10 Ways to Save When You’re Making Minimum Wage

Is your income too low to use any of the typical money-saving strategies? Here are 10 ideas that take cost-cutting to a whole new level.

Are you squeaking by on minimum wage? If so, it might seem like there is little hope for you to get money into savings. After all, working full time on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour brings in a whopping $15,080 a year before any taxes.

But even if your budget is down to the bare bones, there are still things you can do to build up your savings. Here are 10 ideas worth considering:

1. Get out of debt

If you’re only making minimum wage, you can’t afford to be sending money to a car financing company, Visa, MasterCard or Discover.

Think about it this way: If you had no house payment, no car payment and no credit card payment, what’s left? The only bills you might need to pay would be utilities, taxes, insurance, gasoline for your car and food for yourself. In many areas of the country, you could do that on $15,000 a year.

We’ll talk a little more about affordable housing options in a minute, but for everything else in your life, make living debt-free a priority.

2. Hoard gifts of money, tax refunds and other windfalls

To get out of debt and build up your savings, make smart use of any extra cash you get.

For example, if you make minimum wage and have children, chances are you’re entitled to the Earned Income Tax Credit. That could mean you get thousands of dollars from Uncle Sam each year.

Until you get on firm financial ground, resist the urge to spend windfalls. Put a couple hundred dollars in the bank as an emergency fund and ship the rest off to your creditors. If you’re debt-free (hooray!), bank at least half of it before you think about spending a cent.

3. Save your pennies

Start a change jar and put your coins into it every night. At the end of the month, roll up the coins and put them in a savings account.

You won’t retire rich off the money you collect, but you could end up with $10 or $20 a month to pad your savings account. That’s not much, but when you’re making $7.25 an hour, every little bit helps.

4. Skip processed food

Processed food often is unhealthful. You will feel better and save money on health care costs in the long run if you say goodbye to canned, boxed and frozen meals. If you need some menu inspiration, check out budget cookbooks from your local library. “Family Feasts for $75 a Week” and “The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook” are two you may find worth reading.

5. Park the car

After housing, your car is probably your biggest money pit. You need to pay for insurance, registration and gas, plus you might even have a monthly payment on it.

You’ll free up tons of money in your budget if you can get rid of your car or at least drive it less often. Depending on where you live and your personal situation, you may be able to:

  • Use public transportation exclusively.
  • If you’re a two-car family, sell one vehicle.
  • If you have years left on a vehicle loan, sell the car and buy a cheaper one.
  • Carpool with a co-worker or friend and split the car costs.
  • Combine errands and appointments to minimize gas and parking costs.

6. Rethink child care

Child care is crazy expensive. If you have two income earners in your house, and both are making minimum wage, you might come out ahead if one adult stays home with the kids. Not only will that eliminate day care costs, you’ll also save on gas and other work-related expenses.

7. Sell what you can

Get serious about saving by scrutinizing everything you own.

You could have a yard sale to sell old clothes, trinkets and kitchen gadgets, but think bigger. Sell the furniture you don’t need. Sell your movie collection. Sell the TV. I’m serious! The kids will find something else to do.

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  • Charity

    First, I love this column and read it weekly. Not to be disrespectful, but this writer obviously has never made minimum wage and these tips are not realistic for those of us who do. Yeah, I do read this often because I need to save mone, but, eight of these ten tips are unrealistic and, frankly, insulting for those of us who live below the poverty line. Moving to a new place is generally not an option when you are poor with children – unless you have relatives somewhere who can help. Sometimes processed food and canned food is necessary when you are trying to stretch a dollar and feed your family. Even though a car is costly, the bus is not an option for where I live and for others that might have to use a car for work, shopping, etc.. A roommate might be great in theory, but impossible for my current living situation. The “get out of debt” suggestion is what (I) we live for but not possible most of the time. The bills ALWAYS outnumber the pay. I find that people who make more and live a little better never remember what it was like to live with less. it is a constant headache and struggle everday. I save what I can and do without most of the time. Please think first before putting comments like this out there and consider that there are large groups of people in this country who are frugal and trying to do the right thing but are still part of the working poor. As I said, no disrespect intended.

  • Delores Mercer

    Charity, I hear what you are saying. I was a case manager for Family Services before I retired. I worked mostly with young women who had children and needed help in becoming self sufficent. Most of those I worked with were like you, they did the best they could and tried very hard. We live in a rural community so public transportation is not available. These young woman had many obstacles. They had to be looking for work, and many times had no one to watch their children while they did job search. Many had no vehicle, so they had to ask others to drive them, or walk. Even when they had a job, they had the responsibility of getting their children to a babysitter or day care, which usually meant taking them to a daycare setting and to a babysitter (more than one stop before going to work) . As I said many did not have their own form of transporation, yet they had to get the children to other places, and then get themselves to work on time, which was no easy feat. Many did not have telephones and if they had a sick child, or another situation where they could not go to work, they could not leave a sick child to go to the nearest neighbor with a phone, and ask to use it. If they didn’t call in to work, of course, they would lose their jobs. Some of my clients did not have the kind of clothes needed for work. They did not always have necessities they needed, such as an alarm clock. I am just saying that many people think these young woman are lazy and don’t want to work. This is not the norm. I don’t think any of them thought when they were little, “When I grow up I want to have kids and raise them on Welfare.” Yet in life, whether through their own fault or not, they were in various situations where they really needed a hand up and lots of encouragement. . Some of them didn’t have role models in their lives that taught them by example what it was to be a productive citizen to society. They pushed on and did the best they could and want a better future for their children. Some faced things themselves as children that no child should have to face. Just saying that some people do not realize what these young women (and sometimes men), go through, trying to do the best they can for their children. — Delores M.

  • Bonnie Hale

    I am so happy my Mother taught me how to save money. I see some friends with very low income, and they don’t seem to understand the principles of using coupons, buy what’s on sale, or getting the children to be less picky about what they will eat. If they are old enough to understand the concept of having to do more with less, then eating something different might be an option. I also scan the reduced goods baskets, reduced bakery , reduced meats, you name it. Ask friends with gardens if they have too much of something if you can have some. Usually they are happy to share.

  • Evan Sanders

    Item #1 clarification: File for bankruptcy and free yourself of debt. The purpose of bankruptcy is to allow people to make a fresh start. The philosophy that drives bankruptcy laws flies in the face of Victorian era “debtor’s prisons” where a person in debt could never free themselves of past indiscretions and make a new start, leaving many good people who could have made a difference in the world, instead rotting in debtor’s prisons for decades. There are no taxes on forgiven revolving and mortgage debt from bankruptcy (see a bankruptcy attorney for specifics on your situation, and there are attorneys who serve those in poverty).

    Next, after getting that monkey off your back, do everything humanly possible to never get into debt again, and follow the advice in the article. Claw your way out of poverty even if the ordeal kills you, because there is no life in the dark place where you feel so hopelessly trapped. If you were stranded in the wilderness, you would die trying to get out, instead of laying down to die. Treat your situation like that, because you might as well be stranded in the wilderness, and with determination and faith, you can escape your fate. (And for many, by the way, bankruptcy is the helicopter ride to safety for those who otherwise might have died from the elements.)

    • Arthur Mantzouris

      There is many fokes who have it hard, but as the Bible says” There is more happiness in giving then in receiving ‘ so yes, it will be hard, but if your trying to save and at the same time giving to others, others will give to you. And as far as getting out of bankruptcy, it is a fresh start, but if a person keeps doing the same old things, he or she has been doing and hasn’t learned from his or her own mistakes, he or she will be right back were he or she was before they claimed bankruptcy and they’ll be right were they were before and didn’t learn anything. You can’t blame them for it, their just doing what they’re parents taught them. We all have to learn from our mistakes or well just repeat them over and over again. So please fokes, when your responding to the advice given here, take it with a grain of salt and don’t blow it out of porporion.

      • Kathy Bergquist

        Sometimes the situation isn’t created by the person in the mess. Sometimes it’s the people around, like you, that turn up there noses and spout useless sayings and turn there back to people in need instead of helping them, teaching them, accepting them. When was the last time you helped anyone? “There is more happiness in giving then in receiving.” When was the last time YOU gave?

        • Arthur Mantzouris

          I give every time I teach others scriptural truths. I, as alot of us, who teach the Bible, free fokes of spiritual slavery. Like fokes like you, who all you can do, is critizie others because they don’t have it all together. I unlike other have found true freedom, and that’s comes from know what the Bible really teaches. So to answer your question ” when was the last time I followed what Jesus Christ said, that is everyday! So before you start judging others about what they say” look into the mirror” and ask yourself ” when was the last time I gave of my time to help someone understand something that would lead them to everlasting life”, which I do on a regular basis.

          • Kathy Bergquist

            It is kind of interesting that you ASSUME that I don’t have it together. You don’t teach people how to cook. You don’t teach people how to do math. You don’t teach people how to save money, time nor effort. You only teach people how to look down at other people.

            I must be a very small speck under your up-turned nose.

          • Arthur Mantzouris

            I didn’t say that you didn’t have it all together. I said that for not to judge others because they don’t have it all together. Can’t you read! Teaching all those things is all good, but they done lead a person to enternal salvation. That’s all I’m saying. Now you seem to have a different apinion of me and that’s fine. But people like me, who have come to understand the teaches of the Bible and how they free everyday fokes from spiritual slavery, is the most gratifying feeling a person can get. I also see, no matter what I say you will just come back with a stupid response. So I will not entertain you any longer. I just hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive other freely as God has forgiven you, through Christ Jesus. And by the way, the things that you just finished mentioning, doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to teach someone how to cook, how to do math, or anything else like that. And anyway, things like that are everyday things that fokes should know how to do, without somebody to teach them. And as far as me turning my.nose up at you, I think you need to really change your perspective, cas it can really get in the way, if getting to know what a person is really saying, is what stops you from growing. And one more thing, read the Bible a little more and the you’ll know what I’m saying, about everlasting life and what hope God holds out to you and everyone. And one more thing before I go, as a human to another, I love you, with all your faults.

          • Kathy Bergquist

            Now I know why I can’t read; you used a double negative in your sentence structure, twice. As of this posting, “fokes” is still spelled “folks”. Thank you for telling me that I am a mistake of a human being while you are perfect.

            “And by the way, the things that you just finished mentioning, doesn’t
            take a rocket scientist to figure out how to teach someone how to cook, how to do math, or anything else like that. And anyway, things like that are everyday things that fokes should know how to do, without somebody to teach them.”

            It is also nice to know that you have no respect for parents or teachers who do teach their children how cook, read, do math, etc.

  • Deborah Park

    Are you kidding me? Who wouldn’t have thought of these things on there own? The last one, Make More Money, really cracked me up.

  • Brittany Graves

    You couldn’t have said this any better! Like let’s be realistic here to move you have to have money, to receive anything from the state you have to be down right poor & homeless! It’s sad that eating healthier costs more, I cook every night I drive directly home from work (no other stops unless necessary) but gas adds up! I hate when they make it seem like we’re all just lazy or not applying hard enough when we’re doing everything in our power to keep a roof over our heads but it gets hard, it gets lonely & it leaves you asking yourself what am I not doing to improve my situation? When you are doing EVERYTHING you can yet we still struggle.

  • Lorilu

    Though most of the commenters are from a year ago. I don’t disagree with most of the points made, and I sympathize with a mother who is trying to provide for her children in very trying circumstances. It’s very difficult to change your situation when you can’t make ends meet on a daily basis.

    I’m agreeing especially with Bonnie Hale’s comment about saving money. There are lots of ways to save, including coupons, clearance sales, reduced price items, etc., and even well-off consumers should make use of them. But one commenter said that processed food is necessary to save money. The problem is, most processed food is far more expensive than unprepared foods. Take canned soup, for example. It’s common to see canned soup for over $2.50/can, and it’s only two servings, and it’s also very high in salt. Making soup from scratch is much, much cheaper, and you can cook it to your family’s liking. A package of frozen french-fried potatoes costs almost $4 for about two pounds, but it’s much cheaper to buy a five-pound bag of potatoes, and healthier too. Processed rice side dishes in a box are also very costly on a per-ounce basis, but a five-pound bag of rice is much cheaper. Buying a whole chicken and using it for dinner one night and making soup another is a classic money saver.

    I’m not criticizing, I just think a lot of families would benefit if more people knew how to cook the old-fashioned way. Those of us who grew up poor ourselves learned many of these tricks at our mother’s knee.

    • Kathy Bergquist

      You are assuming they have the equipment to cook. Some may only have a working microwave or nothing at all because they sold it for gas money. What kind of old-fashioned meals can you cook in there?

      • Lorilu

        Agree, but you can buy a decent cheap set of pots at Walmart. Most houses and apartments have a stove.

        • Or, even cheaper, pick up a secondhand set at a yard sale, at a flea market, or on Freecycle. Or ask for hand-me-downs from friends and family.

          • Lorilu

            Now you’re really thinking frugal! That’s a great idea.
            Pots can last a very long time. I have some that belonged to my grandmother–they might be older than I am.

  • Dee

    Here’s another idea if you have a checking account. Round up your checks to the nearest dollar and round down your deposits to the nearest dollar. Over time it saves a goodly amount and you have a cushion in your account. Also direct deposit of your paycheck gives you a free checking account in most banks. If you are paying a fee, shop around.

  • The Help

    This article is and insult a person living on minimum wage CAN NOT SAVE MONEY. Let the person that wrote this article live a couple of years on minimum wage then re-write this article.
    MoneyTalks needs to do a better job of screening articles that it prints.

  • Christine Reed

    I started a diet that I found at Walmart, the portion control program for $9.88. It has 1 cup of protein, 3/4 cup of carbs, 1 cup of fruits and 1 cup of vegetables, 1/2 cup of good fat, and about 2 to 3 ounces of dressing or seeds. I have pancakes or oatmeal in the morning as a carb with protein powder 1 cup, cinnamon, and cocoa powder mixed in, I put some water in and cook my pancake or have my boiling water cook my oatmeal. The diet has 8 tablespoons of peanut butter or other type of butter, olive oil or some other types of oils flaxseed oil, I have that for lunch without the bread and a cup of jelly mixed in with protein powder. For snacks I could have 2 fruits and 2 vegetables along with seeds or dressing. For dinner I have chicken for protein, 1 fruit and 1 vegetable, cheese for good fat I put on the vegetables and so on and so forth. The diet might even be too much for me to eat. I think I might cut back some along the way.
    I also live on a budget. I write down all my spending money for bills and such for the month since I get paid by the month and figure out How I can cut spending from their. I have cut cable, internet, and mostly go to the library and listen to the radio. I go to the library to have access to the computer. My rent and my car payments are my two biggest bills. I pay $507 in rent and $196 a month in car payments. I usually pay $18 in utilities, cell phone $11, land line $40, copay $45 and $200 in credit card bills. I try to put $150 in savings right from the top. A pay yourself first plan. I have learned to say no to telemarketers and mail scams even if it is only !0 to $20. My bills end up to be about $800 and I have the 200 in credit card bills so that makes $1000 so I figure I have $500 to play around with for extra spending money to give to church or charity or what ever. I have a monthly budget I call Alex and a daily budget I call Josephine. Josephine needs a lot of work cause money just flies by and I don’t know where it goes half the time. I have to keep writing it down. I have to know where my money goes to save for retirement or whatever. I need a diary for food I think I will call Dolly to keep track of the food I am spending.
    Another thing that has helped me is keeping everything organized and knowing what I have. This is from cleaning supplies, bathroom supplies and food supplies. I find that I buy a lot of things two or three times and have extra that I don’t really need. I try to plan out my food a month in advance. A crock pot does wonders and a good recipe book. I give my extra stuff that I have cleaned out from the closet like shoes, hats, books, ect. and give to good will. I then itemize the receipt they give me and use that for a tax deductions.

    • I.Popoff

      Sounds like you are really on top of it! Good luck!

  • Robert Laurel

    What a BS story this was. Nurses are pretty much required to have a 4 year degree now and some hospitals even want a masters. Construction worker, oh that’s a laugh, have you seen who is doing construction in this country, I will give you a hint they are not Americans and they are earning about 10 per hour.

  • I.Popoff

    I previously read an article at MoneyTalk that left me with the impression that you had to be on a public assistance program to get a free cell phone. Not being in that category I didn’t think it would apply to me. Two years later I found out you don’t have to be on a program to qualify. You just have to submit your tax return and show your income is below a certain point. I applied, but rather than get a free cell phone I opted to get a reduction on my landline bill, and now I am saving $16 a month. I am just a little irked that I could have been saving that for several years but didn’t know the full skinny on the program. I recently checked and found I can apply for a reduction of my property tax bill now that I am 65 and low income. Once I start collecting social security though my income will disqualify me for these programs

  • blazzar8

    I have worked for several major companies that start at minimum wage and seem to have the same policy.All new workers stay on the edge of a part time basis so they don’t have to pay benefits or insurance.No vacations either. .So making 15K isnt always possible. Its more like 9600. Try living on that as a single person. I have no car payments, cable or credit card bills, but Its still impossible even with government programs.

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