Living on minimum wage is one of the hardest thing a family can go through, especially when there’s kids involved.
When I was earning minimum wage and going to college I found it extremely hard to make it by day-to-day and I was only paying $200 a month in rent at the time, so imagine if you have to pay $800+ and child care costs on top of that? Stress. So, obviously learning how to survive in minimum wage to support your family is essential for your sanity.
Being able to organize your finances so you can stop living paycheque to paycheque while earning minimum wage will help you save money, pay down your debt, and make sure you have enough money for your groceries each week.
Let’s dig in to my 15 best tips to teach you how to survive on minimum wage!
14 tips for how to survive on minimum wage
1. limit transportation costs
If you’re living on a minimum wage income, you should not be spending hundreds of dollars a month on your vehicle. Especially not a car payment!
If you can, it’s probably best that you use some kind of public transporation, but if you live in a smaller town where that isn’t feasible for you to get to work, it’s okay if you have a car.
However, it’s kind of hard for you to afford a car on minimum wage without having to seriously cut costs in other places. If you’re paying for insurance, gas, repairs, and a car payment, you’ll have nothing left at the end of the month!
If you decide to have a car of your own, you should try your absolute hardest to not have a monthly car payment. Pay for a really inexpensive car with cash if you can make it happen so you don’t have to worry about paying month to month. The car won’t be the nicest, however, it’ll get you from point A to point B and it will help you save a ton.
You should also be sure to having a car repair sinking fund since you’ll have an older car that will probably need repairs.
You can also try to carpool with other coworkers who are in a similar position as you and could be helped by carpooling to work to save some money.
2. Keep housing costs down
One of the worst things you can do when living on minimum wage is to become house poor. This is when you spend so much money each month on rent or a mortgage that you have no money left to do anything else.
If you’re in a relationship or have children it’s important to not get too much home for the amount of money you make. For example, if you’re married with two children, you don’t need a 3 bedroom house, your kids can share a room if it means they’ll actually get to eat healthy food and have clean clothes on their backs.
There are also some awesome apartment buildings where you can do some work in the building (i.e., cleaning, maintenance, etc) in exchange for a lower rent payment each month. It never hurts to ask!
3. meal plan to keep grocery costs down
Meal planning is one of the best things you can do for your budget, no matter how much money you make. When you don’t have a meal plan in place, you’re much more likely to eat out or impulse shop at the grocery store.
It’s important that you cook all your meals from scratch so that you can not only save money but also eat healthier for you and your family.
When planning a meal, it’s a really awesome tip to plan your menu around the items that are on sale that week. You can grab a pen, paper, and this week’s flyers and choose what you’ll have to eat based on that information.
- There’s this awesome website called $5 Meal Plan where for only $5 a month they’ll give you a detailed meal plan and grocery list each week, which will end up saving you way more than $5 a month! Try out two weeks free!
Another great tip is to limit impulse snacking, for example, you’re on break at work and you walk down to the local 7/11 and buy a chocolate bar and a soda. It may only be $3 but that $3 can add up to a lot of money by the end of the month.
You can limit this by either never snacking at all, or by bringing your own snacks that you purchase in bulk with you wherever you go.
4. try out free/inexpensive entertainment options
One of the hardest things about living on minimum wage is that it’s hard to say no to friends and family when they want to go out and spend money. I’ve been there, it’s awkward to tell them you can’t go because you have no money, and then there’s that inevitable moment when someone offers to pay for you. Mortifying.
My favourite solution? Well, when my friends say “hey, we should do something this weekend” I’m the first one to say “yeah for sure, let’s have a movie night at my place, bring some snacks!” because that night with friends will cost me a few dollars instead of an expensive dinner.
- There’s an awesome article from The Busy Budgeter with a giant list of Free Entertainment Options!
5. have an emergency fund
One of the scariest moments when living on minimum wage is when some kind of unexpected emergency happens. Especially if you don’t have an emergency fund.
Imagine this, you’re working hard, going to work every day and BOOM you run into a light pole. It was your fault so your insurance isn’t very helpful and now you’re out 500 bucks. You have two options:
- You have to put that money onto a credit card because you don’t have any savings
- You have your $1000 Emergency Fund in place and you can use that money to cover the cost and not cry yourself to sleep that night
I’d say that 99.9999999% of people will choose the second option, every single time.
You can check out our article about growing a $1000 Emergency Fund to learn more!
6. don’t buy expensive electronics
If you’re living on minimum wage, having the new iPhone 427 isn’t going to make you happy (yes, I just made that iPhone up, please don’t google it thinking you missed something, haha!).
It’s really common for people to email me about their finances hoping to get help and answers and then get mad at me when I tell them to sell their expensive iPhone or their $2000 MacBook.
Having expensive electronics in your pocket is not going to make you a happier person, it’s not going to fill a void in your life, and it certainly isn’t going to help your finances.
You can get by with an older (used) model of an iPhone, or a cheaper android alternative. You can buy a used television and a used computer. There are so many options out there!
7. sell things you don’t need
Having a ton of extra stuff in your house seems like a great idea but it’s actually be known to cause you to lose things and convince yourself that you need more things which seems kind of backwards.
Trying to get rid of the things you own that you don’t actually use or need is an amazing way to save money, make money, and stay more organized.
You can spend a weekend going through your closets, dressers, and storage areas, and probably find $1000 worth of stuff you forgot you had or haven’t worn in months.
Thankfully, we live in an awesome time where you can sell your items in a ton of places (i.e., Facebook Marketplace) and people will come pick it up from you! I once made $500 in a weekend by cleaning out my closet from selling old clothes on Facebook Marketplace!
8. buy used whenever possible
In an ideal world, we’d never need to buy things again and we could save all that money for a nest egg and have fun with it! However, that’s pretty unrealistic and we need to buy things once in a while.
A key to saving money when you’re living on minimum wage is to buy used whenever you possibly can. Especially, if the item is expensive (i.e., appliances).
Luckily, we’re in a time where you can buy things used in so many different places:
- Thrift Shops
- Facebook Marketplace
You have so many options and can save hundreds of dollars a year by buying items used instead of paying for the ticket price!
9. limit utilities expenses
Oh, utilities, a necessary evil. Wouldn’t it be nice if the government let us all be warm and toasty in our homes without having to pay for it? My dream world.
Anyway, limiting your utilities is actually insanely easy to do! Here’s a few tips for you to follow to make it happen:
- Take shorter showers
- Take luke warm showers instead of hot
- Do laundry during off-peak hours to save $
- Put on sweaters, socks, slippers, and blankets before you start turning on the heat
- Or take off your sweaters, socks, slippers, and blankets before you turn on the air conditioning
- Unplug things that you aren’t using so you aren’t wasting power, or use power bars so you can just flip a switch
10. get a roommate
One of the smartest things you can do if you’re single is to have a roommate (or roommates) to share the cost of living with. You’ll be able to split your rent, utilities, and more and you’ll save a ton.
You’ll also get to save time by only doing half the chores, and you’ll always have someone to watch TV with if you’re lonely. You can go from spending $1000 on a one bedroom apartment to spending only like $600 on a two bedroom with a roommate! It’s a great option for anyone short on cash.
11. have a side hustle
If you’re making minimum wage, a great option for you is to have some kind of side hustle to make up the difference.
Fun Fact: This blog started as a side hustle and transitioned to my full-time job!
You could try out apps like Uber, Uber Eats, Postmates, etc. that allow you to work when you want to but don’t have permanent work hours. You can increase your savings relatively quickly this way and it can help you live a more satisfying life!
Another awesome option is to start a blog of your own, you can make your own hours, work from home, and earn thousands of dollars a month. AND starting a blog is a super inexpensive side hustle. You can check out this article on my other blog: The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Blog.
12. Have a detailed budget
Oh, budgeting. I know it gets a bad reputation around the world for being boring and soul crushing. However, budgeting is the best thing you can do for your finances! THE BEST.
My favourite thing about budgeting is that it lets you plan for your expenses and be proactive about your money instead of being reactive when something goes wrong. You can plan ahead of birthday gifts, nights out, and other good stuff, while being able to pay all your bills and not end up in more debt.
I suggest you check out How to Create a Bare Bones Budget, which is the best budget to have if you’re earning minimum wage or working on an irregular income.
We also have a ton of other awesome articles about budgeting that we suggest you check out:
- Budgeting for Beginners: A 7 Step Guide
- The Highlighter Budgeting Method
- 50/30/20 Budgeting
- Zero-Based Budgeting
- Budgeting for Teens: A 6 Step Guide
13. AVOID USING CREDIT
There are a ton of people out there who believe that credit cards are evil, and although I’m not one of those people, I do believe that credit cards aren’t the best options for people who are on minimum wage.
Why? Well, I believe that having any kind of debt when on a low income is going to make your life more difficult, and growing the amount of debt you have is a lot easier if you’re continuing to use credit cards when you can’t afford something.
When I was on minimum wage, I found that I charged everything to my credit cards, even when I could afford it and I would convince myself that I had double the money because of my credit card! This is not a good way to look at things.
I suggest you stop using credit cards immediately unless there’s some kind of absolute disaster where you don’t have another option. If you decide you need to keep using credit cards, you must use them intelligently, so check out this article: 11 Credit Card Rules You Should be Following.
14. REDUCE OVERALL DEBT
Having debt is super hard on anyone, especially if you aren’t bringing in a ton of money each month. One of the best things you can do for your day-to-day is to start paying off that debt as quickly as you can.
I understand that this is going to take a while since you’re not bringing in Bill Gates levels of money, but it’s going to put you in a positive trajectory no matter what.
Something I always tell people is that they should put ANY cash windfalls (ie., tax refunds, back child support, birthday money, ANYTHING) towards paying off their debt and if they have no debt, immediately toward their savings.
Here’s a few posts you can read to get yourself started:
- Things You Should Do BEFORE Paying Off Debt
- Mistakes People Make When Paying Off Debt
- How to Use The Debt Snowball To Pay Off Debt
Final Thoughts ON HOW TO SURVIVE ON MINIMUM WAGE
Being on minimum wage is hard, but it doesn’t have to be horrible. Taking the time to read this post hopefully taught you how to survive on minimum wage and helped you in some way!
Take these tips into consideration and start making smarter decisions to make your day to day finances easier on yourself.
Thanks for reading!