If you’re earning minimum wage, you might not consider it a living wage. After all, it can be hard to cover the cost of living in many places if you’re paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. But you don’t have to resign yourself to living a bare bones existence if your wage is low.
Click through to see how you can live comfortably while earning minimum wage.
Create a Budget That Prioritizes Needs
If your income is limited, make sure it covers your needs first. It’s hard to live comfortably if your needs aren’t covered.
“Food, shelter, clothing and utilities are needs,” said Donna Freedman, author of “Your Playbook For Tough Times.” “The rest is just a series of wants.”
Creating a budget can help. List the expenses you have to pay to survive. Add them up, and then subtract them from your income. If there’s little left over, you might have to make some sacrifices. Don’t think of cutting out wants to cover needs as deprivation, though. Think of it as smart use of available funds, said Freedman.
It can be tempting to turn to credit cards to cover costs or pay for those wants that don’t fit in your budget. But one of the keys to living comfortably on a minimum wage is to avoid going into debt, said Bruce McClary, vice president of communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
“If you are making minimum wage and your budget is stretched to the limit, debt is poison,” he said. It’s one more monthly expense you’ll have to pay that will leave you with less money for the things you need.
Build an Emergency Fund
If you’re living on minimum wage, you might not think you can afford to set aside money each month for an emergency fund. But without savings, would you be able to afford an unexpected cost?
“The thing that keeps you out of debt is to find room in your budget to grow your savings,” McClary said. You won’t be able to grow it fast, but if you can set aside a little each month in an emergency fund, you can fall back on your savings rather than debt when an emergency strikes.
Take Advantage of Tax Breaks
When you file your tax return, take advantage of tax breaks for low-wage workers such as the earned income tax credit.
To qualify for the 2017 tax year, your income must fall below certain limits — from $15,010 if you’re single with no children up to $53,930 if you’re married with three or more children.
If the credit you receive is more than the taxes you owe, the IRS will refund you the difference. That refund check can be used to help pay off debt, build an emergency fund or cover expenses.
Eat at Home
Food is an essential expense, but it’s one you can control. The best way to do this is by cooking at home rather than eating out, said Freedman — especially considering that nearly 44 percent of Americans’ food dollars go toward meals that aren’t prepared at home.
Plenty of websites — such as 5dollardinners.com and LeanneBrown.com — provide recipes for meals that are good but cheap. Freedman also recommends using Google to type in ingredients you have plus the word “recipes.”
“Getting creative with what you have on hand versus shopping or calling the pizza joint accomplishes two goals: You stay under budget and you clean out the fridge, freezer or pantry rather than leave foods to waste,” she said.
Cut the Cost of Groceries
“Being smart with your food dollars doesn’t mean subsisting on cold oatmeal and six-for-a-dollar ramen,” said Freedman. “Delicious, easy-to-prepare meals are possible on a tight budget.”
The key to saving money on groceries is planning your weekly menu and shopping list based on what’s on sale at the supermarket. Check your grocer’s website for its weekly ad, or pick one up as you head into the store.
Also check your supermarket’s clearance rack for deeply discounted items and the “manager’s special” meat bin for meat that’s marked down 30 percent to 50 percent because it’s near its sell-by date.
Find the Deepest Discounts
Don’t limit your deal hunting to groceries. McClary said you should spend extra time finding the deepest discounts on all the goods and services you use.
You can scour sites such as Slickdeals to find the best prices on items you need, RetailMeNot for coupons and Cardpool for discounted gift cards you can use at supermarkets, gas stations or retail stores.
Discover More Discounts: 9 Sites for the Best Online Coupons
Cut the Cost of Insurance
You might be able to free up room in your budget by lowering your monthly auto insurance premium.
“Ask how much you would save by raising your deductibles or whether it’s appropriate to drop collision,” Freedman said.
Also, shop around to find the best deal on auto insurance. You might save money by switching insurers.
Keep Down the Cost of Utilities
If you can’t keep up with the cost of your utilities on just minimum wage, you might not have to resort to bundling up in blankets all winter just to stay warm or sweating it out in the summer. Freedman recommends calling your utility providers to see if they offer reduced rates for people in financial trouble.
Or if you live in a state with a deregulated electric or gas market, shop around to see if you can get a lower rate from another provider.
Sell What You Don’t Need
You likely have hidden sources of income lying around your house — things you don’t need that can be sold. “Electronics, bicycles, collectibles and even toys might fetch a fair amount,” Freedman said. “Someone paid me $1,200 for a little plastic baseball figurine.”
So scour your home for items you can advertise on Craigslist, Facebook or OfferUp, or sell them on eBay or in a consignment store.
Buy Used Rather Than New
You can outfit yourself, your kids and your home for less by buying gently used items at a thrift or consignment store. In fact, you can often find quality items that are deeply discounted, McClary said.
The key is to shop at resale stores where more affluent people live. He once found a brand-name sports coat for $10 at a thrift store in a nice neighborhood near Chicago.
More Tips: Times It’s OK to Buy Used Instead of New
Take Advantage of the Public Library
The public library offers plenty of freebies that can make life more enjoyable — and affordable. Of course, you can check out books for free. You also can borrow DVDs and CDs so you can have free entertainment.
McClary said public libraries usually have free WiFi — so you can get online to find deals, compare prices or search for better-paying jobs.
Find Free Things to Do
“You certainly want to do things that can add joy to your life,” McClary said. But when you’re living on a minimum wage, you should find ways to have fun that won’t leave you in debt.
Fortunately, there are plenty of free things to do in every state — from museums to hiking trails to public concerts. Check your city government or community paper website for a calendar of events.
Take Advantage of Workplace Benefits
If your employer offers any workplace benefits such as health insurance, a flexible spending account or retirement plan with a matching contribution, you should take advantage of them.
You might have avoided signing up for benefits because you didn’t want to have money taken out of an already small paycheck to pay for them. But employee benefits can save you hundreds of dollars. Even if you work part time, you still might qualify for benefits — so check to see what’s available.
Find a Second Job
Finding a second job — especially if the one you’re working is just part time — can help you go from scraping by to living comfortably.
You might even be able to make money without a 9-to-5 job by taking surveys at sites such as InboxDollars and Opinion Outpost, getting paid to test websites or participating in online juries.
Get a Job With Tips
When the company Catherine Treme was working for closed, she said she was able to live comfortably on a small income by finding a job with tips. She worked for the drive-sharing company Lyft, which lets drivers keep all of their tips.
“With the tips, it made things a lot easier,” said Treme, who blogs at MyWorkMoneyLife.com. She had a lot more wiggle room in her budget thanks to the extra cash.
Get a Roommate
Another way Treme was able to live comfortably on a small income was by splitting housing costs with a roommate. If your current accommodations aren’t big enough for two, find someone who is looking a roommate on sites such as Craigslist, RoomieMatch or even Facebook.
You might be able to reduce your biggest monthly expense by moving to a smaller space or an older home or apartment building, McClary said. “You don’t need to live in the newest, most modern apartment or house,” he said. “There are more competitive deals for older structures.”
If you live in a place where the cost of living is high, consider moving to a city or state where your paycheck goes further.
“Take a moment to consider where you can relocate to find the same kind of employment opportunities but in an environment that’s much more affordable,” McClary said.
Don’t let pride get in the way of reaching out for help so you can go from barely getting by to a more stable existence, Freedman said. There are plenty of public and private entities that can help.
Start by calling 211, which is the community services clearinghouse run by the United Way. It can connect you with local agencies to find the assistance you need. Be specific about what you need.
You also can get help dealing with debt and budgeting issues by visiting NFCC.org to find a free or low-cost credit counselor.