When you’re earning minimum wage, it may seem hopeless to try to save up money or improve your financial standing. One illness or accident could mean enough lost wages and medical expenses to clear out your savings, and you may not have the means to improve your situation.
What you should realize, however, is that improving financial success depends on two main goals, regardless of your current salary.
First, you should look for ways to decrease your spending and increase your savings. This includes paying less for rent, entertainment, transportation and other common expenses. You could also find ways to supplement your minimum-wage income and reduce your monthly debt payments.
Second, you need to take advantage of opportunities to get ahead. Look for promotions at your current company or higher-paying positions at other businesses. You should also consider improving your skills by going back to school. While it could cost some money now, you’ll be better off in the long run.
Find a new place to live.
Rent a room on your own, or rent an apartment and share it with roommates. However you go about it, make sure your new home is cheaper and closer to work. That way, you’ll be able to save money on both rent and gas.
In fact, try skipping the car commute altogether. It’s best to find a home within walking or biking distance of work. If walking and biking aren’t possible, try the bus or other modes of public transportation. If you find a way to cut down your car use, you’ll save money on gas, car maintenance and tolls. If you cut out your car entirely and decide to sell it, you’ll have even more money to put into savings. You won’t have to worry about paying insurance and storage fees, and you might be able to get a hefty amount of cash from the sale.
Take advantage of free entertainment.
Get a card at your local public library. You’ll be able to borrow books, movies and even music for free. Join sports leagues at your local park instead of buying a gym membership. Also keep an eye out for free newspapers. These typically list nearby events, many of which are free or cheap.
Entertainment isn’t the only thing you can get for free or cheap. You may be able to get free meals at soup kitchens and churches, or you may be eligible for government aid such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). While this isn’t a permanent solution, it can temporarily help you save money for current or future expenses.
When you can’t get necessities free, find cheap alternatives. You’ll save a lot of money on food by making it yourself rather than eating take-out for dinner or going out to lunch. You can also shop at thrift stores for cheaper clothing and houseware items.
Get a part-time job.
This action isn’t for everyone. If you have family obligations or a physical hardship, you may not have the time or ability to take on more responsibilities. If you can work more, though, you should look for part-time work to supplement the income from your full-time position. Utilize another one of your skill sets or seek an internship with your dream company. If you can live without the additional income, save it up for the future.
If you have any debt, chances are you could be paying less each month to resolve those debts. Consolidating your debts can save you money in interest and could give you more time to repay your loans. Settling your debts is even better, as it cuts down the amount you actually owe. You could end up responsible for only a fraction of your total debt amount. To find out if one of these options will work for you, speak with a debt counselor.
Work toward a promotion.
Your current minimum-wage job could lead to something greater. Set yourself up for a promotion by going above and beyond your typical duties and talking to your boss or manager about open positions. A promotion could mean a bigger paycheck while using your current skills and without changing employers.
Look for new jobs.
Some companies simply leave no room for higher-paying and more challenging opportunities. If you know you won’t be able to move up in your company, start looking for jobs at a new company. You can look for jobs similar to the one you have now, or you can choose a new career altogether.
The best way to job-search is to treat it like a part-time job. Vow to invest a certain amount of time to job-hunting each week. Don’t forget to use technology to your advantage. For example, be sure to check online job postings regularly.
Further your education.
If you find yourself stuck in a minimum wage job because you have little or no higher education, go back to school. This is possible even on the tightest budget. Look into state and community colleges as well as trade schools, and apply for grants, loans and scholarships. You’ll be able to acquire new skills or hone your current skills without the full burden of the cost.
Once you’re done with school, you’ll likely be able to find a job that pays more and utilizes your new skills. Your school can even help you secure a job post-graduation.
Katherine Pilnick writes about issues related to credit, debt and personal finance for Debt.org, America’s Debt Help Organization.