month, but I would risk getting a ticket or totaling my car in a wreck. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if I was injured while driving and had no insurance of any kind.

I complain about my student loans constantly, but if I hadn’t gone to college and could only qualify for minimum wage jobs, there is simply no way I could make it. Even if I made stellar financial choices at all times, I would run out of money every month. I can’t figure out how any single parent could make this work.

Could YOU Make it on Minimum Wage?

I feel like I must be missing something here. With 4.4 million American workers making at or below minimum wage (and remember, I gave myself an extra quarter an hour), there has to be some kind of secret I don’t know about. It hurts my soul to think that there are people struggling with this every day - not because they are curious, but because it’s their reality.

Have you ever worked for minimum wage? How about doing it while supporting a household? Could you find a way to alter your budget to make it work?

  • Tanner E

    This isn’t an easy topic. Nor a pleasant one, for me… Supporting a household with minimum wage isn’t easy (or at/below poverty level for that matter). I’ve lived through it (as a dependent), so here are a few other things…

    Besides food stamp assistance, there is cash assistance. They provide between $50 to $700 a month. The application for it is a complete and gruesome pain, and takes a very long time and many visits with your social worker.

    There is some health care coverage depending on income. It is run through the social security office and it covers dr’s visit, preventive check ups, emergency room visits and prescriptions. There is subsidized housing where rent goes by what you earned last month. You also can get assistance with your bills, like electric and gas bills during late fall-winter-early spring through your social worker.

    Additionally, there is the church. Some places will work with you and help with rent. They also have the food pantry. Lastly, the church can help you find some… income potential in form of chores.

    PS: Payday loans suck. If you’re at that point, just get a credit card and pay it off when payday comes. Same goes for pawn shops.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I appreciate the info. As a social worker myself, I’m aware of many of the resources you mentioned, but I guess it was harder than I thought to imagine life as a fast food worker. I kept thinking I couldn’t qualify for things like utility assistance or cash welfare benefits (because I can’t on my current income) instead of remembering that I was supposed to be making minimum wage.

      I based my rent and utilities on what I pay now. Most rentals in my area are houses that don’t qualify for Section 8 or other subsidies, so I didn’t include those. However, I have to consider the fact that I would probably have to move into the apartments in my area, which makes me cringe. How sad that people have to give up a safer environment for their children just to afford to live. Sigh. Thanks for your insights as always!

  • First Gen American

    I’ve lived it, and although I would never go back to that place by choice here are some additional things you can do. Get more roommates. The more people you live with the lower than utility and rent number goes. I’m not just talking 1 roommate, I’m talking 4. The other thing that’s huge is that make sure at least one of your jobs is in food service or a restaurant. That way you can eat at work for free or close to it and often you can bring home extra food that normally would go to waste (like pizzas people never picked up, day old bagels, etc). Lastly, live on the bus line so you don’t have to pay for a car (not always possible, but even in small cities there are bus routes). Yes, all these options are crappy and not the best quality of life thing to do, but it really is possible to live extremely frugally without getting into debt, but most people don’t want to take the lifestyle hit that is associated with it.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Thanks for those suggestions! While I wouldn’t love the idea of roommates (strangers in my house with me and my child = scary!!), I could do that if I absolutely had to. The bus isn’t an option where I live, though - I’m in a rural area with no public transportation of any kind.

      It makes me kind of sick to think that people have to make those choices, if they can really even be called choices. Thinking about this makes me so thankful for what I have.

    • kim

      The bus is a good idea. Buses have their own problems - unreliable and often requires a transfer or two. If one or 2 buses are late, you’re late to work, and it’s so easy to lose a minimum job, especially for being late, regardless of whose fault. Which just adds to the argument - how do those on minimum wage do it?!

  • Rachel

    $50 a week is legit on a starvation budget…while i don’t make minimum wage, sometimes i feel like it as my own poor choices have left about$25-30/week for food and random household supplies (like TP). Here’s how I do it. I eat a LOT of leftovers. I make things that will last multiple meals throughout the week, like chili, casserole or a big pan of enchiladas. I don’t buy name brand or pre-packaged food. I hit the store when they’re turning over their stock on fresh meat so I can buy it at a discount. I make my lunch every day, so much PB&J can’t be good for you. Thankfully, I don’t have kids, but I think I could feed 2 people for $50. It is possible, but it is not fun. That being said, OMG less than $1000 a month to budget!!!! I wouldn’t be able to make it on that. I would move back home and become a hermit, a very sad hermit.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I’d be the same way - no way could I make it on that budget. At least not for long.

  • Carrie Smith

    I agree that working for minimum wage sucks! I started at less than that ($7 an hr) when I had my first job. While it was hard, I made it fine on my own. I didn’t have kids or a spouse, though.

    While you are considering how to save money while making minimum wage, you aren’t looking at ways to MAKE money. Side hustle as J Money calls it, or side income. Extra jobs, working part-time, going to Yard Sales on the weekends and then reselling things on eBay or Amazon.

    I did all of these things when I was working for less than minimum wage. Plus, like First Gen suggested there are other options like finding roommates. Or in my case again I bartered for things I couldn’t afford. I exchanged doing taxes for getting a hair cut and color. Just gotta get creative I guess.

    • Him and Her

      I would imagine that making more money is difficult when you have a child to take care of. If someone is spending 40+ hours a week at a minimum wage job, how many hours would this person have to dedicate to a side hustle? As a parent, the decision to spend time on a side hustle or with my child would be a difficult one.

      • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

        Very true! I worked two jobs in the spring and it was NOT worth the time I missed with my son. Plus who would be taking care of him while I worked one or more jobs? That’s something I didn’t even think about.

      • kel

        What you do, is find money making projects the family can do together, to both earn money and save what you have (or reduce expenses), For example, build a route emptying the plastic recycle bins for cans and soda bottles next to the soda machines. My husband does that. It costs him the clean trash bags. He trades out the full bags and replaces it with an empty bad. His take is that he gets the .05 per bottle/can for recycling. He bring that bag home and takes a kiddo with him to feed the recycle sorter machine at the grocery store and collect the receipt. They make a game of it, and race who can feed them faster. $100/wk for a factory setting. Not reliable, but not taxable either. That’s just one thing that people who are living on low wages look for, ways to make ends meet while meeting the needs of their most vulnerable family members.

      • Parkerkathleen

        And you’d have to add child care to your budget.

  • Shannyn

    Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book on this very same subject, “Nickel and Dimed” which I read a few years ago and felt totally disheartened after reading it. I need about $1000 to survive a month. I am single, have health insurance through school and live with 2 roomies for $320 a month +phone +utilities so about $450 a month. The other $550 has to cover my insurance, food, a very small Roth contribution and misc. expenses (gifts, public transportation, school/work supplies). It’s pretty tight and sometimes I have to dip into savings to get by, but I *made* more than minimum wage there for a bit, even working part time.

    I honestly don’t know how people in MW do it- most of my school friends and my coworkers when I worked at my old office were all on assistance to pay for food.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      LOVE Nickel and Dimed! I met Barbara Ehrenreich when I was in grad school. Definitely an eye-opening read.

      • kim

        EXCELLENT book! I re-read it every so-often to remind myself that I have it easy.

  • slug

    I would start by selling my house since that amount won’t even come close to my mortgage. Even if my worked the same job with me, we’d only have a few hundred dollars to cover all the rest of the household expenses for the month. It pains my brain to even try to do this analysis. I’ll just stop and be grateful for all I have.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      That’s kind of where I ended up - just praying I never end up in that situation because it’s impossible.

  • Mutant Supermodel

    That’s why most of them pile up the debt

  • JT

    Live in a home with another person and rent drops in half. That’s $200 extra. Your car insurance quote is WAAY too high for someone on minimum wage, who wouldn’t drive half as valuable of a vehicle as you. Plus, if you earn minimum wage, you can’t afford full coverage, nor would you need it. Also, state minimums only-you have no assets worth insuring. There’s an extra $250-60/mo just from these two items. I’d venture to guess you’d save on utilities, too.

    Actually, we’re forgetting about section 8 benefits, which limits your rent expenditures to 30% of your income, or roughly $308. So, you can find a roommate, or hit up section 8. In the best case scenario, you use Section 8 AND find a roommate! (That’s probably illegal.) There are plenty of income exclusions and reductions which come into play here. Medical expenses paid out of pocket, for example.As for retirement and health care savings, she’s contributing plenty to health care and retirement expenditures. FICA comes out to 15.4% on both sides. That pays for some of the Medicaid/Medicare expenditures and a retirement benefit from Social Security. There’s a tax credit for retirement savings for low income households. Up to $1,000 is refundable on up to $2,000 of annual retirement contributions. Uncle Sam gives a 50% match!Surviving on minimum wage would be difficult, but not impossible. It requires that you work more than 40 hours a week, or painfully cut expenditures. It also requires the realization that you simply cannot afford to bring another person into this world. I know that rubs people the wrong way, since everyone is entitled to children afforded by everyone else, but it’s just the reality of it. The best thing we can do to help people who work for minimum wage is lower the minimum wage. Having a minimum wage in place does not help the severe working poor; it merely reduces the number of available employment opportunities. It’s ridiculous that we agree, by fiat, that making $0 is better than making…say, $200 a week at $5 an hour. Her situation would be vastly improved if, over the long period that she was unemployed, she could have worked for even $5 per hour. Beats $0 an hour any day of the week.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      tl;dr =P

      I was trying to imagine this in my current living situation, which is in a house that doesn’t qualify for Section 8. But I guess that would have to be an option (though the Section 8 housing here is REALLY bad - like everywhere else).

  • Jeffrey Trull

    I lived for a whole year last year on about $1,000 a month plus $150 in food stamps as a VISTA. It was nearly impossible to live a life anything like the “American dream.” There was no way to come out with any savings for retirement or vacations or anything fun. Plus, you’re always one car repair or one medical accident away from being in some serious debt. I really don’t know how people do it long-term.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Have you ever posted about that experience? I’d love to read more about what that was like!

      • Jeffrey Trull

        I wrote a little about it here ( while I was mid-way through. I’ve been meaning to right a more in-depth post (perhaps as a guest post) on it but just haven’t done it yet.

  • YFS

    I could not make it on minimum wage now with my expenses and lifestyle. But, if I had to start over and made minimum wage all my life I could survive easily.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      That’s a good point - I think if you’ve never known anything else, it would be a lot easier to adjust. My income isn’t huge, but it’s significantly more than minimum wage, so I’ve just never had to deal with that.

  • Bridget

    I think minimum wage here is about $9/hr which would gross about $1400/mo.

    I could live on it, but I would be MISERABLE.

    If I made minimum wage, immediately downsize to an apartment that cost only $600 with all utilities (including internet). I would put $100/mo into savings, $150 for groceries, and divvy up whatever is left for personal care, cellphone, entertainment, and my debt repayment.
    Basically I would be clinically depressed in about 6 weeks.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I’m with you - I seriously couldn’t do it. If I still had credit card debt on top of it (or my student loans), I’d be in major trouble. I still can’t wrap my head around how people do it.

  • Vanessa

    I’ve never thought to examine the situation from this perspective… I can understand now how poverty is a sort of trap — once you get in, you need to claw yourself out because of all the negative forces working against you (high cost of living, emergencies, low minimum wage).

    Also, I thought that the US minimum wage was something like 5$? At least Kentucky has the sense to boost it up to 7.25$ :S

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Kentucky is actually at the bottom - the federal minimum wage in the US is $7.25. According to this link, Washington state is the highest at $8.67:

  • Bogofdebt

    I never had to do this while supporting a child but I’ve lived on minimum wage before. It sucked. Knocked down car insurance to only liability, had roomates, ate the bare minimum that I could and wasn’t able to save a dime. Not that I didn’t want to I just wasn’t making enough. I worked as many hours as I could and would try to “miss” the mandatory break (which worked when we were really busy) as it wasn’t paid for. If you work for fast food, most offer a discounted lunch for employees if not free.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I didn’t really think about car insurance - I was making assumptions based on my car (full coverage is required because I still have a loan) and not thinking about my hypothetical clunker. The more I think about this, the more I realize it would suck more than anything else I’ve ever done.

  • Niki

    I also wonder how anyone making minimum wage with a family could survive. I know a lot of people bash minimum wage earners because they do have debt and have large plasma TVs, or whatever their vice, but I can empathize. I couldn’t imagine working so hard just to get by. Always being one car repair, broken arm or tragedy away from going under. I think the debt is probably a bit of escapism.

    This kind of life is something people can’t just get out either. It takes money, time and energy. All resources that are pretty much exhausted just to survive. It seems to get out it you have to claw your way out fighting the whole time.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      The crappy thing is, many people tell me that once they’ve taken a minimum wage job, they get stuck in low-paying jobs forever. Even if you have multiple college degrees and prior high-paying jobs, once you take something “just until I find something else”, you are forever stuck at that level. No one is going to give you $20+ an hour when they know you’re making 7-something right now. It’s like a neverending cycle.

      • Kel

        I don’t buy that. There’s no holding a job over your head and not paying you a salary commensurate to your degree for the position you applied for just because you hustled fries at McDonald’s right after graduation. I completely disagree with “no one is going to give you $20+ an hour when they know you’re making 7-something right now. I think it shows initiative and ambition and wisdom rather than racking up credit card debt.

  • PKamp3

    Also, don’t forget the EITC, Earned Income Tax Credit. With three children it is either active or partially active up to $43,350 (in 2010, anyway).

    Politically, the Minimum Wage is genius. Economically, it’s stupid. Increased automation can replace jobs at the lower end of the pay spectrum - if you don’t believe me, try to go a day without seeing an ATM, soda machine, self-serve gas station, or self-checkout line. Drawing a hard line at $7.25, or $12.00, or whatever is completely arbitrary - companies will only be able to afford to hire a worker who earns them at least that arbitrary amount. In the short term, a Minimum Wage job might have to increase its pay. In the long term, automation will rule supreme (robots don’t get paid) and in the intermediate term prices will increase, so that new minimum wage doesn’t buy what it did before the law.

    Economically, the best solution is no Minimum Wage laws. That’s too cruel to those who would have lower paying jobs if there is nothing to replace it, so I am convinced that a Negative Tax (sort of like the EITC) is the ideal way to make up the gap between the lower paying jobs and a ‘living wage’. So lower paid professions could stay lower wage *and* they would get a living wage - the cost would be borne by all of a society, instead of just companies which employ lower wage workers.

    The second best solution? Don’t touch the minimum wage, let inflation erode the current amount, and strengthen EITC.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Thank you for the shorter, easier to understand version on Twitter.

      For those who missed it: “If you don’t make enough to live on, the government will refund you money.”

      • PKamp3

        Why type a sentence when an essay will do? Haha.

  • Insomniac Lab Rat

    I guess I’ve never been paid minimum wage-I started at $7.50 in college in 2005, and I don’t have any dependents (In high school, I actually started at $8.50/hr and worked my way up to $9.75 in the end, which allowed me to save up quite a bit before college, since I didn’t spend much). I only worked full time over the summer though, during the school year I only worked 12-15 hrs/week, and that was all they would pay me for, so I didn’t have much take home pay. But in college, living with multiple roommates and eating cheap food is pretty normal.

    My parents paid for my car insurance (on a crap car that was purchased with cash), health insurance, and cell phone bill, but I covered everything else. I really wanted to get out of college without student loans, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t cut out the occasional movie, ice cream, or restaurant meal. I couldn’t get a second job unless I quit dancing or volunteering (and/or studying), which I wasn’t willing to do. I couldn’t get by on that little pay without some debt, and I can’t imagine getting paid so little in the long term without accumulating more debt.

  • Serendipity Savings

    I made about $1000 a month for nine months out of the year for the past few years. It’s been pretty darn rough let me tell ya. I think that’s why I’m in so much student loan debt. But. I did have help. I met a terrific man who let me work part time while attending school full time and let me cover about a third of our household expenses. However, I could easily tell you if I went back and did it over again, exnay on the student loan debt and hell to the no on financing a car.

  • When_bill’s__go_down

    “I made about $1000 a month for nine months out of the year for the past few years. It’s been pretty darn rough let me tell ya. I think that’s why I’m in so much student loan debt. But. I did have help. I met a terrific man who let me work part time while attending school full time and let me cover about a third of our household expenses….
    -Serendipity Savings

    Wait a minute, are you talking about some kind of prostitution here or what? Everything was so hard, then you met a man….So, in exchange for some kind of sex, your bills have magically decreased? More than bills have gone down, huh?

  • Martilyo

    I think if I was tasked with working on minimum wage, was single and had no debt, I could do it. It wouldn’t be easy but doable. Rent a room not an apartment…working at a restaurant that allows free meals…bicycle to work. A couple things to keep in mind…. 1. Most minimum wage jobs that I see are entry level or meant for teenagers to work. The mindset a person should have if becoming unemployed it to get a job, yes, even McDonald’s for the short term. I have found that it is much easier to get a job when you are already employed. Work on moving back up the ladder of employment. Don’t be stagnant. I meet people everyday that tell me they have been unemployed for years. That tells me that they simply don’t want to work. You can ALWAYS create work. Laws of averages… get a lawn mower and go door to door asking if the resident need their lawn cut or any “odd job” you will eventually find someone. It is all about networking. Meeting people and telling them what you can do for them. Mow lawns, clean houses, wash windows, run errands. sell crap on eBay. Life if tough but it is only as tough as you make it.

  • Jackie

    Yes, I’ve worked for minimum wage. (Well, below minimum really, since it was in a restaurant and they didn’t have to pay minimum wage. I was supposed to get tips but didn’t…)

    At any rate, I could make it on today’s minimum wage pretty easily. It wouldn’t be fun, but I’ve lived on a whole lot less than that in the past, and it’s completely doable. But, it’s doable if you don’t live “normally” — where normal = a car payment, a student loan, a fancy cell phone, credit card debt, etc. — and if you live in a low cost of living area or have roommates.

    Hm, I may have to write about this in a post. I realized I’m starting to ramble

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  • eemusings

    It may be doable, but it leaves no room for error, as you can see.

  • Kylie Ofiu

    Wow, minimum wage is very, very low. Our minimum wage (Australia) is $15.51 hour, but cost of living here is much higher. No, I could not live on minimum wage (yours or ours). In Australia we also get a family tax benefit, so if you have a child or 2 you get fortnightly payments from the Government as long as you earn under $150,000 a year, plus $700 at time time for each child which helps.

    We also get parenting payment if you earn below a certain amount. With all that together, as in minimum wage and the government benefits you get I HAD to live like that much of this year. It was extremely hard and there was no way to pay off debt, have any paid for entertainment and no we didn’t have cable, don’t drink alcohol, smoke or do anything other than the basics. It was hard and I cannot imagine having to live like that constantly.

    I really, really do not know how anyone lives on minimum wage alone anywhere. It would be so incredibly hard. You would need 2 jobs or a second source of income somehow. Thats what we did when we were on minimum wage.

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  • LBC Teacher

    This is a great post! On Morgan Spurlock’s show Thirty Days he and his fiance worked minimum wage jobs for a month and showed what it was like. I know it’s on Netflix streaming, and probably iTunes. It’s worth watching and definitely enlightening.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Ooh, I haven’t seen that one! I’ll have to look it up on Netflix today. Thanks for the heads up!

  • Mercedes Kamencik

    I worked minimum wage (Which netted me between $700 and $800 a month if I were lucky to get extra hours) for about a year when I was between colleges and didn’t know what to do with my life. I was paying $500 a month in rent, which ate up most of my pay, and living off $5-10 a week in food and whatever was left over went to gas. I didn’t go out with friends, I didn’t have television (I did have DVDs which I watched over and over and over), it was winter in the upper mid-west, but I blocked every vent in the house and only heated one room, and even then I only had the ‘heat’ up to 55 degrees. I took cold showers because I didn’t want to waste the water waiting for the hot water to come up through the pipes…. It was a humbling time for me, but it made me oh so grateful for all of the things that I have now. And because I made it through that, I know I can make it through almost anything. (And also that minimum wage is not below me, like some people seem to think)

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Wow, thanks so much for sharing your experience. No matter how hard things have been for me in the past, I can say that I have never had to go to such extremes to survive, and I’m very thankful for that. I can’t even imagine how difficult that must have been for you!

  • smartmoney

    Ok, I’ve got to ask, what does everyone complaining about living on min wage spend their money on? My fiancee and me both had great paying jobs but I had a medical issue and my comfortable job laid me off while I was on medical leave - leaving me with tens of thousand in medical debt. My fiancee had a good paying job but it was very stressful. I paid off the bulk of my debt with my savings, we had a baby, my fiancee quit her job and I got a min. wage job and she got a part time job making min. wage. We make combined about $1300 a month. We have a 3 month old and get no help. We put $400 into savings a month, pay all our bills, cable, internet, grocery shop, put money away towards our child’s college fund and still have some money left over for other things. Next year we will be debt free and we will be putting 30% down on a house that is within our means and plan on paying that off within 5 years. We choose to live with min wage jobs, we live a stress free life where when we leave work its not thought of until the next day and get to spend more time with our child. I think some of you would benefit from reading Walden.

    I used to value material possessions over all and when I made good money I overspent and had debt. Now I value my family. I’d easily sell everything I own (I’ve sold off or gave away about 70% of my belongings already) and not even think twice.

    But you do have to have discipline - I work with people who cry about how broke they are and can’t afford gas, then payday rolls around and they go to the amusement park then the cycle starts again.

    In closing I’d rather make less and life a stress free life as long as I can give my son a good life. Debt free and living in a house you can afford in a good neighborhood is possible. I really wish I would have documented my journey - because most people find it unbelievable.

  • Dan

    Hi Andrea, let me first say how much I laughed and enjoyed your story on to poor to shop at walmart, because as I read that I was saying to myself omg thats me lol. Getting back to this story now believe it or not I am existing not living but existing on even less per month. Being unemployed since April 2010 I recieve a whoping 804 per month in unemployment benefits and 119 per month in food stamps, able bodied adult I dont qualify for health insurance. I live in chicago so a bit more expensive than kentucky here is my break down.
    rent 750.00
    car pymt 0 thanks to mom paying it off for me till I go back to work then pay her interest free(thanks mom) dont say that enough
    car insurance 100.00
    utilities 300.00 gas, electric and yes cable & internet they are nessasary if I want to find a job and not go crazy in the mean time.
    food lets just say the food stamps cover that which they dont uasally last 3 or 4 days of the month me and the dog get creative
    so 750+100+300=1150 out of 804= short 346 per month from the get go
    which is why I have taken in the roommate from hell( whole nother story there) but it keeps me a float .
    the real test of time and creativity will come at the end of the year when my unemployment runs out and I have no other spare bedrooms to rent out, and if you could have just seen my dogs face just now when writing this like he can read PRICELESS if he does not bite later lol

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      Hi Dan - thanks so much for sharing your story. My hat would be off to you if I was wearing a hat. I will send as much good karma your way as I can in hopes that something gets better for you soon.

    • Kel

      Dan, you are currently living above your means. You may even have to move to the NW Indiana suburbs and ride the train in for job searches. You can do this, but it does mean more sacrifice on your part. Your mom is artificially floating you for now, but it can’t last forever. You’ll feel better when you’re in an apt. you can afford (with lower utilities most likely), no roommate, and paying your mom back. You just plain sleep better at night when you live within your means.

  • Lisa - NYC

    I live in NYC, working full time 40+ hours/wk on a stipend of $250 a week, a ”internship” for 2 YEARS now, in a field that I did not major in, while I was in college (class of 09) I have a B.S. Degree and grad. top of my class. I filed for unemployment which gives me an additional $138 a week. I still can’t make ends meet: Rent is $1,050 a month, groceries are $100 every two weeks ( I am one of the few lucky ones to live on my own with my bf so its spilt but never 50/50), student loans (2 combined) are $250 a month, phone bill $53 a month plus transportation is $104 a month! You do the math! Forget about backpacking across Europe and exploring the world in my youth! I’ll be backpacking to the welfare line at this rate!

    • Parkerkathleen

      My daughter is trying to obtain an internship, but the cost factor of living in a major city and trying to get by is a major deterrent. Yet if she wants to succeed in her major, it will eventually be a necessity. ( Yes, she graduated with honors also. ) Unfortunately, her father and I are retiring and will have a limited budget to help with. I didn’t know about the added unemployment income. That would help.

  • Parkerkathleen

    Minimum wage in Pa. works out to be $876.40 a month after taxes. I don’t think it’s livable, but others think it is. Obviously a car has to go, rent has to be cheap, and food has to be obtained either from a food bank or through food stamps. They will defer student loans if you have them, but they do accrue interest. A bike make be a necessity. ( the pedal type ) This doesn’t include any type of insurance.

  • Hopeless

    I’ve been out of work for two years and my husband can’t work. We are pretty much broke, and everyone is telling me to go work for minimum wage. Even if I did, no, we couldn’t survive on that. Maybe if the job included health insurance, but right now I’m paying $260 a month for a bare-bones insurance plan. We rent a house, but the house is cheaper than most apartments around here. No, it’s not big enough for roommates. I have no debt-no credit cards, no car loans, no student loans. I guess the big luxury here is cell phones ($75/month) and Internet access ($15/month), which is on a special plan that Verizon offered us and if we let it go, we’ll never get the same prices again. We don’t eat out. We don’t go out to clubs or buy expensive stuff. All our furniture is used (inherited or from the Salvation Army).

    I’m at the end of my rope-I worked my way through college, had a good job for 7 years, and now I’m about to lose it all. Our savings are gone. We have one car and Lord knows when it might need repair. My husband needs a tooth pulled and we can’t pay for it. I guess the bare bones health plan will pay for his hospitalization when his mouth gets infected.

    I wish I were dead, to be honest with you. Everything I’ve worked for…has come to nothing.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I’m so sorry to hear that you’re going through a hard time. I wish I didn’t know that feeling of being so overwhelmed you can’t see any hope, but I’ve been there. It’s horrible. It sounds like you and your husband have made good decisions, yet you are still struggling. I wish I could offer some kind of comfort or a promise that things will get better, but I know that’s not what would be helpful for you right now. If you need to talk, don’t hesitate to email me. Hugs to you!

    • Hopeful

      Dear Hopeless,

      I am sorry to hear of your difficult situation.

      I tried to get a job for several months, but because I had been a stay at home parent to a special needs child had not worked in 11 years, it was very hard to find anyone who would hire me. Additionally even though I didn’t have great work experience, many potential employers considered me over qualified for entry level work because I have my BA and am a few classes short of getting my MA. With my reduced resources, I am struggling to finish my degree. I aspire to eventually having a higher paying position, but I realize I need to do whatever I can to help make ends meet now. Please don’t despair - the only way you will get out of your situation is if you do something about it, and trust me I know it can be depressing, but you just have to do something every day to help yourself. One thing I did was put out the word to friends and family that I was looking for work, and would take anything offered, even odd jobs - no matter the pay or type of work. I believed that it would put a couple of extra dollars in my pocket, but also could provide opportunity to demonstrate my work ethic, because you never know when an opportunity will present itself. Also, before I got my job I made it a goal to put out at least a dozen contacts a day - either sending out resumes, emails, or calling on job ads - every day, no matter how depressed I was.

      After months of searching I accepted the only job that was even offered to me…a part time position at an amount less than I was hoping to or needing to make. Though I will say that after reading this thread…I have a renewed gratitude for being offered the beginning salary I was rather than minimum wage. Within three months my hours were increased to 35 hours a week, and within six month period I was promoted to full time with a $2/hr raise with benefits. Although I am still terrified about how to live and support three children on what I make (especially since my ex is not helping financially at this time), I am grateful that I have a job. I truly believe that any job is worth having because it can be an opportunity to build skills, network, develop your work experience and prove yourself - which can lead to higher pay or a better job. I am a hard worker, reliable, and have an excellent attitude - and go to work everyday with a desire to demonstrate this to my employer. I am grateful to have my job, and I regularly let my manager and supervisor know this.

      I am still working for a wage that many of my friends are horrified by, and my ex husband disparages me for earning, but I know that every little bit helps. I can pay for things like gas and groceries and utilities, and though I am terrified for my future, I guarantee you that I am better off than when I had no income coming in.

      Good Luck