Reader Case Study: Minimum Wage with a Baby on the Way

I originally started this blog to both Ridicule and Educate the rich and privileged group of people known as the American middle class. Being a newly minted member of this group myself, I feel that we are all living large, and the vast majority of our financial problems are of our own making. Thus the solution is simply to get everyone to stop complaining and start saving.

But as time has gone by, I have learned that there actually many people out there who are not currently being showered in easy salaried office worker cash. They have been writing to me for advice, and due to the 20 year period since my own minimum wage days, I have not known what to say.

But let’s have a crack at it together, by studying the situation of this young guy who just wrote to me recently:

 Hello Mr. ‘Stache,

You strike a chord with people who realize that their goals of financial security are insane considering the fact that most are living outside their means. I know you’ve caught my attention. Unfortunately I have stumbled upon your blog too late to save myself from a lot of debt.

I have a cheap mortgage, sure, but I’ve added two auto loans and a few maxed out credit cards. My wife and I (aged 21 and 22) combine to bring home around $2000 a month working fast food. She commutes 20 miles to work by car daily and I’m fortunate enough to have a job 2 miles away. We live in a very small town on the highway so cheap groceries are a half-hour commute away.

We are also fortunate to have extra room in our house for now to rent out, so we receive $1000 a month in rental payments to help us.

I desperately want to provide a comfortable and enriching life for my son, who will be born in January. I’ve decided that the TV bill has to go and that we need to pay down the credit cards and auto loans ASAP. We will also be cutting out our fast food expenses entirely (easier said than done). Reading your methods gives me hope that I can achieve some financial security and have home time to raise my child the way I dream of. Thank you for the inspiration.

Key Financial Details:
Cash on Hand: $290

Credit Card Debt: $3645 spread across 3 credit cards, with $120 in minimum monthly payments
Mortgage: $75,164 balance with $502 monthly payments. 28.5 years left. Appraised on purchase at $89,000.
2007 Nissan Versa: $12,700 balance with $240 monthly payments, 5 years left
2004 Chrysler Sebring: $3500 estimated balance with $220 monthly payments and 3.5 years left

Monthly expenses:
$130 auto insurance monthly
$220 last electric bill (Normal months, the bill is around $140)
$20 water bill
$24 a month for trash pickup service
$100 a month for satellite tv (an obvious area for improvement, but it isn’t easy to convince the rest of the family about the waste here)
$45 a month for internet
$250 a month average for 5 cell phone lines (on behalf of a few family members including my wife and I)
$50 estimated in gasoline a week for travel to work & other appointments
$300 a month or so on groceries.
$60/month in fast food (recently cut down from $400)

Total Expenses including Loans: 120+502+240+220+130+140+20+24+100+45+250+50+300+60 = $2171

$880/month (at $7.35/hr x 35hrs) for me.  My job is about 2 miles from the house. I do own a bicycle and plan on using it more as the weather cools down.
$1100/month for my wife ($8.50/hr for 40 hours a week). Her job is 20 miles down the interstate. She is also pregnant and due in January with our first baby, a boy. We have not yet spent any of our own income on the child. We have been gifted a lot of clothing and supplies. We already have a crib from when I was a baby.
$1000/month from renting out two extra bedrooms in the house.
Neither of us are expecting major income boosts within the next few years. Her best case scenario in the current line of work is ending up with a $25-30,000 salary within a couple of years, worst case is she stays around her current pay with slight raises during that time.

Total Income: $2980/month

First of all, I’ll start with the obligatory “AAAAAUUUUGGGHHH!!!!!!  HOLY SHIT, WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MAN!?!”

But then we can get into some real analysis.

First of all, on the surface it looks like your income is quite a bit higher than your expenses, even at current levels. Most significantly, you are making a killing on your house, by living there AND getting $1000 in monthly income from it, even while the whole thing only costs you $500 per month. Fantastic work!!

You should be able to pay down about $800 per month of debt even before you undergo the radical changes I am about to throw down upon you. We can cut a load from your expenses, and I also think you deserve to be making a hell of a lot more than Minimum Wage, so we can work on that too.

Let’s start with the expenses:
First of all, your vehicle fleet is off the hook. I am Mr. Money Mustache Himself, and yet my vehicle fleet is only worth about HALF of what you have sitting in your driveway. A 2007 Automobile?? Damn brother, I thought I was being ridiculously frivolous by keeping around my 2005 Scion, which still has the new car smell.

If you need a loan for a car, YOU DEFINITELY CANNOT AFFORD THAT CAR, so what can we do? We need to unload one or both cars, of course!

Looking at the Edmunds Used Car appraisal, the Versa is worth about $8100, and the Sebring is worth $4500. That means you are $4,000 underwater on the Versa, but possibly above water on the older car. It is difficult to sell a car when you have a larger loan than the car, since the lender won’t sign over the title until you pay off the loan. So for now, we’re going to sell that Chrysler. You don’t need a second car, because you live 2 miles from work. That is a close enough distance that it can be done by bike in about 7 minutes in nice weather, and on foot if you live somewhere with deep snow or other non-bike conditions in the off-season. Hell, you could even swim that distance.   There’s your first $220 per month in savings!

The $12,000+ Nissan Versa was a HUGE mistake for someone with your income level, but at least it is an excellent and reliable car with good fuel efficiency. Over time, you can pay down the loan balance, sell the car, and buy a $4,000 car like a late 1990s Honda/Toyota/Nissan IN CASH instead. Make sure it’s a hatchback or a wagon, so you have room for baby stuff once your baby comes.

Depending on your eventual career path, you might need a second motorized vehicle someday. If you’re not carrying around tools, you can get around quickly and cheaply with a Scooter.

Your car insurance sounds very high for a rural area. Just in case I’m right, spend an hour poking around on the online insurance sites, including Geico. Select the highest deductible and minimum coverage your auto loans will allow (which is probably still very thorough coverage, since those lenders are sticklers about protecting their collateral.)

Also shop around for house insurance. You might save a couple hundred per year on this as well. Geico has several affiliated homeowners insurance companies. Call by phone and ask them to give you a quote from whichever company comes in lowest for your property.

Next, of course, the cable TV has to go. I mean, right now, before you finish reading this sentence. Again, that is such an insanely high monthly bill for such a useless service, I could barely breathe knowing it was connected to my house sucking out my life energy. Cumulative Savings so far: $320 Per Month

Next let’s have a look at your electricity bill. I have a family of 3 and a 2600 square foot house, a busy professional woodshop, and a blogging and computer habit, and my electric bill is about $30 per month. Yours should be only a bit higher with 4 people. Unplug your electric dryer, since you’ll be hanging clothes to dry, make sure ALL lights in your house (except very rarely used ones like closets) are compact fluorescent bulbs, and if you have an electric water heater, turn down the temperature and make sure your shower has a low-flow (2 GPM) head. Cumulative Savings: $420 Per Month

Cell phone plans at $250 a month!?!? What are you, Steve Jobs? You  new plans will be PRE-PAID mobile phones with a $0 monthly fee. You make short calls when you need to, using maybe 5 minutes a day. For your longer conversations, you use Google Voice on your computer, for free, from home.  Your new phone budget is $60 per month. Cumulative Savings: $610 Per Month

Fast Food: Mr. Money Mustache doesn’t buy it, so you don’t need to either. That will cut your monthly costs somewhat (although you will have to buy a  bit more fresh food at the grocery store to replace the empty calories). It will also improve your health and save you drastically on health care bills over the long-run. Cumulative Savings: $650 Per Month

Driving: You’ve got a bad situation for now, with a 40-mile round-trip commute for your wife. Using the IRS-standard estimate of total cost of driving of 55.5 cents per mile, she is losing $22.20 every time she drives to work. That’s more than THREE HOURS of her work, not to mention the HOUR OF HER LIFE that gets wasted EVERY DAY by living so far from work! Of course, the IRS figure is the TOTAL cost of driving rather than just the marginal cost. But even marginal cost, with gas, oil, tires, maintenance, and wear, is more than you can afford. In the long run, to be financially independent you should both live within biking distance of work. Once you have built the foundation of your ‘Stash, you might be able to rent out your entire house (or sell it) and find one (rent or buy), in the middle of a town with better employment possibilities.

Similarly, that 60-mile roundtrip to the grocery store is costing you a crazy amount. This trip should not be done more than once per month, and it should be a big $250+ bonanza to make it worthwhile. Then you get your milk and bananas at the local store, even if it costs more, during the non-bonanza weeks. I live 20 miles from Costco, and I go only every 3-6 months..usually combined with another errand in the area. That is how carefully I avoid driving just for the purpose of shopping.

OK, now you’ll have expenses that are $650 + 800 lower than your total income. That’s $1200 in debt reduction you can do each month.

The first three months will go towards paying off the credit cards. Then, you will cancel two of them, and keep one for emergencies. Of course, you will NEVER let the balance go unpaid in full again. If there is a risk of this ever happening again, cancel the third card as well and just use a bank account debit card, since credit cards are NOT for borrowing money..  they are just for conveniently tracking your expenses and getting a few cash-back bucks each month.

The next $12,000 of savings will go towards paying off your car, so you can eliminate that car payment.

There is a time limitation here, however, since you’re having a baby in January. At that point, you will lose at least one income, plus you’ll probably incur some out-of-pocket medical expenses for the birth. With your wages, it will be far cheaper to have one parent (probably Dad) stay home with the baby, rather than to pay $1000+ per month for full-time daycare. Unless you are eligible for some sort of social assistance or have family who will do the care for you for free. On the positive side, you are on the right track with the minimal baby spending – see Mrs. Money Mustache’s article on What Newborn Babies Really Need.

That’s the harsh reality on your costs – you are spending more than my entire family, but don’t yet have the income to back it up. But there is some good news – YOU have a great chance to drastically increase your own income.

Both you and your wife are currently underpaid. I don’t care what you do for a living – under ten bucks an hour is a shitty wage even for a 15-year-old-high-school student to be earning at his first job. When I hire laborers to help me occasionally in carpentry or even dig trenches for an irrigation system, I would be embarrassed to pay them less than $12 per hour. HOUSE CLEANERS CHARGE $25 to $40 PER HOUR FOR VACUUMING CARPETS!! Millions of people in our country unfortunately do receive minimum wage, but it should be regarded as an insult to your usefulness as a human, and you should fight like hell to earn more.

Do you have any skills? I notice you are a very good writer. What about using that, plus your free time, to get the word out and pick up some freelance work? Computer assistance, carpentry/handyman work, apprenticeship with a local plumber or electrician, house cleaning, errand running, carpet steam cleaning, duct cleaning, auto mechanic work, waiter/bartender, teaching music or art lessons, selling stuff on Ebay/Craigslist or administrative assistant work at a good company. I don’t know what the economy is like in your area, but hopefully there are at least other people and businesses around. And with the Internet, you can make money everywhere. Look at Craigslist and other job postings, and apply every day. With your new time saved from canceling the TV service, read library books and old articles on Iwillteachyoutoberich.com to get yourself pumped up about earning extra money for yourself.

My mission, for both you and your wife, is to fight your way up to at LEAST $35,000 per year each, as this is an absolute baseline for a fair level of pay for a hardworking person.

Even a plumber, which is an enjoyable job you can learn in about two years, is able to charge $60-$80 per hour, which is $120-160k on an annualized basis if he is able to work full-time. A self-employed tile installer, who meticulously cuts and sticks tiles onto bathroom floors and showers, can charge $40 per hour. You can learn this job with about 6 months of on-the-job practice working for another contractor, then you buy yourself about $1500 of equipment, throw it into an old Ford Ranger for $1500, and you are now an $80k contractor, set for life.

I wish you and your family all the best, and hopefully my bossy voice will be in your ears for years to come as you build up a more secure life for yourself.



  • TOM September 26, 2011, 6:30 am

    Including the rental income (though I don’t know the tax implications), they actually net about as much as someone earning $50,000 a year.

    I’d like to add, there’s no income for the other three cell phone lines? Sounds like they own the family plan. Or do two phone lines cost $250 a month?! If they don’t follow your advice, at least get rid of texting and/or data.

    It’s probably been a little while since you were 21, MMM – $130 a month for car insurance sounds about right to me for what is likely to include collision and comprehensive for the loans (I live in a state with fairly high liability).

  • shanoboy September 26, 2011, 7:00 am

    Thanks for this post. I’m personally somewhere in the middle, making enough to get by and still save 10% for retirement, but not able to do much more.

    The key for me really has always been to do as you say. Find the deals and cut the crap spending. Don’t buy anything I don’t need, and tell the credit cards to go to hell. For emergencies only.

  • Nathan Rice September 26, 2011, 8:20 am

    1) I think you’re probably overspending on groceries. My wife and I have maintained a grocery budget of around $220 for over 3 years, and many months we don’t even spend all of that. Buy in bulk, buy on sale, and buy with coupons.

    2) As was mentioned, you can get your salary up. Consider getting a CDL license and driving a truck. You can easily earn $50K/yr, and the beauty is that there is usually extra jobs you can take if you need extra money. You may have to long-haul every once in a while, but with a little seniority under your belt, you’ll eventually be able to pick your routes or work for a local delivery company.

    • MMM September 26, 2011, 9:09 am

      Great ideas! You are right about the groceries – We spend $300 for my own 3-person family, and that involves lots of frilly organic and gluten-free food. If money were ever a problem, we could surely cut it down to $200 or less by canceling some of the luxury items (like gourmet coffee and organic meats, for example).

      And truck driving seems like a good field to get some emergency cash quickly as well – almost every transport truck has a desperate banner on the back saying “We’re hiring!! Great Pay and Benefits!! Will Pay For Training!!”.. etc.

      • Geek September 26, 2011, 9:50 am

        I agree on the cars and the phone and the satellite TV.
        I also agree that there’s no reason to get paid minimum wage past a
        very short trial period.

        Food though, and the dryer?

        Food in the Seattle area comes in at 70-80/week for 2 (up to 400/mo)… although we do include shampoo, toothpaste, soap, etc, so perhaps 300/mo. We rarely buy meat, and cook a lot of bean-based dishes, mainly chickpeas and black beans. Although we buy gluten (opposite of gluten free) for our bean burgers and it’s pricey, we shouldn’t come anywhere near a meat-based diet in price. And since we’re switching just this year, I can say we’re down from over 500 a month. It all depends on where you live. http://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/zip-code/washington/redmond/98052 (Colorado has an index close to 108 vs. Redmond’s 150).

        During the winter in the PNW, it rains. And rains. And the bathtub tries to cultivate a suspicious pink mold if you skimp on the bleach. Places with dry winters (most of the middle of the US, also Northeast winters) you can hang your clothes to dry. For about 2 months in the summer, I can hang my clothes to dry. The rest of the time, I hang them until about 7pm then dry the rest (except towels. … we just don’t have the space in our apartment).

        So for these things, I think the querent MAY deserve some slack.

        • Geek September 26, 2011, 9:51 am

          And yes, some could be avoided by moving, but they have a house. And I have a 6 figure job. So moving is probably out ;)

        • Heidi April 30, 2013, 12:01 pm

          Well, my family of 4 just moved to the PNW and now I do use the dryer. But, guess what, my electric usage has increased with that dryer use in an apartment and my bill is way cheaper here. Rural areas charge a ton of fees every month with a lower population to spread it out.

          • Jflo July 30, 2013, 1:59 pm

            Funny story – I grew up in sunny Cali and always used a dryer, thinking nothing of it. A few years ago, after meeting my now husband and moving to Britain to be with him I learned that most Brits (including Scots) hang their clothes. Dryers are a luxury and their weather is no better than the PNW. When we moved back to CA, I brought the foldable clothes drying rack back from Britian that we still use outside (and inside on the few non-sunny CA days) and have lived without a dryer since. Turns out they sell them here too. The upright ones fit even in tiny apartments in the corner of your bedroom or bathtub. So yes, ditch the dryer.

        • Cyn April 22, 2014, 12:40 am

          I live in San Luis Obispo, CA (index of 165 with a slightly higher food index than Redmond). My boyfriend and I got our grocery spending to $220/month, coincidentally like Nathan Rice, and that’s including organic vegetables (the ones on the dirty dozen), grass-fed ground beef, and a grain-free diet (no cheap rice, pasta, or bread). Our grocery bill also includes our toothpaste, toilet paper, and whatnot. We spent half that grocery cost before we went grain-free!

          I’d say it’s more of a matter of what you’re buying than just pinning it cost of living. It IS possible to be mustachian with food despite the index. Find the stores where the groceries you buy are cheapest. I go to Trader Joes for meat, Albertsons for veggies or my local Farmer’s Market, and Food 4 Less for random household necessities.

  • Arock September 26, 2011, 10:59 am

    Some other thoughts:
    If he has renters, didn’t they agree to move in with the promise of cable TV and a dryer? If I was renting, I would expect a reduction in my rent, if he eliminated these amenities. The electric bill is not only he and his wife but the renters too. They can cut back and obviously the renters aren’t going to complain with using CFLs but they may be happy to fall asleep with the lights and tv on and he doesn’t really have control of that. But I get the impression that he may be renting the rooms out to family members? So maybe he can have some luck getting them on board with living a more mustachian lifestyle!

  • Value Indexer September 26, 2011, 12:55 pm

    I count 2 people and soon one new-born baby – and 5 cell phone lines?

    I agree on being underpaid. Even if another job doesn’t have a higher salary than fast food it should give you marketable experience that will eventually allow you to earn more. You need to be doing something that either pays you well now or will lead to being paid well in the future.

  • Tommy Vo September 26, 2011, 1:08 pm

    Duuuuuude, ur living the dream with all your expenses (or NOT!)
    …ok, cut the bleeding.
    1.) $250 for cellphone?!! That is nuts! This is how much I pay in base rent where I get my own room with shared housing in the Midwest as a grad student. Only go with the basic plan for voice or pre-paid.
    2.) Car – how does a minimum wage earner even qualify for a HUGE care loan anyways? Sell 1 ASAP and consider selling the other one later on, and buy a good used car in cash. I bought my used Lexus in CASH…car pmt…what’s that?!
    ..you can ride your bike to work. I rode my bike even in the Cold & Snow (excellent workout btw). Heck, i’m in better shape than 90% of the students on campus (and i’m a super-duper Senior :D)

    3.) Housing: you’ve had success as a landlord so far, why not just rent out the rest of the house and possibly move closer to where there are more job opportunities. I’d prolly rent as it will reduce your overall outlay.
    ..Ok, don’t even think about “but the baby needs the room”, please refer to MMM’s article on baby needs.
    Hey, also put on your resume that you are a “property manager”!
    4.) Food: I betcha you can get it down to $200 (or even lower if you actually tried). Here’s my “poor student” diet: 50lb of rice, 10lb of chix breast, tortilla wraps, cans of beans, jars of salsa, cartons of eggs, boxes of ramen noodles, bags of salad, loafs of sandwich bread, jars of peanut butter & jelly, whatever veggies happens to be on sale that week, 5lb bags of orangs, apples, and bananas, and Mt Dew :D.

    Good Luck extinguishing your debt and see you in the black!

  • Des September 26, 2011, 1:18 pm

    Since he doesn’t list a gas or oil bill, I’m assuming he has an electric water heater and electric heating. Electric heat is hugely inefficient – natural gas is much much cheaper. However, upgrading their system would mean a large upfront cash outlay. It would be a wise investment (if they have gas in their area), but probably wouldn’t help them right now.

    In our area, our electric bill was about $180 (average for the year) when we had electric heat. Now it is $70 with gas heat, but an electric water heater. When we switch to a gas water heater it should go down even more.

    They are not going to knock $100 a month off their bill by hanging their laundry and switch to CFLs. If they really work on turning off lights, taking shorter showers, and hanging their laundry they can probably reduce it by $20 or $30. Not as great, but still something.

    • MMM September 26, 2011, 9:36 pm

      I’d still bet on higher electric savings. Des, did you read my own electricity bill article from a few months ago? The average US household spends $110/month, I spend in the low thirties.

      A clothes dryer burns about 50 cents per hour – if you do three 1-hour loads per day (an extreme case I know, but I have met some people who do that much laundry), that’s 45 bucks.

      10 x 100-watt bulbs at 10 hours/day -> $36/month
      TV/DVR/playstation system burning 400 watts while on x 160hrs/month -> $8/month
      TV/DVR system on standby at 80 watts for remaining 560hrs -> $5.60
      Inefficient older fridge vs. energy star fridge -> $5/month

      I admit I’m having a hard time getting to $100 in savings here. But paying attention to everything in the house might get you close.

      • Des November 2, 2011, 6:40 pm

        I think you are being misleading when you compare your utilities to the average, since you have gas heat in your house. Heating (both the air and the water) is the #1 biggest use of electricity in houses that have electric heat. It makes your comparison apples to oranges.

        Check out the calculator here: http://www.consumerspower.org/home_energy/billestimator.php

        If you had 2 electric wall heaters, and electric range, and an electric water heater it would add an additional $79 to your bill, bringing you very near the US average mark.

        (Also, I highly doubt this individual is doing three loans of laundry a day.)

        • MattM May 2, 2015, 7:09 am

          I have all electric, and run about $60 a month during the winter months. I keep my small, 1060 sqft house to 60 degrees, open the shades during sunny winter days, and sleep in thermal. I wear sweatpants and a sweatshirt around the house when I’m home, and utilize my wood burning fireplace whenever possible. I cook a lot at home, and only recently started hanging up my clothes. I go to the gym ($10/month) before work and take showers there as much as possible. I’ve also recently switched my CFLs to led lights, so I’m curious to see where my electric usage will be this winter. $50 a month electric bill is very attainable, even in the winter with no gas.

          • Nyrd February 20, 2017, 1:00 pm

            Hello MattM,
            I understand that wood burning can save you money, but what about your health and the health of your neighbors?
            I love everything else you said!

  • Happy retiree September 26, 2011, 4:01 pm

    $1000 income from renting two bedrooms sounds expensive for the renter based on price of house, etc. If I were the renter, I would expect some amenities for that price, i.e., satellite tv, internet, sufficient air conditioning. etc.

    If it were just the writer and his wife, that would be a different story.

  • Yabusame September 27, 2011, 2:35 am

    The one thing this couple have going for them is age. They are VERY young and they already know about MMM. They’re going to be so RICH!!!

    I’d suggest that the young family do everything suggested in the article (where practical. For example, some posters have suggested that the renters may expect some amenities but its worth checking on that. If the satelite system is just for you guys then it can definitely go).

    Even if the cuts hurt now, just remind your dear wife that this is short-term pain for long-term gain (wow, just made that up). Make getting out of debt your number 1 priority. Once the debt is gone (everything but the house) then you can see about letting up a little.

    The advice on seeking a higher salary is sound. It may take a while to get there, but definitely look into that. Find something you are good at and something you enjoy. But more important, pays more than minimum wage.

    Look at every single thing in the budget and think about reducing it or cutting it completely. Do you really need cell phones? Could you live without until you are debt free?

    The hardest part in this won’t be the cutting but getting your wife and extended family on board. Tell them what you are trying to do (provide a secure home for your child) and tell them that you can’t do that and foot the bill for the extended family cell-phone plan. If you can get everyone on board you will have someone you are answerable to and they may even join you in the journey to becoming debt-free.

    Remember, becoming debt-free is just one step on the road to building your ‘stache, so have the end goal in sight (may take a while to agree that goal with the wife) but concentrate on the immediate step that gets you there. First step, NO MORE DEBT! Next step, get out of debt. More specifically, pick one of the credit cards, throw everything at that one and the minimums at the others until its gone. Snowball onto the next.

    Try and be specific in your goals. Rather than saying “I want to be rich”, say something more defined, such as “I want to have $500,000 in investments by the time I’m 45”. Once you’ve got your big goal, you just need to work out how to get there. Make the goal stretching but achievable and definitely have a time limit on it. You can set similar goals for each step and for each part of that step too.

    You’ve a long road ahead of you. Take heed of the advice but remember to filter all advice through your own life-lense. If it can’t work for some reason, dismiss it. But if it can, even if it will be painful in the short term, then do it.

    Good luck, and keep us informed of your progress!

  • Barath September 27, 2011, 7:21 am

    I hope this man knows what a great job he is already doing as a provider for his family. The intelligent actions he has already taken will far outshine the couple of mistakes he has commited, especially down the road.

    Yabusame is right that convincing your wife will be the hardest part. But it sounds like you have already accomplished the first stages of this. Taking charge, and explaining that fast food expenses to which a person is accustomed need to come down is hard. But you did it, and you can do it with other expenses, too.

    I hope that you are being told (at home) how smart you are for renting out the two rooms. That is a major inconvenience for both you and your wife, but one that is already helping to provide for your family. It will become more inconvenient when your child arrives, but as long as you are providing a safe home, it will pay off, as you already know. It can not be overstated how good a decision that was on your part, and what a good provider that makes you.

    You can take all of the suggestions that Mr. Money Mustache has provided. You can. The key, really, will be to make sure your wife is working with you to take those steps. You may have to frame things differently, and you will probably have to reiterate (together, for both of you) the reasons why it might seem like you are “sacrificing” in the present. But it can be fun, too: when (I hope it is when, and not if) you cut the satellite, spend time as a family instead, cook together, learn new ways to take care of the house together. It will be a rewarding experience, and you’ll both be more secure in your relationship as you define goals together, and make concrete steps towards them together.

    Good luck! Have fun!

  • Christian September 29, 2011, 11:37 am

    The main problem is that this individual seem drastically underemployed! It sounds like they live in a rural area so here are some decent jobs with benefits that might work out.

    1. Work for the local (county) government. The pay is usually decent and includes benefits.
    2. Work for the local cable company. You have cable, someone installed it, so the job exists. Decent pay and benefits.
    3. Manual labor – construction, carpentry, etc. May or may not include benefits, but the pay will be pretty good.
    4. Home depot, lows, wal-mart, etc. Almost any major store provides above minimum wage pay and perhaps even benefits.
    5. Side gig – look for side work to perform after hours/on weekends. Check craigslist, the local paper, ask friends.

    Hope this helps!

    • Gail May 3, 2013, 2:08 am

      Er, Walmart is famous, or infamous, for its love of minimum wage, minimum benefit, part-timer jobs. Don’t know about Lowe’s and HD.

      Since when are local governments hiring? All I read in the local papers are articles about them cutting back and/or consolidating positions.

      He has satellite, which may not have an office in his area at all.

      I know you were trying to be helpful but I think you were making a lot of assumptions. Wish we could hear back from the young man to know what things are like now.

      • Chris August 8, 2018, 10:09 am

        “Since when are local governments hiring?”

        Since they had jobs open. It may require a trick or two to get in, but people get hired every year.

  • Ellie October 11, 2011, 6:58 am

    MMM, no-one could deny that you are very blunt.

    So I am surprised that in your long, thoroughly comprehensive analysis you did not at any point touch upon the FINANCIAL (!) undesirability of this gentleman’s minimum-wage earning, 21 year old wife having a baby when they are already saddled with debt from car loans etc.

    Of course this is the most sensitive of all topics, but since it is ultimately his wife’s decision to take action and get some reliable contraception, and he will probably be going away and showing her everything that you have written…. Of course it’s not your RESPONSIBILITY to tackle this issue, but you seem so fearless (!), and it could be really beneficial for this couple to re-examine your own story, with a prompt from you to observe closely the way in which you and MrsMM treated having a baby as a ‘treat’ that you had to work towards and earn.

    This comment was written in a spirit of complete admiration, by the way – admiration at the financially, socially and environmentally responsible way in which you and MrsMM chose to plan your own family. I just think it’s a shame for this gentleman to benefit from your wisdom regarding ‘how-to-be-mega-frugal’ without hearing your intelligent voice quietly mentioning, even as an afterthought, one of the very best ways of all ways to be mega-frugal.

    For all I know you might well have had a private correspondence and touched on this topic! Just a thought :-)

    • Jon Bendtsen January 14, 2012, 3:24 am

      @Ellie Maybe the rubber broke? It is never only the wifes responsibility to take contraception, it is his too. The real tragedy I see here is that they chose to have the baby in that age and situation. I am so glad I live in a country where it is totally acceptable to be pro-choice.

    • Uncephalized June 11, 2012, 10:14 am

      I was wondering why 21-year-olds with a small income and no savings were having a baby too. It may have been unplanned, however, and they may have moral or religious objections to abortions. You can’t expect someone to compromise their moral integrity for the sake of frugality. :-)

      • Ellie June 11, 2012, 4:54 pm

        Funny, I see frugality AS moral integrity. We are each one of 7 billion people on the planet and therefore not entitled to use more than our fair share of resources…. And shouldn’t feel entitled to bring a new life into the world unless we have worked hard enough/gone-without-and-socked-away-enough to be able to provide for this little creature who is to be dependent on us. A lot of what is dressed up as ‘moral integrity’ in the Christian/Western culture is actually anything but…. But I’m beginning to use this as a forum for a rant, sorry :-)

        • Raech June 21, 2012, 3:17 pm

          Frugality – moral integrity – 7 billion people – “shouldn’t feel entitled to bring a new life into the world unless we have worked hard enough/gone w/o etc….

          Oh geez! It costs nearly nothing to have a baby. Babies aren’t for the privileged or those who’ve worked hard enough and “earned it.” Dear Lord, what a load of crap. yes, it’s easier when you’re set. But don’t let bringing life into the world not happen due to perceived cost! Also, if you’re bright enough to understand that it really doesn’t need to cost much to have a baby, then you’re smart enough to understand that you can also teach said child/children not to over-use their resources. My 7 person family lives in 1,000 sq feet and uses less resources than my parents – 2 people in 3,000 square feet, more waste etc. Beans are rice are yummy AND filling. Walking to school instead of using our fancy SUV is “FUN! Can we, please mom??!” It’s not necessary to be financially independent. There will never be a right time. Glad they are having that baby – it gave them a reason to get their heads on straight about their debt. Way to go family! Writing to someone who will hold you accountable, means they’re ready to make some tough decisions. I applaud this family, all the way around!

          • Laurie April 3, 2013, 9:44 am

            I always thought people were crazy when they told me that my child was going to cost me so much money. Nobody should have to feel like they should abort due to lack of money. He costs me next to nothing. All of his clothes/toys were free and used from nice strangers who were more than happy to get rid of them. His food didn’t make a noticeable dent in the groceries. I got all his cloth diapers used from craigslist.

            Yes, birth is expensive. It cost me $3K to do a home birth with a midwife, which was much cheaper and safer than if I went the hospital route. If this family chooses to use medicaid, birth and doctor visits will be free. If they choose to use WIC, they can also rent a breast pump for free. If they choose to use food stamps, they can buy vegetable seeds with it for a garden, decreasing their need to go to the far away grocery store for fresh produce. Even if they are against government assistance, I recommend starting the garden.

    • johnnybumblebee July 25, 2020, 7:26 am


      I read this comment a few days back and had advised myself against replying. However, this morning I changed my mind as I just have difficulty letting things go.

      I had my first child at 19 and, as you can imagine, I did not quite plan it that way. At that age I was wasting money on parties, shiny watches and fashionable clothes. As an atheist for as long as I can remember, religion had no bearing on the final decision that was taken by my girlfriend, as I expressed my preference for abortion but it’s her body and her connection that should dictate the way. As a bonus for the ones who are judging me on my religious views, we had 2 of our children out of wedlock (gasp).

      I continued my studies for about 2 years and my wife continued and finished her bachelor’s 4 years after my daughter was born. I started a moving company specifically and bought a house before my daughter was 4 and before that we lived in a comfortable appartment where we never ran out of food, water, clothes or shelter and there was more than enough love all around.

      Long story short, I now have 4 kids, a 6 figure salary (not a mover anymore though), live in a great neighbourhood, have travelled more than most yet for some reason, I remember fondly the years where my kids were growing up in our tiny fixer upper with a paintbrush ‘helping’ (aka making more work for me to patch up).

      Funnily enough, we have close friends we met at the hospital who were a little younger than us and were also having their first unplanned parenthood. They faired better than us in the financial department as he owns about 6 houses, provides 2nd level mortgages with his own personnal cash and now has 7 children.

      So what’s best really. Dedication to a family, values where children learn not to waste as they see their surroundings, a loving environment, or this idea where the amont of cash you have should determine weather or not you can have children. We spend loads of time together and now, as my oldest is approaching 21, she’s getting ready to leave the house with her own stash.

      Don’t get me wrong, many people should not have had kids or shouldn’t consider it, it just has more to do with the dedication than the depth of their pockets.

      Yes I would have loved to spend more time with them and be retired like MMM by the time I had my first, but I was dedicated to providing the life my children deserved and I did it. At the end of the day, if you build the puzzle starting from the middle or starting with the outside borders, what’s the difference if you get all the pieces in.

  • Carmen July 4, 2012, 6:35 am

    Raech – I totally agree with you.

    I’m not sure there’s anything positive to come from questioning the current pregnancy either. The adults in this scenario are both employed, spending less than their total income and conveying personal responsibility for their current situation with aspirations for the future. They are relatively young, but hardly ‘too young to be having a baby’.

    MMM has given great advice on this one and I wish them well for the future.

  • Miller August 19, 2012, 8:04 pm

    This is just a side note which won’t contribute much, but i feel obligated to mention something about plumbers. This may not be the same where some of you live, but here in Kentucky a guy can’t realistically expect that kind of income legally after a couple years plumbing. A non-union apprentice is looking at making between $9-12 ph. According to our code you have to do that for two years and test to be a journeyman (pretty good pay increase $16-27 depending on the job and the size of the outfit). A journeyman can’t legally sell his labor or advertise unless he is working under the supervision of a licensed insured master. After two more years, one more test, and some awfully expensive insurance (min 250k coverage costing about $1600 per annum) you can run your own business and make the big bucks if you manage to stay working. This isn’t a career assistance blog, but i hate to let people think we’re making a killing out there. Contracting is hard no matter what the trade is. It takes years of experience to make a decent living and even when you get a high paying job for a particular company you will forever be a commuter. Its not uncommon for me to have to travel 3 hours round trip to work 12 hour shifts on a hospital or school. Feel free to delete the comment if you don’t find it helpful MMM.

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 19, 2012, 9:06 pm

      Hey Miller – Sorry to hear it’s so tough in Kentucky, but I appreciate the input!

      My plumber friends/acquaintances here say that the starting wage for the new apprentices is $25/hour (and the master bills them out to customers at $40-50). Then, somewhere in the 2-4 year range an entrepreneurial guy will go straight out on his own to capture the full pay. There is no requirement to be in any sort of union.

      So it sounds like a very regional thing. People should definitely figure out their own situation by talking to the smartest plumber they can find locally, to get the real scoop.

  • Joe C January 15, 2013, 5:16 pm

    As a four-year college graduate who has had to fight for part-time work at $8/hour since, this makes me depressed. MMM, can I come work for you?

    • Laurie April 3, 2013, 9:30 am

      Same here, Joe C. Hubby and I both have degrees, but we are struggling to find work where we live. There are only minimum wage jobs available (which is what all my friends have). It is a job desert out there. I posted my skills out on Craigslist looking for some gigs (computer tutor, art lessons, mechanic work) and got nothing. I did manage to land a 3 day gig for $600, but I was unable to find a babysitter in time, so I lost it. :( Our family of 3 lives on $15K/yr.

  • Charlie March 4, 2014, 12:18 pm

    Finally! I’ve been patiently waiting for someone with a less than stellar income to be featured in a case study on your blog, MMM (I’ve been reading from the beginning for a few months). This is my current situation as well, so I’ve been looking forward to seeing if the advice differed any. Even from the comments, the gist of it seems about the same – increase income, lower costs, eliminate debt, and save, save, SAVE.

    I would like to make a point about the low income, though. Obviously there are situations where that’s all that is available, and since they have a house, it’s not so easy to relocate for a new job. In my area all of my friends have recently graduated with BAs and are now schlepping it in the same low income jobs that the writer and I currently have.

    Interestingly enough, I actually used to have a more cushy income, but lowered it on purpose (WHAT AM I, CRAZY???), because my previous job was just too much. I was making about 27k/yr, but working 45+ hours per week, salaried, in a fast-paced, high-stress environment as an assistant manager, with all of the ridiculous expenses of living in an apartment by myself. I thought I was living large (ha!), and ended up racking up some debt by letting my spending inflate faster than my income. Now I make about 15k/yr, but only work an average of 30 hours a week with no management responsibilities. By scaling back, I now have more free time to enjoy my family and friends, I am not surrounded by coworkers who encourage my previously frivolous lifestyle, and I actually enjoy the work I do! Even though my income is so low, by living with my parents I’m able to save about 88% of my income towards a future house purchase.
    My point is, I guess, that it’s just money (as you say yourself) and even though it might take me a few extra years to reach FI and/or ERE, I will be able to actually enjoy the journey, instead of killing myself trying to get there. You and others may not feel that it’s acceptable to only make $9/hr, but there are certain benefits to that kind of job that you can’t get with higher pay. Any extra free time I am able to enjoy RIGHT NOW as opposed to later when I’m retired is worth an infinite amount of money, in my humble opinion, so it’s definitely worth it to me.

  • LJT July 9, 2014, 5:24 am

    MMM or other readers, are there follow stories on the case studies? Still fairly new to the blog (and loving it!) but it would be good to hear how the case studies turned out.

  • kathryn August 19, 2014, 10:19 am

    I worked for the first year, after my first child was born.my spouse and I worked opposite shifts in a factory, and so we only needed childcare for 1 week out of 3. I worked the same shift all the time, while my spouse worked 3 rotating shifts.
    After a year, our house was paid off, and I quit work to raise an additional 3 children. I did provide daycare to neighbours in my home, but if I had it to do over again, I would have cut costs in other areas…it was very stressful at times.

  • Noa December 17, 2015, 1:40 pm

    Seems I found a mistake…

    You added $50/month for gas….he mentioned that was weekly so it should be $200.

    Also, you mentioned selling a car to save money but only included the savings of the car payment, not the lower car insurance or gas usage that comes with it. .’ ) I suppose they basically cancel each other out over all.

  • G-Dub January 25, 2017, 9:06 am

    MMM – Have you thought about doing a follow-up article/series that looks at where these case studies are today? I.e. what changes did they make and results.

  • ArmyColonelK February 19, 2017, 8:13 am

    I agree with G-Dub. MMM, you should do follow-ons about your case studies.

    Where did this young man and family end up?

    He had a good attitude, you gave him good advice – which, even if he was unable to implement it fully (because MMM, we love you but not everyone has the frugality testosterone to grow a complete and manly ‘stash like yours) should still have helped his family onto the path of frugality and righteousness.

    Please use your MMM time machine and do a “Where are they now?” series!

    Because even good advice is easy to give, but harder to follow.

  • Veganomie January 3, 2018, 6:22 am

    This would be a perfect opportunity to say: “HOLY SHIT, MAN!! Folks, learn from his mistake and do not ever do stupid shit like get knocked up when you’re working minimum wage! Since they could not afford a baby, and she was well enough along to not be able to get an abortion, there’s adoption to a family who can afford a child.


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