The Dream Budget For The Minimum Wage Worker

By: Shawn Magrath

The dream budget for the minimum wage worker

It’s easy to get by on minimum wage if you budget.

This according to a new web page that rolled out this month, brought to you by our friends at McDonald’s and Visa. The two Fortune 500 companies teamed up to help teach the essentials of household budgeting to employees who work for the fast-food giant at minimum wage.

Among other things, the page contains information of how to rent an apartment, buy a car, and it even includes a section called “Welcome to the Real World” that gives how-to advice to stay on top of loans and find a job. There really is some reasonable information there. But regardless, McDonald’s is being grilled - and rightfully so - for misleading its employees to believe it’s possible to live on minimum wage and still stash money away every month by using guidelines of the sample budget provided in the companies' new Practical Money Skills Budget Journal.

Admittedly, they offer a pretty legitimate budget sample, as long as you don’t have kids ... or heat your home ... or pay for water and food ... and you plan to get a second job to help pay for everything else.

Like I said, legitimate.

The suggested minimum wage budget offers two income lines, one for your “first job” and the other for a “second job” to bring your monthly net income to a whopping $2,060 per month ($24,720 a year). At the national minimum rate of $7.25 per hour, that equates to an approximately 71 hour work week – every week – for the entire year. No problem, right?

Before going on, I should point out that some of the monthly expenses suggested are somewhat realistic, like $600 per month for rent, $100 for cable and phone, and $250 for car payments and insurance. On the other hand, some expenses are laughably unrealistic, while others are overlooked altogether. There’s no consideration for gas to fuel that car you’re making monthly payments to keep (because low wage earners apparently buy cars that run on hopes and dreams), and it also omits basic utilities such as water and garbage removal. And forget about child care and retirement savings.

When it comes to essentials like health care, the expenditures listed are too modest. Health care is budgeted for only $20 per month - just enough for Tylenol and a box of Band-Aids. And as for heat, the budget estimates $0. Fortunately for me, heat is included in my rent, though if I had to pay, I feel confident in saying it would cost more than nothing.

To be fair, the budget does include an “other” line. That's a good idea. After all, “stuff” happens, even to minimum wage workers. And so long as that stuff doesn't exceed the $100 allotted in McDonald's monthly budget, things should work out fine (I feel obligated to mention I footed a $400 car repair bill last month. That's four months worth of “stuff” all at once).

In all, the McDonald's and Visa budget journal suggests an average monthly expense total of $1,260. Subtract that from the $2,060 you make from working roughly 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you still have $800 in spending money every month.

In a perfect world, these sample figures just might work. But this is far from a perfect world, and working two full-time jobs just to have nothing is far from the perfect circumstance. In the ongoing debate to raise minimum wage, it's insulting to suggest minimum wage earners could get by. In my opinion, workers don't need to know how to budget, because most already know where there money is going. If multi-billion dollar profit companies like McDonald's and Visa want to teach fiscal responsibility, they have to pay a realistic wage first.

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