Is Minimum Wage Worth It for a Married Couple?

Lacey writes in:

My husband makes about $45K per year working for the state. I make just a hair above minimum wage – $8 per hour – working in the kitchen at a restaurant. I don’t mind the work but I have been wondering whether it makes sense for me to be doing this. After taxes I end up bringing home about $220 a week and I think I could help us out more by not working and doing stuff to save money at home. For example, we eat out a lot because we’re both worn out after work and we have to keep two cars so we can both get to work and back. If I wasn’t working, we could stop eating out and we could get rid of a car and also get way more efficient with our groceries and other things. Plus we are thinking about having a child and child care would just eat up everything I make. Does it make sense for me to keep working?

It is really hard to say which approach would make more financial sense for you without substantially more information than this, because there are a lot of factors involved.

The biggest factor of all is your work ethic. It might seem obvious that you would spend your days doing things that reduce spending at home, but doing that day in and day out requires significant work ethic. Would you really spend all of your day preparing meals and doing other economical things? Or would it be tempting to spend the afternoon watching TV or reading a book? This change only financially makes sense if you’re saving minimum wage for each hour you’re at home.

I work from home. I know the temptation to do something besides focus on the task at hand, given that there are many temptations within just a few steps of my work station. It takes willpower to consistently make the choice to be productive at home and some people simply can’t do it as effectively as they need to.

It is absolutely vital that you keep yourself busy if you choose to stay at home and focus on improving your family’s financial situation that way. I find that setting a to-do list each day and striving to complete it (as well as enjoying the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing it) goes a long way toward making it all work for me.

Transportation savings can be a big boost as well, but it requires some difficult choices. You’re eliminating all of the costs associated with one of the cars just by making this move – assuming, of course, that you’re willing to switch to a one-car household. This means that you’d either be walking or biking or taking public transportation to the grocery store or you’d be waiting for your husband to be at home so you could buy the groceries (either together or by yourself). You’d also be stuck at home except for those alternate modes of transportation. You have to be willing to fully accept that. If you’re not, you’re immediately undoing one of the biggest sources of savings in making this move.

Children make this decision easier. The arrival of a child inserts child care costs into this equation. Quality child care often adds up to something approaching minimum wage over the course of a week, undoing the benefits of a minimum wage job. If you’re paying for a car as well, it’s very likely that the cost of child care plus the cost of the car will exceed the income from minimum wage work alone. If children are in your near-term future, staying at home becomes a brighter choice.

There will be an impact on other areas of your finances, too. You’ll likely see a small increase in home energy use, as you’ll want to keep the temperature at a reasonable level while you’re at home alone during the day, as well as lighting and other devices. However, your frugality won’t merely affect your food expenses. You can find projects that can cut down on your energy costs, entertainment costs (using the library, for instance), clothing costs, and many other areas.

So, what’s in favor of staying at work? Do you have opportunities for greater income on your career path? Is this a job that can lead to more income, either at your current workplace or at another one? Do you have genuine plans or hopes of increasing your income to a significant degree?

If you can’t answer those questions positively, then it means that a job or career switch is necessary in order to drastically improve your family’s financial situation.

There’s also the question of your marital situation. Is your spouse open to this type of change? Will it cause resentment? Will your husband expect to take a smaller role in household chores if thsi change occurs? You need to talk about these things openly before you even consider making this kind of change.

Although staying at home isn’t likely to create that giant shift in finances you’re looking for, it can certainly compare to a minimum wage job. However, to make it worthwhile, you have to approach it with serious and diligence. If you let it merely be a “break” from work, it will end up being a net loss for your family.

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