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?

Posted in budget, career, debt, income, poverty, work | 61 Comments

How Many Plates Can You Spin?



When I was in college, one of my sociology instructors LOVED the analogy of plate spinning. He used it to describe everything from writing a paper to living in poverty. No matter how long and hard a circus performer trains, there is always a limit to how many plates he can spin before they all come crashing to the floor. Similarly, all of us reach a point where we simply cannot do more than we’re already doing.

My life circumstances have helped me become an expert plate spinner. Every day, I juggle single parenthood, my real job, blogging, housework, taking care of my dogs, and occasionally taking time for things I enjoy. My entire life consists of multitasking - when I’m at work, I’m responding to blog emails between clients. When I’m burning up Twitter at night, I’m also doing laundry or helping my son with homework. I’ve found I can’t even watch a TV show or movie without finding something to do at the same time.

I’m not saying I’m some kind of amazing person. Plenty of people do WAY more in a day than I ever thought about. Some are worrying about how to pay all the bills or put dinner on the table. They may work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Thankfully, those aren’t issues I have to deal with at the moment, but I never let myself forget that it could happen. Easily.

There is always someone dealing with more than you are. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t struggling.

Yesterday, I spent most of the day feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks I needed to accomplish. So much that I ended up accomplishing very little. I have a lot of issues weighing on my mind that are distracting me from the things I need to do. That’s unlike me - normally the pressure of a deadline gives me energy and helps me stay on track. In this case, though, I was absolutely paralyzed by the realization that there was NO WAY to get everything done.

So what did I do? Basically, I curled up in a fetal position and stayed there. I couldn’t spin any more plates.

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Posted in behavioral finance, goals, random | 19 Comments

Confession: I’m Not Frugal


I probably read 200 blog posts a week that reference frugality. How to save on groceries. How to make your own laundry detergent. How to reuse everything from old sweaters to rotten carrots. And while I’m always amazed by the ways people find to save money, I’m not a frugal person.

I’m a pack-a-day smoker. An avid purchaser of gadgets. A spendaholic in remission. None of these qualities are synonymous with frugality.

Do I turn in my PF blogger card now, or should I wait for it to be taken by brute force? :)

There’s nothing WRONG with being frugal. In fact, if you’re struggling with debt, it probably wouldn’t hurt to look at a few ways to hold onto more money. I’m in debt and it definitely wouldn’t hurt me! Personally, though, frugality isn’t high on my priority list. (Once in awhile, I do love saving money with Finish Line coupons and others!)

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Posted in confessions, saving, spending | 36 Comments

What is an MPAN/MPRN?

This is a guest post from First Utility.

In 1998 the UK introduced the Competition Act. This provided an outline against the abuse of dominant market positions by large corporations. This act helped to offer a more competitive market for electricity and gas suppliers. Now consumers can get competitive pricing on gas and electricity not just from the larger corporations but from new and smaller competitors in the energy sector. To make referencing the electrical and gas supply units clearer so it’s easy to switch they were assigned with unique identifying numbers. Electrical meters are assigned a number that is called the Meter Point Administration Number (MPAN). Gas meters are given Meter Point Reference Numbers (MPRN). These numbers help customers change their services easily and reduce administration tasks.

To understand the MPAN number look at the two rows of numbers in an outlined box. There is a large S in the box that precedes two rows of MPAN numbers. The core numbers, located on the bottom row, are thirteen numbers that are identifiers. The supplementary data, located on the top row, are eight numbers that are broken up in parts to give the details of the meter supply. This supplementary information is exclusive to the supplier. The information is required to be listed on electricity bills that are sent to the customer. To look for the MPAN numbers search the bill to find the box of numbers, sometimes they are small print.

The first two numbers on the top row are called the profile class and these numbers show the type of usage for the meter. Domestic NHH, or non-half hour, usage profile numbers will always be a 01 or 02. Non-Domestic HH, or half hour, usage profile numbers will 03 through 08. The second set of three numbers is called the meter switch time code. This code represents the registers the meter may read. The third set of numbers is the line loss factor class. This group of numbers tells the distribution company the costs that are being charged to the supplier to use the network in a particular region and for using the cables.

The first two digit number on the bottom row identifies the distribution company. This company is responsible for the cables that deliver electricity to the meter. The next group of numbers is called the meter point ID number. This number is the reference number for the meter at the customer’s property. The last group of three digits is called the check digit. This number validates the previous twelve core digits and is figured using an algorithm calculation.

The number that is allocated to gas meters is the MPRN and has up to ten identifying numbers in one long string. There are two kinds of gas meters for domestic homes, credit and prepayment meters. The credit meter records the amount of gas used, and a bill is sent to the customer. The MPRN search is easily done, look for the MPRN number by searching the top and bottom of the bill.

When customers decide to change suppliers for service, they must have their MPAN and MPRN numbers ready. This allows a smooth transition when switching service.

Company Profile:

First Utility is an energy company with a difference. We want to help you understand your energy usage, reduce your carbon footprint and ensure you receive accurate bills.

For more information about gas and electricity please visit

Posted in budget, guest posts, saving, utilities | 2 Comments