How We Survived On $14 An Hour

How We Survived On $14 An Hour

Michelle and I got married after 3 years of dating long distance. I know, it sucks. But we were pretty flippin’ stoked to start our little life together, get an apartment and live in married bliss. That was all well and good, but about a month before we got married, I realized something. We needed a budget!

Up until that point, I have been “budgeting” for about a year, keeping track of everything I spent on a sweet excel spreadsheet that Michelle had create in her “World of Math” class her first year of college. But what I realized was that I was not truly budgeting, but just keeping track of all the stupid things I would do with my money. So instead of “I wonder where it all went”, I was saying “whoa, I totally blew $500 on mall food this month….totally righteous dude!”(think, Keanu Reeves, Point Break voice).

Luckily, my brother-in-law dropped a Dave Ramsey audio book in my lap a month before our marriage, and it motivated me to get on a REAL budget. I put everything on paper for our new “marriage” budget, and we were totally set to rock it like a boulder once we got hitched. Except one issue……I didn’t have a job….

Budgets Don’t Work Well Without A Job

Well, looking back, it may have been a small oversight, you know, getting married and moving out of state without a job to go to. WHATEVS! YOLO, right? (j/k. Please shoot me in the face if I ever say YOLO in any serious context, ever. I’ll even buy the bullets). So, after a few weeks of vacation, we realized that I should probably make some money to pay the rent. Also, our budget was pretty awesome, except the $0 of income at the top kept putting everything negative, which didn’t help much in reaching our goals.

We reached out to a friend who had just graduated, and she actually hooked me up with the perfect job. I negotiated the pay, and though they don’t usually budge on pay for a starting position, I told them it was my minimum, and I could not take the position unless they were able to meet my salary demand. BAM! Mission accomplished! I landed my $14 an hour job, and we were set.


How Did We Survive?

Michelle had a job for about 2 weeks. Then her creeper (married) boss was taking shots of tequila in the back room with a lady from the pharmacy next door while his wife was out of town, so we decided she should quit. We weren’t sure how we were going to make it, but we figured that we would just work it out. And WORK IT OUT we did!

Here’s a quick sample of our budget living on $14 an hour while Michelle went to school full time:

Net Income: $2,150
Other Income: $300
Babysitting Income: $40

Total: $2,490

Tithe: $300
Rent: $580
Food: $240
Electric: $120
Car Gas: $175
Car Insurance: $80
Internet: $33
Cell Phones: $100
Spending Cash: $60
Date: $50
Christmas: $50
Birthdays: $30
Vday/Anniversary: $50
Car Maintenance: $30
Beauty: $35
Misc: About $150 (usually school supplies or eating out)

Total: $2,083

Based on this budget, we were able to save $300-$400 a month only making $14 an hour. The first thing we did was get ourselves a month ahead on our bills. Because I was paid twice a month, tracking when our bills were due and adjusting our budget ever month around that got annoying faster than auto tune on a rap song. Getting ourselves a month ahead of our bills relieved that stress and truly made us feel financially fit. We then paid Michelle’s tuition at this time so we didn’t have to take out more loans. We were able to chunk a few grand off of what we would have borrowed by the time she graduated.

Extra Income Made the Difference

Our budget was pretty rock solid (as you can see), and we were frugal to the core, but what really gave us momentum was the extra income outside of my main job. When we moved to Oregon, my job at home told me I could telecommute, working just one hour a day to keep my position open for me when I got back. I performed product research and comparisons for the company, and was able to pull down 5 hours a week, which brought in an extra $300 a month. We also would babysit once a month on average a pulled in anywhere from $30 to $75 extra.

We threw all of this extra cash at savings for getting a month ahead and for paying school tuition so we didn’t have more student loans. We could have easily spent the money, as we lived in wine country and Michelle admits to having champagne (or fine wine) taste on our water budget. Instead, we used the extra money toward our goals, which in turn got us a month ahead, paid down schooling costs, and brought us to a place of having financial peace. And all it took was putting together a simple budget AND STICKING TO IT! Easier said than done, I know, but it really can make a world of difference.

You can download a copy of my FREE budget template and plug these numbers in for yourself. Think YOU can survive on $14 an hour?

Comments: What is the least amount of income you were able to survive on while living on your own? I know there are some super awesome budgeters out there; I want to hear from you. Were you able to still have fun on your low income? What are some great (or even crazy) ways you were able to save money? And what’s the going rate on bodily fluid donation these days?


  1. Good post. I totally agree that it just comes down to sticking to your budget. You don’t have to make millions to be able to budget. I remember my first time out on my own and I was making something like $8/hr. It SUCKED! But, I watched every penny that came in & out. I was able to have a very simple budget and it allowed me to have fun when I wanted to. Plus, it helped me to learn to appreciate what I had which can be an invaluable lesson.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Is a College Degree Worth it?My Profile

    • I agree that budgets can also add value to your money. I learned the value of a dollar early, and was able to save up and buy my first car within a year. I cherished that vehicle because I knew what it took to save for it.

  2. Wow, you lived even tighter than we do – I rarely see that on the PF blogosphere! I’ve made $24-25k/yr ever since graduating from college and becoming independent from my parents, so I’ve never had to live on less, and my husband makes the same, so I’ve never had an opportunity to live on more. That income is pretty easy to live on in Durham but was a bit tricker in the DC area!

    Our emergency budget for if one of us lost our job would put us around the income you listed above and we’d still be able to do everything important in the short-term, but we’d be up a creek after a while because of not saving for yearly expenses.
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..Diverted from the SlopeMy Profile

    • We also put together an emergency budget! Great minds think alike 🙂

      Ours removed all savings categories (Christmas, bday, car maintenance, etc..) as well as out date and spending cash. Luckily, we haven’t had to switch to a full on emergency budget yet, but we still have one just in case.

  3. We’re sort of living this now. We’re surviving with me losing 60% of my income, on mat leave. How? I don’t know haha. My 2 main goals right now are to get ER fund and at least 1 pay cycle ahead in bills…it’s so slow it’s killing me though! I can’t wait to feel relief when we do get there.
    Catherine recently posted..Stressed!My Profile

    • You can do it! It was definitely a lifestyle adjustment for us to get on such a tight budget, and it took 2 or 3 months to really dial it in, but once we were a month ahead, it was a bit less stressful.

  4. I’ve never made even $14 an hour, although some jobs probably paid that much after adding in tips and/or commission.

    When I first moved out on my own I made $350 every two weeks. My rent was $220 a month and I had a car payment of $260 a month. A majority of each paycheck went to those two items. I also had a $50 a month student loan payment. With the money that was left I paid for my electric, gasoline, food,and everything else. I never had much money to spend but I never had trouble paying my bills either.
    Andy Hough recently posted..Van Paid OffMy Profile

  5. Well done on sticking to a budget and getting by on a fairly low sum. Also kudos to you for tithing on top of that! That’s usually the first thing to go for a lot of people when they are cash strapped!

  6. Jessica @ Budget for Health says:

    We had $20k to live off of during our first year of marriage as I started my unpaid dietetic internship and hubs did a victory lap (5th year) to finish his BS in engineering. Even with tithing $2k we were still able to come out with a positive balance! Hot summer nights meant dragging our mattress out to the living room floor, we had breakfast (eggs & homemade hashbrowns) at least once a week, and entertainment involved walking to the grocery store to try samples and hanging out in the magazine aisle 🙂 living simply made our first year of marriage creative and a lot of fun!
    Jessica @ Budget for Health recently posted..PB2 Peanut Butter Powder: Get the ScoopMy Profile

    • Sounds like our first year a little bit. We lived in a small college town, so our entertainment included walks, mario 64, and listening to Dave Ramsey. LoL, we were super nerds 🙂

  7. When I first started to get out of debt I was making $15/hour. It was a decent amount of income based on my age and the cost of living in KC, but it wasn’t very easy considering all of the debt payments that I had. I believe I had around $800/month in minimum debt payments and it was a real struggle…but I was able to survive and get some of the debt knocked out. Having a budget and telling your money where to go truly changes things.
    WorkSaveLive recently posted..Greek Kale Salad RecipeMy Profile

  8. When Greg did his first professional internship, he got paid a salary of 20K per year. I don’t know what that hourly rate is but it’s not much…BUT they did provide us with a free apartment with no rent and no utilities. So we basically saved all of our money that year!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..How to Be More Credit SavvyMy Profile

  9. You still found money to tithe each month living on that little? I’m impressed! I used to live off of 300 per week when I was a full-time actor. The only way I made it was by living in my grandmother’s attic.
    Lauren @ L Bee and the Money Tree recently posted..Top 10 Money Saving Tips I Learned from my Grumpy Father-in-LawMy Profile

    • Budgets do wonders for being able to fit everything in without overspending. We were blessed to be able to fit everything in AND still save money.

      Were you in any movies that I would know about? Also, was the attic finished, or just full of insulation and rats? 😉

      • Mandy - MoneyMasterMom says:

        I’m with Lauren, that’s great that you paid your tithe first!
        We lived on $600/week when we were first married. Derek was a 3rd year plumbing apprentice, and I was commuting to finish my last year of school. The secret weapon in our financial success was to continue living on $600/week despite our incomes increasing substantially over the next few years. Our budget looks a little different these days, we don’t have a mortgage anymore, but we now have a family of 5 instead of 2.
        Mandy – MoneyMasterMom recently posted..6 tricks to make you BUY BUY BUY!My Profile

  10. Jana @ Daily Money Shot says:

    When I was in grad school, I lived on roughly $1000/month. I survived by living with a roommate, having really low expectation and sadly, the occasional credit card purchase. I lived pretty well, though. Managed to go to Cancun and Jamaica, paid for in cash, and I had savings. Of course, I spent $100/month on food and gas was only around $1/gallon (late 90s, early 00s) so that helped.

    I miss that sometimes.
    Jana @ Daily Money Shot recently posted..A few statistics about women and debtMy Profile

    • Nice work. $1,000 is not a lot of money to live on! I remember living on $1,200 a month back in 2005 during college. Lived with 5 guys and ate teriible food to survivie. Also, too much Mt. Dew!

  11. Great post, you guys have done awesome!

  12. This proves that it’s not about how much you make rather how much you spend.
    Sean @ One Smart Dollar recently posted..Getting Your Credit Card Debt Under ControlMy Profile

  13. When I was a resident, I made $25K/year, which figures out to just over $12/hr. Rent was $550. Bills maybe $200. My student loans were in deferrment. I should have been paying on those, but all the residents I knew deferred loans, so that’s just what I thought you did. I had more trips and fun that year than ever. I think because of the lack of responsibility. I saved nothing but did see Las Vegas, the Grand Cayon, skiied at Vail and Breckenridge, and I got to go to conferences in Seattle and LA. I felt really rich actually. Lifestyle inflation was what killed things later on.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Moving from Employed to Self Employed, What Am I Forgetting?My Profile

    • Lifestyle inflation will definitely kill any potential progress. That’s something I’m leery of, because we’re on such a tight budget now, I feel like we might be tempted to “relax” a bit once more income start coming in.

  14. Wow, that is eerily similar to my story. In 2009, I quit job and moved across country to a place where I knew 10 people in the entire time zone, just to get married. It took me 9 months to find a job while we lived if my wife’s income of $12/hr.
    Yeah, it wasn’t fun.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Why We Have Separate Finances (Sort of)My Profile

    • Isn’t it crazy though? Humans adapt, period. It is possible to like on $12 an hour, though it is not fun. I think spending a bit of time (even if artificial scarcity) living like a broke person can help gain some perspective and build appreciation for what we do have. Not to mention help get ahead financially.

      I think Dave Ramsey calls it “living like no one else, so later, you can live like no one else.”

  15. There were times where I had to survive on a low hourly wage, so I feel your pain. I’ve never worked for someone who was taking tequila shots with a mistress, however. That alone is reason to quit!
    Sam recently posted..How to Compare Management Fees for FundsMy Profile

  16. Thanks for showing it can be done on even just $14/hr for two people. So many people forget that. I would challenge that some places are much more expensive than others. For example, here in Southern California, you would probably be paying about $700-800 for a studio apartment, not $580. However, that is still do-able on your budget.
    The College Investor recently posted..Do You Have a Career or Just a Job?My Profile

  17. Going to have to follow the crowd and say well done on living so tight – very impressive. Also admirable that you continued to Tithe. Strangely enough, we live tighter now (with higher incomes) that we both did as students! I think we finally woke up and realised how much money we were wasting!!
    Savvy Scot recently posted..10 Crazy Safety Facts You Never KnewMy Profile

  18. Wow that is pretty incredible. I remember that World of Math class too. My spreadsheet was pink and had baby penguins on it (but that still works right?).

  19. I admire your determination and creativity to make ends meet.

    During tight times, my wife and I have found side jobs that have helped to see us through, like: baby sitting, handyman work, house sitting, and yard work.
    Terry recently posted..5 Steps to take if your house is floodedMy Profile

  20. This is quite an impressive article. I have also done my share of living on $14/hour and even less than to support me and my son. Well, believe it or not – but it’s doable. Good budgeting is a must and you can get ahead in life even making that little. Thanks!
    Elena @ Reinvent Your Career recently posted..Incredibly Funny Church JokesMy Profile

  21. I survived on $12/hour while paying for my schooling out of pocket. The only way I could do that was work for over 50 hours per week, which made me not so great with my classes.

    It’s tough, surviving on that little, and I didn’t have a significant other back then, it was just me. So I was only supporting myself. I also dug myself into a bit of credit card debt during that time but not on necessities.
    Daisy @ Money Smart Guides recently posted..10 Things That Make You PoorerMy Profile

  22. Jason Clayton | frugal habits says:

    That’s pretty amazing. I lived on $300 a week a few years of my life, but I was in college – so that really doesn’t count. Pretty much lived off cereal and ramon, and went crazy when I found a $1 on the street… still was probably the best time of my life. 🙂
    Jason Clayton | frugal habits recently posted..Five Ways to Help your Kids Learn about MoneyMy Profile

  23. That’s about the salary we are now living without! You guys are the real deal! So many of us write about how we budget, but actually saving on that amount of money is impressive. Great job.
    Michelle recently posted..What Does Payday Mean to You?My Profile

  24. I’m currently trying to live on about $1,000 a month and succeeding for the most part. I’ve moved near to the water at the cost of having to travel a bit more than I’d like which increases the costs of living. Without commuting I reckon I could live on about $800 a month. I like to make a challenge of how much I can do on the least amount of money. I think it probably came out of university enforced frugality. Now I just like it!
    James @ Free in Ten Years recently posted..How I speared a free lunchMy Profile

  25. Wow, at $14 an hour, your take home pay was much higher than I would expect. It seems you paid little in taxes at that time, maybe due to school and/or dependents. I make considerably more per hour (mid-twenties), but my take home is really not much more due to taxes and retirement. At one point, my husband and I lived on his similar salary and a very part-time job I had during grad school for two years, and it can be done, but we also lived very lean. Great job on budgeting and sticking to your values!

  26. Saundra McKenzie says:

    I became disabled several years ago, and hubby works a minimum wage job because we live in a tiny town in the country in Arkansas. We survive on $1765 a month. That comes out to $440 a week. We have had to move into government housing for the cheap rent and it is hard. After groceries, and other regular bills, we have very little left to live on, much less save.
    I urge you to encourage young people to save, save, save. We didn’t. We are not used to living like this. We lived many years in Los Angeles and both of us made really good money. We just did not save any of it, so we are paying for mistakes. When I got sick, we moved home. Anyway, thanks for your blog. I enjoy it.

    • Saundra, thank you so much for sharing. Educating young people the value of a good budget and money plan is one of the HUGE goals of this site. I’m sorry to hear about your circumstance, but know that there are always ways to save more, and sometimes we don’t even know it. I plan on growing the “how to save money” section of this blog, and am putting together a course to help others learned everything I wish I knew 10 years ago! Keep up hope, you will get through this!

  27. I like reading stories of how people made it on different budgets. Unfortunately no where have I ever seen rent that cheap. I live with a family of 3 and the rent just went up to $1380 for a 3 bed 2 bath and it’s a bad apartment. But everything else is more expensive. Only two of us are working with jobs that pay about $12 an hour but we get about 70% of that after taxes, health ins.One is on disability. It’s difficult because of the amount of medical bills and because one person doesn’t work anymore credit card bills have racked just to pay regular things.

    • I hear you. This was the budget we lived on 7 years ago when rents were low and just before the economy crashed, and we lived in the “housing authority” apartments (had to prove low income to live there)! Would be a miracle to find something that cheap these days. I know 3 bedrooms are VERY expensive, maybe a 2 bed 2 bath with a sleeper sofa?

      Sounds like you’re in a tough spot, sorry to hear that. Have you put together a budget for the money you do have coming in? Sometimes seeing it on paper can help a bit.

      Here’s how I would coach someone in a spot like this:

      1) Track your spending (read THIS POST to find out how). You need to know where EVERY dollar is going before you can get anywhere.
      2) Once you know where you typically spend, then get on a budget. You can download my spreadsheet HERE, or just use paper and pencil. The goal here is to set a goal number for each category (make it realistic. If you normally spend $800 on food, don’t shoot for $400 the first month).
      3) CHALLENGE EVERYTHING. Every category in your budget has the possibility of costing less money, it just depends on what you are willing to do. Housing, Food, utilities, gas, cell phones, etc. can all be lowered substantially. Check out THIS BUDGET for some examples, and search the internet for more options.
      4) Find things for cheaper or free. We use a Buy Nothing Group to get most of our furniture, kids clothes, toys, etc for free. There are also show and swap facebook groups, thrift stores and many other options. Also, my wife does Clothing Swaps twice a year to eliminate the need for a clothing budget.
      5) Find ways to earn money on the side. Side hustles are HUGE, and can make the difference between going into debt or getting out of it. Here’s a list of a few ways to EARN MORE MONEY, and check out my buddy’s SIDE HUSTLE SERIES for more ideas.
      6) Don’t let excuses rule your life. I’ve been in tough spots financially, and the one thing I learned is I NEED TO MAKE THE CHOICES, and I will not let excuses make the choices for me. Life is tough, and can slam us down, but it’s our choice to stay there, or to get back up and claw, and fight to get to where we want to be. I am not discounting hardships, but know you have much more power than you even know to overcome.

      You can do this! 🙂

  28. I can see how 2 people can do it on their incomes. I am single parent of a college student and I make under 13 an hour. I have house and utilities, college, car and I am broke every week after I pay all my bills, maybe $25 to live on for 2 weeks. I have to work at least 2 days a week overtime so I can buy food. There are no deductions I can get, I already checked. So what is someone like me suppose to do? I can’t get ahead. I can’t even afford to take a vacation let alone buy food to eat. It should be against the law for us to be put in this situation, they have all kinds of tax breaks for rich people or people that don’t work and we are paying for it. I have to suffer because I have to take care of all the people that choose to not and live off of the system. They are better off than I am. What kind of self worth does someone like that have? I could not, in my head, ever lower myself to that level.

    • Marie,
      Thank you so much for reaching out, my heart hurts hearing your story and struggle here.

      Here are a few things I’d look at, because it seems you won’t be able to keep your head above water here without some major changes:

      1) Find a support community. Single moms are strong, but having a support team around you will give you that much more to help build you up. Local Christian churches are HUGE into helping those who are in difficult situations, especially single moms. Find a local church you trust and lean into their resources for helping give you the support you need. This is HUGE!

      2) As much as it hurts, college is not a requirement to live. Skipping groceries to put your kid through college is NOT the right move here. They will need to find work and help pay their own way thru, even if it takes a year or two longer. This will also build EXTRA hustle and character to go and kill it in the professional world when graduated.

      3) Make a basic budget, with ONLY the necessities list. That means, Food, Shelter, Transportation, Clothing. No extras, no eating out, no entertainment (until your situation stabilizes). Do everything in your power to say “NO” to anything outside of this budget. Check out my “Emergency Budget” post HERE

      4) Car payment needs to go. This means finding a way to sell it, pay off the loan, and have cash to buy a basic used car to get by. We’re talking a $2k – $3k 10-year old Honda Civic or similar car. If you are upside down on the loan, my boy Peach but together a GREAT article detailing all the steps to get out of it – – In the meantime, if possible, find alternate transportation to work and back. Car gas and insurance can cost a lot, even with no car payment, so having an alternate to car commuting would be ideal.

      5) After you do the above (I know it will be tough, these are HUGE changes, but necessary), it’s time to find more income. I’ve got a list of 20 things here –
      There are also some great side hustles you can find HERE and HERE. The point here is to get some extra income to build a cushion and savings to help you get back above water.

      6) TAKE. A. DEEP. BREATH. I just dropped some monumental tasks in your lap, but you’ve fought and struggled and made it this far, I know you have the power to make these changes and take back control of your financial life. I’ve struggled to make ends meet, worked 3 jobs before, and have counseled people out of debt, and the one thing that helps all of them win is HOPE. Do not lost hope here, there is always a way. It’s all about how much effort and life change you are willing to make to get there. Take it 1 step at a time.

      I hope this helps, I know what I asked of you is difficult, but it’s better than the alternative of drowning in debt and not being able to put food on the table. You are a single mom, you already have 10x more built in hustle than any regular human being, and you are far stronger than you even know.

  29. This was a great post, my husband and I got married early (19 and 20) and unfortunately didn’t get on the budget bandwagon soon enough. We lived off of student loans and because of that have racked up a ton of debt. We now both make around $14 an hour but with two kids and that huge debt we are struggling :). However, we are slowly paying it down with a goal to have 1/3 paid off in 3 years (did I say we owe a lot? lol) thanks for the encouragement!

    • You are making progress. Not matter how slow, that is a GREAT place to be 🙂 It took us quite a while to pay off our debt (just finished with Student Loans actually), but even at a slow pace, we kept our eyes on the prize. Almost 7 years for us, but now we’re FREE, and it’s amazing! 🙂

      You got this!

  30. I can see how you did this but would have liked to see you do it when apts rent for 1200 a month and water/sewer/garb is $200, electric runs about 150 a month. That’s over 1500 just for a place to live

  31. How many children do you have? My husband just got a job last year paying $17/hour, an increase from $14. We have four children. When he was earning $10/hour and we only had two children, we saved half our income for two years to put a down payment on a property.
    Just Plain Marie recently posted..Bringing Home A New DogMy Profile

  32. Livingalmostlarge says:

    I think we made around $20/hr total. Both graduate students making $21k/year gross each living in Southern California. Yeah life was not pretty.


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