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How to Survive On Minimum Wage


Are you trying to survive on minimum wage or know someone that is? Or, perhaps you have always wondered if it would be possible to live on solely a minimum wage job? Based on my findings, let me tell you – it isn’t easy…

Minimum Wage 

In the state on Michigan, the minimum wage is $7.40 per hour. If you are able to work 40 hours per week, your grand total for the month would be $1,184 before taxes. After you give Uncle Sam his cut of your loot, you’ll be left with something close to $1,000 per month. Is it possible to survive on such little money? Let’s find out!

In order to survive in this world, everyone must fulfill three basic needs: shelter, food, and clothing – so first find out if we can possibly fund these needs before moving on to other “necessities”.

Paying for Shelter

When you’re only earning $1,000 a month, there honestly aren’t many options when it comes to renting a place to stay. To survive, you certainly need to spend less than $500 on your place (to leave money for the other necessities). In my area, I was able to find a pretty decent room for rent (sharing with one other person) for $400 a month, which included utilities and trash removal. It’s definitely not the palace everyone dreams of, but it is clean and affordable.

Shelter cost = $400/month

storeBuying Food

If you are only providing food for yourself, you can easily get by on $200 a month (heck, my grocery bill is typically under $250 a month and I don’t even try that hard). If you are a single mom with a small child, you can get by on $250 a month. This can be accomplished by doing some extreme couponing or by heading to a discount food market like Aldi (one of my favorite stores) or Save-A-Lot. For this little amount per month, you definitely won’t be eating steak or shrimp, but you will be able to provide healthy meals for yourself for a very reasonable price.

Food = $250/month


Surviving on $1,000 a month means that you won’t be shopping at Target for your clothes – TJ Maxx either for that matter. Goodwill is an excellent store for you to invest in clothing. Before you turn up your nose, realize that there are some very nice clothes there (that sometimes actually come brand new from Target) and are available for only $1 or $2 a shirt, and less than $5 for pants. With this method, you can keep a very full wardrobe for only $30 a month.

Clothing = $30/month

All the Other Necessities on Your Remaining $320

busYou might be thinking, “What about a car? I need to have a car to get to and from work!” I have learned that cars are one of the single greatest expenses for any given person. When you add up the cost of the car, gasoline, insurance, maintenance, and repairs, and automobile is simply out of the range of a minimum wage employee. In order to survive, you just need to find a rental that is incredibly close to your job (within walking, biking, or busing distance). You can find a cheap mountain bike for $25 (but yes, the color may be purple…) with maintenance costs of about $15 a month. Or, you can step up into the next class and decide to ride the bus for $2 a day. The monthly fee for this is $60.

Transportation = $30 a month

To be honest, having a telephone is basically a necessity today. No, you won’t be able to afford a data plan, but you can sign up with a major carrier and get a nearly-free phone for just $40 a month.

Cell Phone = $40 a month

Medical emergencies are bound to happen. So, to prevent from going into debt over an accident, you should have basic insurance coverage. For one adult and a child, health insurance will run you about $75 a month. I would add another $25 a month into a fund to cover any co-pays or deductibles that will need to be paid in the future. In total, plan on $100 a month for insurance.

Insurance = $100 a month

Even though you only earn $1,000 a month, you still have the right to some fun once in a while. Plan activities and outings that cost no more than $25 a week, or $100 a month. This might be a visit to the water park or maybe there is a movie that you’re dying to see. Well go, have some fun and do those things that would give you pleasure. Everybody needs this once in a while.

Have Fun = $100

Well, it is the end of the month and you still have $50. This money should go toward an emergency fund, and once you have $1,000 in a bank account, you should start investing that money in a quality index fund (which can be purchased through online venues such as eTrade for a minimal expense). Investing for the future is important because no one can work forever. Eventually, we will need to fund our everyday lives on our reserves instead of our income.

Emergency Fund/Investments = $50

And that’s how you live on minimum wage! It most certainly isn’t easy and I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it, but it can be done.

What do you think? Could you survive on minimum wage?



My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. If you made $1000 per month, you’d qualify for Medicaid so no health insurance costs. This could work for a single but with kids it is incredibly hard and that’s when people start applying for all the government programs. People who know they will live on minimum wage should think long and hard before having kids without any sort of plan. It would be a very hard life.

    • Would Medicaid cover all your insurance needs though? I feel that you would need something else. Btw, in this article, I did factor in the cost of having one child. It can be done, but it will certainly be tough!

  2. I don’t think you could survive by yourself but living in a home with others may make it possible.

    • I fully agree Marvin. Although, you could luck out and find some cheap rent above someone’s garage or something. You would technically have the place to yourself, but the rent should be super cheap. Thanks for the comment!

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