What Does a Minimum Wage Budget Actually Look Like?

Can a family really live on two minimum wage incomes? Or even better, one income? This seems to be a hot topic right now. Check out this post to see what that looks like in reality. Recently there has been a resurgence of the infamous, mockable sample budget that a couple of large companies put together to prove how a family can survive on a minimum wage budget. (If you don’t know what I am referring to, go search “ridiculous minimum wage budget spreadsheet” and you will find it.) This budget was originally published in 2013 when my husband and I were right out of college and living in a large city on two minimum wage salaries. I thought this may be a fun time to bring out our budget and show people what it really looks like to survive on minimum wage.

I have always been a meticulous budgeter. It’s something that I find completely necessary to live the lifestyle that I want on the income that my husband and I have. Even if our budget had more wiggle room in it, I would still keep an obsessive spreadsheet because I like to keep track of where our money goes. It’s how I set goals and prioritize.

Now I am digressing. Every family is different, and so the whole idea of a sample budget to show how people can live on minimum wage is a little absurd to begin with. I will say that “the” budget has some ridiculous flaws that we should address.  

Let me break the whole thing down for you a little bit:

Net Income – $2060
This number (if we assume that it is a pre-tax number) means that at the federal minimum wage of $7.25, this person is working 71 hours per week. Say they lived in Chicago or another large city where minimum wage was $8.25 in 2013, then they are only working 62 hours per week. But…like I said, that’s pre-tax. When do the taxes come into play here?

Savings – $100
If you are working minimum wage, what are the chances that you actually put $100 into savings every month? Just saying.

Mortgage/Rent – $600
This one really depends on where you live and what your home is like. No comment here.

Car Payment – $150
Ok, I’ll buy that one.

Car/Home Insurance – $100
Sure, that’s not too crazy.

Health Insurance – $20
Whose premium is that low? Seriously!

Heating – $0
Ok, we can give them the benefit of the doubt and say that heat is included in your rent…

Cable/Phone – $100
This will depend on provider, area, etc., but ok, sure.

Electric – $90
Eh, ok.

Other – $100
So I suppose this includes – groceries, dining out, household supplies, toiletries, the basic staples to live?


Yeah, anyway – I think we all can agree that their budget is flawed.


So what does a budget look like when you actually live on two minimum wage incomes?

Well, let me start by painting a picture for you.

In October 2013 we were:

Right out of college
Living in Chicago
Newly married
I worked for the minimum wage company in question
(I was a manager in training making $0.10 over minimum wage because I transfered stores and lost my seniority pay. Upon completing my hours of training I would be making $8.75 per hour.)
My husband worked for a large coffee chain
I was on my parents insurance
I worked a second and sometimes a third job with a theatre company
Our student loans were not yet due
We had one car that we bought used for $2500 – it was older than me. 


Here is what our budget looked like:

We made it work on our minimum wage jobs. We always found a way, and we were even able to afford to go out with our friends on occasion – when we found the time after work. At this point, we were starting careers and looking for better jobs. I was a freelance stage manager and my husband was getting his EMT license. I ended up finding another restaurant to work for that paid me $11.50 per hour for a job that I liked much, much better.

Minimum wage worked for us as a stepping stone. We were young and just starting out. There is no way that we would have been able to have a family or own a home with the lifestyle that we have now on minimum wage. Without getting too political, I will say that minimum wage is a floor that acts like a ceiling. There are a lot of employers out there that are making a change for the better by setting their own wages, and recognizing that their employees are worth more than just the minimum amount they can legally pay. That is a great step in the right direction.

Can a family really live on two minimum wage incomes? Or even better, one income? This seems to be a hot topic right now. Check out this post to see what that looks like in reality.

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17 thoughts on “What Does a Minimum Wage Budget Actually Look Like?

  1. It very hard and you managed. We struggle just above the line of poverty, and are in the whole each month. Live for the paycheck, gone by the time it hits the bank. Working to solve this bleed as we dig out. Black beans and rice is a staple! Sometimes we live it up and have rice and black beans! 🙂 Great post. I am paying close attention! #stayclassymama

    • Haha. Black beans are a big staple in our house! I have a recipe coming for black bean soup that you’ll have to try. It’s great with rice in it too. 😉

  2. Lot of truth here. I totally agree with you. However, I don’t agree with a national law to raise the minimum wage. It only forces employers to cut jobs/hours, as we’ve seen in cities that have done this. I use to work as a store manager for a large corporation. We had many employees who worked over 35 hours a week but under 40 so the company didn’t have to provide health insurance. When the ACA was passed, I received countless emails from the corporation demanding that I cut all part-time employees down to 23 hours and if one single employee worked one minute over that 23 hours I would be written up. All those employees then had to go and get a second job to make up for the hours they lost. And then the Obama Administration claimed “all these new jobs were created” during that time, when in reality, they were just more part-time minimum jobs created because employees were forced to find a second job and employers now had to double their staff to make up for all the hours their employees could no longer work. Now in my area there are “help wanted” jobs everywhere. Every store, restaurant, company is looking for workers and they can’t fill these jobs because there’s not enough people who either want to work for minimum wage or want to work at all. I don’t know what the solution is, but as someone who used to work in management for a large corporation, I know that if you create a law with the intention of helping people, corporations always find a way around that law, and it ends up hurting people.

    • You have a great point. There are too many people who can’t find full time employment because it just costs the companies too much money. Raising minimum wage (especially drastically) will have big effects that are both positive and negative. I don’t know what the solution is, but we need to keep working to find one.

  3. Living on the minimum wage is really hard, especially when you have a family. You are such a hard working family and its great that you can find the time to pay that off with you love ones. Thanks for linking up with us on #FabFridayPost

    • It is a challenge! Too many families have to face it. We are fortunate that we have found a way to move on from that phase in our lives. We were able to find “better” jobs and buy a house before starting a family. Yes, it takes hard work, but that’s not all there is to it.

    • It’s always been something that I think everyone could work on – being organized with your money. It’s crazy when you realize what you actually spend your paycheck on for the first time.
      Thanks for stopping over.

    • It is a real struggle, and I can’t imagine doing it with a family! Too many people use barely make it work though.
      Thanks for stopping by.

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