30 Day Budget Challenge at $12 An Hour


Lindsey and I did a 30 day challenge to live on a budget of $30 dollars a day and track everything, it was a great learning experience :).

Why did I do this?
I wanted to remember what it was like to live on a $12 an hour salary. It has been a while since I’ve been living on this type of salary and I wanted to remember what it was like. And, we employ a lot of people at this range and I wanted a better grasp of what it meant day to day.

So how did I get to a $30 dollars a day number?
– $12 dollars an hour, times 40 hours, times 52 weeks = $24,960 a year.
– Which equals $2,080 a month.
– Minus 20% towards taxes leaving you $1,664 a month.
– Minus $750 towards rent and utilities (I figure $500 to $600 for a bedroom / cheap apartment or house, and the rest on water, gas, electric, internet).
– That leaves you $914 a month for other spending, divided by 30 days is roughly $30 bucks a day.

– Health care 100% covered by employer.
– I live in Fayetteville Arkansas so all the costs are from there.
– 20% goes toward all the state/federal taxes. Might be a few % points higher.
– Not doing any type of savings in the budget.
– I just moved into a new place after being a nomad for two years and living out of my backpack. So I didn’t count any of the house purchases I made since those are one time and a bit outside what this was about.

So how did it work out?
I did this from Feb 3rd to March 3rd, and had an income of $870 and I ended up spending $982.41 cents. I was over by $112.41 dollars. How did I spend the money?

Eating out – $377.47
Groceries – $232.87
Gifts – $130.79
Books – $57.84
Entertainment – $50.99
Coffee – $42.00
Fuel – $36.47

What did I learn?

1. It isn’t much money… duh. I knew that but it was a good experience to see how that panned out in reality. It would take a pretty big change to my lifestyle to live on this budget + save 20% of my monthly income for retirement. Not to mention all the things that pop up that are unexpected such as car repairs, house repairs, health costs.
*Not to mention how you can afford a car/house on this type of pay (more on that later). I bought my current car for $1,500 and you would have to save $100 for 15 months just to do that.

2. The stress of my job would not be worth it at $12 an hour :). There are many times I finish a super long day and I don’t want to cook and I’m just wiped out. Or, I want to eat out or go for a drink because it is a bit of stress relief and novelty. That is very hard to do on this budget. But hopefully at a $12 an hour job you don’t deal with the level of stress I am paid to handle.

3. Dating on this budget would require some smart choices. I love going new places and trying new things, and that gets expensive :). There were several large expenditures because I went places I couldn’t afford on this salary.

4. You could not live in a big city on this salary without a ton of sacrifices. That is something I knew going into this and it just makes it so obvious why this is only possible in rural areas + the south and midwest where housing & costs are realistic. You would need to get a pretty basic apartment or live in a shared house or with family to do this well.

5. I read 100+ books a year and that would really eat into my budget. I figure I spent $1,500 to $2,000 dollars last year on books and that is $100 a month towards books. I would totally have to switch to the library :). Not a bad option as I use it too but def a big change considering how much I love to read.

6. Raising and having a kid on this budget would be near impossible for a family IMO.

Bigger Thoughts…

In the USA, $12 an hour is a “liveable” wage only for someone just getting started in the job market or as a 2nd income in a family. You could make it work but it would be incredibly incredibly hard, something I don’t think we are used to doing…. ie, no eating out, no TV, no gaming, no media expenditures, shopping for groceries very carefully, a lot of cooking time, and carving out a significant amount of the budget for retirement and emergency funds. It just isn’t what 95% of the people out there want, or think they want.

This is a complex issue and a hard one to fix. Minimum wage is not designed to be a liveable wage at it’s current level. And I don’t think businesses can fix this issue, the government has to show some leadership and raise minimum wage to at least $10 an hour and level the playing field (and peg the fucking thing to inflation). They are supposed to set the system and they have really failed over the last couple decades to create a fair and balanced system for the people.

And then start talking to economist and states/cities to figure out what else can be done. For someone under 24 years old it might make sense to have a lower minimum wage since they don’t know shit, but we have produced this entire segment of workers who have nowhere to go but a permanent minimum wage job. Think about Walmart and other retail cashiers, or fast food workers, its an entire industry that doesn’t pay enough for their workers to ever be happy or attain any lasting economic security. Just stress and misery and frustration. For some rare people that stress does produce drive and amazing miracles of innovation and entrepreneurship, but for most people it just destroys their lives and the generation they raise as well.

And with automation and robots starting to eat more into that we are just going to have more and more people coming back into the work force with no skills that the economy values. Can we find ways to make their skills valuable? Is it possible to retrain them? Or are we prepared to have high unemployment going forward and give an entire segment of the population no option to work? Or should we start paying a base liveable pay out of tax revenue and shift work to be something that you don’t have to do but can if you want a little more money?

I’d love to see some experiments where everyone receives a base salary of $10 an hour, and then you can choose to work and earn more or not. Given the rise of robotics and the internet this might have to be the future. Creates a great economy and rewards those that want to work while not destroying the lives of those who don’t want to work as much, or who don’t have the abilities to demand hire pay in this new economic system.

Anyway… next I’m doing $60 a day test to see how that goes, a little more informal just to get a feel for it. Obviously adding in another $900 a month is a huge change.

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This is bwb’s personal blog so he can share his thoughts with the world, however scary or silly they might be. Plus family and friends can track what I am up too, and where I am in the world.

I am pretty simple. I love Mangos. I love the ocean, although mostly at sunset as I’m a ginger. I love to travel, eat exotic food, read, and use my imagination. I love creating and developing ideas into businesses, understanding how all businesses work, and building cool stuff. I am a globalist and see the entire world as my responsibility and playground. And, I am married to an amazing woman who makes life even more fun :)! And, we are now the proud parents of Calico Jack :).