10 Ways to Save Money When You’re Making Minimum Wage

Are you too poor to use any of the typical money-saving strategies? Here are 10 ideas that take cost-cutting to a whole new level.

Not long ago, Money Talks News posted an article about how to save $1,000 by summer. It was packed with good ideas, but as one commenter mentioned, the list seemed mostly geared toward those making middle-class incomes.

What about those of you squeaking by on minimum wage? Is there any hope for you to get money into savings? After all, working full time on the federal minimum wage brings in a whopping $15,080 a year before any taxes.

You wish you had money for a monthly latte, let alone a daily one. And a gym membership? Please.

From our Solutions Center: Help with credit card debt

So let’s assume you already have your budget down to bare bones: You’re reading this article on the library computer because there is no Internet at home, cable has been cut, and you have the thermostat set to slightly above freezing.

What else can you do? 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 may 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.

Now, housing is a major problem, I know. On your income, it might be easier to sprout wings and fly to Paris than own a home without a mortgage. 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, you need to make smart use of all those times you run into a little extra cash.

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. What are you going to do with it?

You might be eyeing the ripped couch in the living room and thinking it would be nice to have it replaced. Or maybe you’d like to buy the kids new bikes or even take a trip somewhere.

Until you get on firm financial ground, resist the urge to spend those windfalls. Put a couple hundred 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.

Do the same with other unexpected money, whether it’s the $5 you find in the parking lot or the $50 your aunt puts in your birthday card.

3. Save your pennies

Literally. 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.

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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.

        • http://ecofrugality.blogspot.com/ Amy Livingston

          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.

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