I said I would take the challenge. I was up for it. I could live on $77.00 for a week. After all, my pantry was full and the mortgage paid. The challenge was presented by http://www.livethewage.com/. People who work fulltime on minimum wage earn $290.00 a week. But after an average cost for housing and taxes, that leaves just $77.00. Seriously?
As a teacher I’m “off” for the summer (that’s another article). I am trying to mostly do things that are free and I’m not going out every day. My thinking is that I don’t really spend much money in a week. I saw the challenge on the July 23 and started the next day.
Day One – lunch with a friend, but I had a gift card so I didn’t pay anything. Day Two – a free outdoor aerial ballet. It was in a town 40 minutes away so gas was sucked up at a good pace. Day Three – an all-day training with a free lunch, but a 30 minute drive each way, more gas. Day Four – free theatre, my favorite! This time I didn’t buy a glass of wine, but another 30 minute drive each way. The rest of the week included three doctor’s visits (I’m healthy, just checkups), daily yoga at a studio (pre-paid), a visit to the public library for a free seminar and a volunteer session for my soon-to-win political candidate. Not bad I’m thinking.
Until I realize I have to fill up the small tank on my P.T. Cruiser. And then I finally got the nerve up to try the cheapo haircut place down the street for a very badly needed cut (which I love). One of the doctors I visited recommended a book, which I promptly drove to Barnes and Noble to obtain with a gift card. Of course, I hadn’t been in a bookstore in so long that I went wild and got two other books that were not covered by the gift card. And it was past time to take the cat to the vet for her monthly fluids.
You may not be surprised that I didn’t meet the challenge. As frugal and careful as I am, I couldn’t live on $77 a week. Not even close. My almost $100.00 in expenses didn’t include the already scheduled bills that were automatically paid. It also didn’t include the $90.00 in clothes money I gave my son since he almost never wants to go shopping. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity for him to upgrade his wardrobe. He’s almost phased out his rotation of college t-shirts.
I am extremely grateful that I’m not trying to live on minimum wage. My parents could afford college and I was able to find profitable employment. But I moved from upper middle to lower middle class when I got divorced. With two kids and no job, I scrambled to support myself. At one point I had five part-time jobs. Luckily I had a degree and was able to eventually reenter the fulltime work force at a livable salary. I also had child support from a reliable ex-husband. But still, I did have some scary times waiting for jobs to start while I was upgrading my skills. I went a month with no healthcare and I was petrified that something would happen. I had to count every dollar spent and time payments perfectly for a while.
Still, I wasn’t making minimum wage. I can’t imagine trying to support kids on $7.25 an hour. Some would say minimum wage jobs aren’t meant to support families. They are jobs for teenagers and college students or people just wanting to stay busy. But not everyone can be an engineer or a doctor or a teacher. For some, circumstances don’t allow them the opportunities so many of us have been blessed with.
The bottom line is I recognize that I am blessed with a job with a steady income I can live on. I will be the first to say it should be higher to recognize my contributions in the classroom. But I will also say that we all need to support a livable minimum wage for everyone who is willing to work. What if it was your family who had to decide between food and shoes without holes for your kids?
Please see http://ubassets.s3.amazonaws.com/live_the_wage.pdf for more information.