Max's Living Wage

Continuing the discussion from Why not raise the minimum wage with local ordinances? and The Nahployment ‘Crisis’:

This is something that has been in the back of my head for a while. (See linked topics.) What would be the living wage for me, a single man living in central Florida? That is, how much would I need to earn to cover my basic needs?

Well, I guess a good starting place is my current standard of living. Here’s a budget, based on what I would consider comfortable living alone with my current lifestyle, minus about $120/yr I spend on video games,

Details (click to show/hide)
annum	month	category
 9000	  750	rent
 3000	  250	food
 2760	  230	health insurance
  600	   50	maintenance
  300	   25	hygeine
  240	   20	health
  240	   20	dental
16140	 1345	necessities

annum	month	category
 2640	  220	electricity
 1440	  120	telecom
  660	   55	water & sewage
  540	   45	mobile
  360	   30	natural gas
  240	   20	trash
 5880	  490	utilities

annum	month	category
 3000	  250	auto insurance
 1800	  150	gasoline
  720	   60	auto
  480	   40	auto maintenance
 6000	  500	transportation
 annum	month
 16140	 1345	necessities
  5880	  490	utilities
  6000	  500	transportation
 28020	 2335	total expenses

In real life I don’t make quite that much. More like,

 annum	month	category
 29040	2420	gross wages
 -5760	-480	taxes
 23280	1940	income

Which is a net of -395/mo, -4740/yr. That surprised me! And partially inspired this topic.

(I cheat by living with family and using my parent’s health/auto insurance, which puts me into the black. But obviously that isn’t going to last forever.)

Having laid that out, what should be added or removed to arrive at a living wage?

I’m sure there are details I will need to provide. Let’s see…

The food line item is based on $8.00/day ($8*365=$2920), rounded up. This means eating in, leftovers, and shopping very thriftly.

The health insurance plan I chose for the $230/mo is the best one on the marketplace. I am lucky to not have any chronic health conditions (yet). My current standard of living is good health insurance, so I picked the silver plan, $0 deductible, $30 copay. This is after applying the premium credit for my income, of course. Roughly comparable to the plans we offer at my workplace, but slightly less expensive.

My work commute is about 9mi each way from the center of town. The county bus line runs from town to my workplace, among other places. All of the housing I was looking at was within 2mi of town or lies along that bus route. $750 can apparently fetch a low end 1 bed apartment, or a *really* crumby house. The bus fares are $1/trip, $3/day, or $30/mo. Aside from my workplace, pretty much everything of note is within walking distance of downtown or a bus stop.

The electricity bill I based on, as I wrote, my current lifestyle. I wish I had saved the scrap of paper I had used to add up the kwH. I assumed a water heater, HVAC, refridgerator, desktop computer, lights, washer, dryer. It's Florida so space heating isn't really necessary any time of year. The city charges $12.20 + $0.089879/kwh under 1000 + $0.111688/kwh over 1000, per month.

The water bill is based on an estimate from [this site]( With a daily 15 minute shower, 3 toilet flushes (low-flow), 10 minutes of running water, 30 minutes of handwashing, and one load of laundry per week, it says I may use 231 gallons per day / 6,468 gallons per month / 84,084 gallons per year. Rates are $9.63 + $1.874710/1000gal per month, plus $30.46 per month for wastewater and reuse.

The telecom item at $120/mo was, I think, based on offers I saw for low tier internet+phone bundles at $90/mo. I'm used to 100Mbps, which is faster than I need IMO. I added the extra $30 to account for all sorts of stupid fees.

The mobile item. I use my phone for calls, texts, alarms, and occasionally chess / 2048 / Wikipedia / Straight Dope. A Kyocera durable is probably the most appealing phone on the market, budget considerations aside, and would probably last me at least six years.


The first thing, I think, is to cut transportation. I like having a car but with the bus line and me being a man I have no qualms taking the bus. This reduces the transportation category from $500/mo to $30/mo, plus maybe a dollar or two if I want a bike.

The second thing, although I won’t like it, is to cut telecoms ($120/mo) from the budget entirely. If I have a mobile phone I don’t see a landline as a basic need. And I never did see internet access in the home as a basic need like food, water, shelter, or clothing. The public library has computers with internet access and free wifi if I bring my own device.


Perhaps I missed it but I don’t see anything in there for savings or retirement investments. You should definitely be saving something.

That would be beyond a living wage, but having money for medical expenses not covered is always a big trick when talking living wage.

Did you cover basic clothing costs? I don’t think I saw it.

I also think savings is beyond a living wage.

I put down $20/mo for health expenses. The insurance plan I budget $230/mo for is very good so far as these go, with a $30 copay for visits and prescriptions. I accounted for two office visits a year ($60/yr) plus my biannual epinephrine rx ($15/yr) plus a noncovered vision checkup / cheap driving glasses every five years ($30/yr) plus a medical fund of $135/yr for the unexpected. That brings me to $240/yr or $20/mo for out-of-pocket health expenses.

I didn’t think about clothing costs… I probably buy new sneakers / socks / underwear every four years or so. I think $80 will cover that, which is $20/yr. Then for shirts and pants &etc I probably replace two articles a year, so add $50/yr. I have yet to replace any of my dress clothes, so I think I’ll add maybe $30 a year to have things pressed or to re-sole my shoes. I already worked in laundry costs into the utilities expense. That’s a total of $100/yr, which I’ll round to $120 for an even $10/mo.

The total of expenses from the OP was $28,020/yr or $2,335/mo. Subtract $470/mo by using a bus instead of a car, subtract $120/mo by cutting home internet and phone service, and add $10/mo for clothing. The new total is $21,060/yr or $1,755/mo.

That would be $10.125/hr in post-tax income, assuming a 40-hour workweek. The tax rate for a single filer in Florida earning between $10k-$40k per year is ~12%. Therefore the living wage for me, if this budget could be said to cover only basic costs of living, would be 10.125/.88= $11.51.


If you’re earning a living wage - retired or not - then you’re covered through retirement by the living wage.

So your living wage is built around not ever needing to go to the hospital or even needing an out of plan prescription.

The budget for such should be tied to age. But should be a line item even at age 22.

No and yes respectively. I believe the inpatient OOP was capped at $90 or $110 but will have to go double check to be sure. Something I don’t know about, however, is coverage of ambulatory services.

Agreed. I’m budgeting for age 25.


In general, the costs of living follow a bathtub curve. Either the living wage would need to include that (which doesn’t really work, since the average comes from a diversity of emergency illnesses and etc. that happen near the start and end of life) or you also need a minimal health care coverage system.

As to the actual cost of the wage, really it doesn’t need to be any more than food and shelter, where “shelter” could mean a single bed in a barracks style apartment building and “food” could mean bulk-purchased produce that’s prepared and served by the tenants of said barracks.

We’re effectively talking the cost of prison, minus the cost of all the guards, medics, computers, training sessions, etc.

Anything beyond that is going beyond a true cost of living and is getting into financing the luxuries of life. It’s worse than prison, as we already have it.

First off, I’m very impressed with the view/hide thing you did. That’s cool.

Secondly, cut telecom. You don’t need a landline. I pay $ for cell and a mobile hotspot with unlimited usage. Are you really paying $250/mo for auto insurance? I have full coverage and pay $60/month for my older Rav4. I’d check to see if you can find a better rate. Now, I’m in Tennessee, but I live alone and pay less than $100/mo in electricity (and I don’t have gas , so everything’s electric) and $20/mo for water. My personal calculation for utilities is $250/mo for water, electricity and phone/internet.

Does your employer offer health insurance? That might be cheaper than the medical you’re quoting.


This was one of the things I wasn’t sure about. IRL I’m still on my Dad’s family plan. I did a precursory search for quotes but it’s a real hassle, they want me to put in my phone numbers, tax information, etc. I also don’t deal with car insurance in my line of work, unlike health insurance.

So I just looked up an average good coverage estimate for twentysomethings and went with that.

I am the benefit administrator for our company’s health insurance. It’s about equivalent to the plan I found on the marketplace, but the premium for an employee my age is slightly more expensive.


The water bill is necessarily higher than $20/mo, that’s just to be connected to the city mains even if I don’t actually use a single drop. I posted the city’s water and electric rates in the small text at the end of the OP, if anyone wants to look for savings or shortcomings.

There are savings to be had - I had accounted for 15 minute showers because I like 15 minute showers and the original budget was my current lifestyle. I can take 5 or 10 minute showers, or shower with the water off except rinsing at the end. It would just be less pleasant, and the savings miniscule - a small fraction of a dollar per month. Most of the water usage comes from me handwashing dishes.

I prefer to wash dishes by wasting water and having the sink run while I scrub. This is not necessary; in Boy Scouts we would have one basin full of water and soap for scrubbing and one for rinsing. I could do the same in daily practice, and probably save a couple dollars a month, but it would be more of a hassle.


According to the EPA, the average American uses 82 gal water per day. And I think a lot of apartment complexes have water as part of the rent - they don’t meter it separately, unlike electricity.


Here’s the website I was using to calculate water usage. What would you put in to get around 82 gal / day?

I can get down to 83 gal/day with

  • an 8 minute daily shower,
  • 3 low-flow flushes / day,
  • 2 minutes of washing dishes by hand per day,
  • 8 minutes of running water per day for washing hands/brushing teeth/shaving, or any other purpose, and
  • 1 load of laundry per week

But only two minutes per day of handwashing dishes won’t work if I’m cooking & eating in every night. I’ll also need water for cooking which makes the 8 minutes of other running water a day less workable.


I just googled it and got the stat from the EPA. Follow my link.


A lot of so-called needs in a 1st world country aren’t really needs though. The whole concept of a living wage doesn’t reflect the reality of economics. Paying folks for their expenses instead of their economic value is an irrational allocation of resources and counterproductively distorts the market.

Except it does need to be more than that. If you don’t have decent hygene, good luck finding or keeping a job that will provide the income for that food and shelter. If you don’t have transportation, in many cases you can’t get to the job which provides the income for food and shelter.


A lot depends on where you live, as that affects the cost of living.

As an example, I currently live in a 1 bedroom apartment in a Chicago suburb. My current rent is $725 a month. Yes, I have that “low end” one you mentioned but I’m comfortable and safe which is the priority for housing. I don’t pay for water, it’s included in the rent. I do pay for gas and electric, which varies from $70 to $130/month depending on weather (AC or heat costs) and how much I cook (I mostly eat in). Some types of cooking use more energy than others, ask me if you’re curious about that. With food added in (I’m averaging about $12/day) my typical costs per month for shelter/food/water come to around $1,000 to $1,100 per month, which is lower than your budget by a fair amount. And, to be honest, I could cut back more and get by on your $8/day for food and have done so during financial difficulties back in the Great Recession. In fact, even including utilities it’s lower than your estimate without utilities. I’m guessing that living in “Central Florida” you will never have the heating costs I do during the winter, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there are areas where your costs exceed mine. I’d be surprised if your food costs are greater than mine, because as a general rule the further north you go the more food costs.

Note about apartment vs. “really crumby house” - apartment living gets dissed a lot, but it has some advantages. Often (but not always) trash is taken care of for you, there are laundry facilities provided, maintenance is provided, etc. You accounted for the cost of a washer and dryer in your budget but I don’t have to, those are covered in my rent, I don’t directly pay to run them. On the other hand, my prior apartment didn’t have laundry facilities, so laundromat costs were part of my budget (the rent there was also significantly less). It’s less work than a house, and for someone just getting started in independent life opting for renting for the first few years takes some burden off you, let’s you get sorted out and practiced at the adulting thing, and then if you want to buy you have a much better notion of what you’re doing and how to keep your situation stable. My opinion, others will differ.

So I suspect that while your initial figures are decent they aren’t entirely accurate. Which is OK - it sounds like you’re trying to figure out how to live on your own and there’s a learning curve for that. If you want more information on how to make eating on a lean budget interesting or other aspects of budgeting not only are there threads already on the subject here, but you can also start another one to ask for suggestions.

My transportation costs are significantly different than yours, but then I’m also in a different situation than what you have. The fact you’re in your mid-20’s means you will have to pay more for car insurance than I do, a person in my mid-50’s with a 40 year good driving record. There is no way around that, but there are ways to bring that cost down. First, if you can opt for mass transit that cuts a LOT of costs out entirely - all the costs of insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc. go away. You already know that. Also, if you’re going to be relying on mass transit and there’s a monthly pass option definitely check that out, it can be additional savings. But if you do that I highly recommend maintaining your driver’s license rather than opting for a state ID card because having a driver’s license gives you the option to rent a car (which you should be able to do as someone 25+) should you need on, or a moving van if you move, or whatever.

If you opt to keep a vehicle there may be ways to keep costs down, like careful planning of trips to minimize mileage. I pay my vehicle insurance costs in one lump sum annually rather than monthly, which saves me money but that ONLY works if you have the self-discipline to put aside that money so you are able to make that payment - if that’s not doable then you’re better off paying monthly to keep that coverage. In addition to weekly costs of fuel, vehicles ALSO require annual costs which must be paid, such as registration and plate costs to the DMV, and maintenance. If you’re serious about budgeting you have to consider. There is also the question of monthly payments vs. fully paid for - fully paid for is great, but the last time I had my pickup in the shop for fixing stuff that had just plain wore out it cost me $900. The time before that it was $1100. Granted, this is only every few years and it’s a 22 year old truck, but if you don’t pay for those costs after awhile you won’t have a vehicle. So I budget $400 towards maintain/repair/replace annually on the pickup. It’s still cheaper than buying new, or even buying used (good luck finding even a used pickup for sale these days!), but it’s still a cost that needs to be accounted for.

This is why people are telling you that you need some savings. There are costs that come up periodically. It’s not even catastrophes (although you’ll get those, too) - some costs of living on your own are yearly or every X number of years and you have to be ready for them. That’s why even someone on food stamps or disability benefits are allowed some modest savings, to account for such costs. It’s a necessary part of budgeting.

Keep in mind, my $400/year for owning/maintaining my pickup is about $34 a month. It’s not that huge an amount - but it’s essential if I’m going to keep it running. Yes, it’s around the cost of your own health and maintenance plan, funny coincidence, right? Take this sort of cost into account when budgeting. If your main job isn’t quite enough then you have to come up with something to add to it - a little gig work, cleaning out the gutters on your parents’ home in exchange for $50, whatever. OK, I get that you’re trying to figure out what you’re living wage should be and that might be way too nitty-gritty practical, but when you’re out in the real world keep that sort of stop-gap in mind. It might be useful.

Telecom costs used to be cheap in the days before the internet, but we don’t live in the past (even if some of us old farts stop to reminisce). You don’t need a landline, so don’t pay for it. Watch out for that “bundling” thing - it’s only useful if you use all the services. Only pay for what you’re using - trust me, those companies are always willing to sell you more if you find you need it down the line. If you can get buy and are comfortable with just a mobile phone and using the library’s internet then go for it.

Nope, as I said above - you need some savings every month to cover annual costs for various items. Doesn’t have to be a lot, but you need something for emergencies.

No, it won’t. Even if you keep an eye out for the best sales I still think you’re low-balling it. Maybe you could ask for sneakers/socks/underwear for Christmas and birthday presents? Although presumably you’ll start out with sufficient of the above and won’t have to look at replacing any of it for awhile you will eventually have to replace what wears out.

Second hand/thrift stores are an option for some items, like shirts and pants and those can be very reasonable. Also, living in Florida you don’t have to maintain summer/winter wardrobes like those of us up north so that’s a plus for your situation. You are way low on the cost to re-sole a shoe (I’ve been a professional cobbler, and I just had one of my pairs of shoes re-soled - that starts at $45 a pair and goes up quick). Don’t send your stuff out to get pressed, get an iron and learn to use it, it’s not rocket science. Also learn to re-sew a button and make minor sewing repairs yourself. That’s what YouTube is for.

I think what you did there is a good first attempt and you’re looking for ways to refine it and make more accurate. Which is excellent. You’ve got the basic notion down, at this point you need to tweak it and adjust a few inputs for accuracy.

First off, I think this is an interesting thread, and kudos to Max for starting it. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to budget at this level, and even then it was just to figure out how much money I could blow on beer.

Even the lower “bus only” estimate requires earning more than Florida’s minimum wage. If you actually had to make this work, you’d most likely have roommates to bring down that $750/mo in rent to something more reasonable.

Other than that, there are two big things that come to mind. First is that this budget leaves no room for upward mobility. I’m think about the sort of expenses one would need to get an entry level IT job (my general career area). Education is the big one – either community college or a certification course. But also business casual clothing, haircuts*, and most likely some personally provided IT equipment like an old laptop and/or some basic tools which are often not provided. Relying on public transportation would make this difficult as well, especially since many entry level IT jobs are shift work. Obviously most of these could be easily afforded once you get that sort of job, but that’s one more hurdle.

The other big thing is children. Procreation makes pretty much any living wage budget unworkable without external assistance. For that matter, it’s a lot easier to have 3 roommates when you’re 20 than it is when you’re 40, so I think crawling out of this subsistence level is just going to get harder as you get older and gain more responsibilities.

*For a couple of decades I didn’t pay for haircuts, opting instead to just shave my head twice a month with a pair of $20 clippers. There’s a certain amount of privilege to this based on gender and/or hair type, especially if one is trying to look professional. For some people this could mean $15 a month at supercuts, but for other people it could be a bit more. I’m not really qualified to say.

Max, you can find your county or metro area in MIT’s calculator and see how their assumptions match against yours. I’m curious if there are any large discrepancies.

E.g. they’re calculating ~$32k/year for a single person in Orange County, with breakdowns by expense category.