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.