food How To

Today’s Challenge: Survive on Minimum Wage for One Month

How long has it been since you were in college?

Remember how awesome it was to just head out to the university cafeteria and eat everything you wanted, just because you could?  Hey – it was like an unlimited Las Vegas buffet, but without the cover charge.  Unlimited pizza. Unlimited ice cream. Unlimited single-patty burgers (double-patty burgers only allowed on your first trip through the grill line).

Yeah, there’s a reason it’s called the Freshman 15, and it has nothing to do with the free beer you’re sucking down on weekends, either.

You Want Fries With That: A White-Collar Burnout Experiences Life at Minimum Wage
You Want Fries With That?
A White-Collar Burnout Experiences Life at Minimum Wage

Web Watch knew a guy who believed that he didn’t need his university food plan.  He calculated it out, and determined that he was paying about $8 per day for three unlimited meals.  He figured he could do better off the school plan, and save money by doing so.  Could he have survived with enough nutrition in his diet on $56 a week, eating three meals a day for just one person?

He probably could.  It might not have been pretty – a lot of ramen noodles, for example – but he swears he could.

Of course, he didn’t have access to a full kitchen or refrigerator at the time. Just a microwave oven and a shared mini-fridge.  So he was never able to realize his dream of saving some cash while still in school.

So let’s fast-foward a bit to today.


And we’re not talking about trying to support a family.  It’s just you, living alone.  Could you do it?

According to Andrea Whitmer, chances are you couldn’t.  Even if you cut out every single frivolity you have in your life.

Her breakdown went like this:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Food (assuming $50 a week – but at least she has a full kitchen to work with)
  • Phone (whether it be landline or a prepaid cell phone, you need to stay in contact somehow)
  • Car insurance
  • Gas
  • Taxes

In her example, the car was already paid off.  No cable TV at home. No Internet access at home.  Bringing lunch to work every day. No eating out at restaurants. No alcohol. No smoking.

So take a look at that list above, and work out what your monthly payments would be total.   Now, let’s take a look at your minimum wage income…

It’s just $7.25 an hour (SOME STATES HAVE HIGHER MINIMUM WAGES, as much as $9 an hour – and some states don’t have a baseline minimum at all… but let’s work with a reasonable minimum wage here for discussion purposes).

You work one job for 40 hours a week.  That’ll give you $290 a week before taxes, or around $1160 a month.  And reasonable money advice would be to tell you to get a 2nd part-time job.  So let’s round that up to 60 hours a week you’re working with no overtime pay – that’s $435 a week before taxes, or $1740 a month.

So – that’s your baseline to work with.  Taking all your hard expenses into consideration, could you successfully live on $1740 gross a month, and still have some cash left over to begin an emergency fund, pay medical bills, shop for clothes, or build savings?

What about if you couldn’t get that 2nd job, and you were stuck at just $1160 a month?

Take the minimum wage challenge — post your wage-to-expense difference in the comments below, and let us know if you would be able to do it or not.