Max's Living Wage

Modnote: This post is off-topic and would lead to a hijack if people responded. Please avoid this in the future.

This is just a guidance, not a warning. Nothing on your permanent record.

A living wage, as I understand it, is just that. It’s a minimum to ensure that you don’t die prematurely. It’s not intended to push you towards finding employment, grant you any pleasures of life, nor anything else. It keeps you alive, so that you don’t have any concerns about dying prematurely, and technically you could decide to give up on life, find a low-cost living situation with provided food, and spend the rest of your days pacing and watching grass grow, but you wouldn’t have any spare cash after paying for your minimum necessities of life to pay for TV, to pay for Internet, nor anything else. Maybe you can get some of that by going to the library, but you have to walk there.

Minimum hygiene would be covered - since it helps to keep you alive - but not transportation. If you’re working 8 hours a day, sleeping 6 hours, and using 2 hours to prepare food and eat it then you have 8 hours a day to walk. This gives you a roughly 15 mile radius (706 miles^2) in which to find employment, if you feel like you’d prefer that over “living”. Almost certainly, you’ll quickly be able to afford transportation once you do find employment, so the 15 mile radius is really only a limit because you need to walk to work for the first couple of weeks that you’re on the job.

Realistically, in modern society, you can live just dumpster diving and crawling under the edge of a roof and still be more secure and healthy than the vast majority of all of your ancestors. But, clearly, we wouldn’t view this style of life “secure”. There’s no guarantee that the shelter or food will stay available and, obviously, there’s minimal hygiene availability so you are shortening your life significantly.

We should expect the living wage to be greater than zero and less than the cost of housing a prisoner.

Well, when I searched for apartments I took the cost of utility amenities out. (I thought that would make budgeting easier for me.) The only non-senior apartments available at $750 or less, after adding in whatever monthly fee they wanted above the list price (usually $50/mo), are those that include zero utilities. Most low end apartments I could find do include some utilities, but are listed at $800-$900. Also all of the communal laundry machines are pay-operated, that is standard here (but perhaps not in Chicago). In my experience it costs $2.00-$2.50 to wash and dry a load at a machine, not including detergent.

Co-renting however can bring costs down below $750/mo for housing, electric, trash, water, and sewage.

Yes, the bus pass is $30/mo which is cheaper than other offerings if I use it for the work commute.

I drive a used 2006 Mazda6, and have for some years. You can get them for around $4k, which I budgeted as $60/mo assuming I keep it for 6 years or so (my car is already paid for, though). I used that car as the basis for the $480 annual auto maintenance line on my budget, above. (also for the gas estimate). Although for reasons given above, the entire auto aspect of transportation would be cut in favor of the $30/mo bus pass.

I had been trying to budget for those various items with dedicated line items (health fund, general/home maintenance fund, auto maintenance fund, etc).

I have actually opened only two packs of undergarments and two packs of socks over eight years. And for the sneakers, there were two pairs of Sketchers on clearance at a local store that I picked up for $75 combined, and the K-Swiss I wore from high school to age 23 cost just under $50. Based on this I would budget $55 for shoes and $25 for undergarments/socks, per four years.

In my experience I only have to re-sole my shoes every two years or so, and that’s with every day use. $30/yr would cover that and any pressing or dry cleaning which is even more rare, since I don’t attend church or regular formal functions.


Well… yes, that makes sense. $750/mo rent + $120 utilities does put you into the $800-900 range… or if utilities are included it’s $800-900. Basically, that’s the cost of a 1 bedroom apartment.

I will note that back when I was your age I split a 1 bedroom apartment with a roommate so we could both afford housing costs. Of course, finding someone compatible is a whole 'nother topic. If you can make it work out that’s great.

Yep - a roommate can be a great help.

It actually sounds like you have a good grasp of the situation. Let us know if you want any suggestions/advice on managing living on your own for the first time.

Also, once you’re out on your own IF you qualify for any sort of aid - I’m thinking SNAP/food stamps are the only like one - go ahead and get it. I mean, even Florida still have food stamps. I don’t know what the rules are in that state, though, but checking it out might not be a bad thing. If nothing else, if you do have a set back you’ll know where to go and what to do to get at least that. Never hurts to have contingency plans.

Where to begin?

First, I think employment is implied by the wage portion of a living wage. I would not consider non-earned income kosher for the topic. Nor do I think it is appropriate to talk about living as a stay-at-home spouse, nor off of a sugar daddy, nor in an ostensibly all-expenses-paid situation such as a convent/monastery, prison, military, Peace Corps, &etc.

The living portion implies some measure of sustainability - you can make a lot more money by working 16 or even 18 hours 7 days a week, but that’s not sustainable.

If you know of an arrangement where someone will pay for my food and shelter without me having to earn an income, where I can just pace about and watch grass grow, send me a PM! :wink:

For one, my workweek is not a constant 9-5 M-F. We work until 7:30 on Tuesdays, for example. So in my particular case walking home means I start prepping dinner on Tuesdays after 11pm. But I’m walking to work Wednesday morning at 4:30am. You leave me five and a half hours to prep three meals, eat two, and catch six hours of sleep.

I’ll need probably fifteen to twenty minutes a day just to deal with bodily excretions, which even you must recognize is necessary. And it takes time to fall asleep, though only a couple minutes are strictly necessary to wake and dress.

Which brings me to my second point. Many people, myself included, can’t go to sleep directly after eating. It would cause reflux. Just a fact of life.

Third point, two hours to prep three meals, and eat two of them, and to clean the kitchen, is really tough. Throw in the shoestring $8 food budget, is that a reasonable expectation?

I don’t have time or pack room to go shopping for food during the workweek, which necessitates food storage at the home. Do you expect me to forego electricity and refrigeration? The modern grocery economy is built around the assumption that a person has access to a refrigerator. I can’t afford to throw away leftovers or to buy food in single-serve quantities. I can make do with a large cooler and ice, but I think buying ice would get pretty expensive, too. Remember I live in Florida, it takes a lot of ice to keep something cool all day without electricity.

And the walking! Two to three miles is well within my comfort zone. Walking four+ hours each morning and evening is something else! Most of the walking would be off pavement and in very hot and humid weather. I wouldn’t be able to make the trip in my work clothes and shoes, so I would carry those in a pack. I would need to carry water or risk heat exhaustion. I think carrying 48oz per trip would be safe. We don’t have showers at my workplace, or at most, so I’m not sure how to handle that - wipes would be too expensive. Towels and sink water, I guess, but then I need to carry the wet towels back with me. Better bring a reusable plastic bag that can hold muddy boots and wet towels. I would also need something to light my path for the large stretches lacking sunlight, streetlight, and pavement.

My actual job sometimes involves taking home or bringing in a suitcase or banker’s box full of papers. Weight up to 30lb. It would be fun carrying that, plus my pack, under a poncho through ten miles of rain and mud. Can’t use an umbrella because I’m not carrying thirty pounds on one arm for four hours, and you need two hands for the umbrella if it’s windy anyways, as is the case during a tropical storm.

Ultimately walking 30mi every day is unrealistic, especially when 15 miles of it is done in the dark and off the pavement. I’m not scared of the alligators but I am a little afraid of snakes, and there are tree branches &etc to trip on. The stress will probably rip up my toenails, and really screw with my feet if I’m wearing cheap shoes. (Which is going to be the case since you are thinking of subsistence rather than living wages.) A dude walked 100 miles in a week, one-off, and his story made Men’s Health magazine. You are asking me to walk what, 150 miles a week? That’s just for the work commute, I would still have to walk for groceries or the library. In the military, wouldn’t a sustained 30mi/day be a cruel march?


Yeah, unfortunately I don’t think that’s part of the concept. My job doesn’t require shift work, but if someone wanted to start out working shifts at a hospital public transit won’t help. Back in high school we had carpool arrangements where the kid who couldn’t drive would pay a little for a friend to carpool, that might work in adult life too.

If you do have an entry level job with the living wage, then you get a raise (above inflation), then you can start saving.

With the pandemic I, too, have learned that professional haircuts are optional. Got myself a $20 clipper and have been using it for over a year. Although the local barbershop only charged $9 for a man’s haircut before the pandemic, which seemed to me a really good deal at the time.


D’oh, I was confusing “living wage” with “universal basic income” which is - by definition - an unconditional payment. Living wage is, as you say, a term for what the minimum wage should be - whether it is or not.

I guess ignore what I’ve written so far then.

As to a living wage, last I calculated it, it was somewhere between $4.04 per hour and $11.25, depending on whether you expect your average citizen to be strictly rational (e.g. save for retirement, plan for emergencies, plan to raise children, etc.) or a complete lunkhead who can’t be trusted with money.

The $4.04 is probably the better number in that way of looking at things.

The actual minimum wage (somewhere upwards of $7.25) probably comes from a desire to get votes and flatten the gini coefficient, rather than due to the requirements of “living”.

A couple of quibbles.

First: six hours of sleep is NOT adequate for the average adult. Yes, yes, I know new parents do stuff like that but have you met any new parents? They’re in a state of chronic exhaustion. Not good.

And a “15 mile radius to walk to work” is… whacky, actually. That’s hours and hours of walking a day, which on top of only six hours allotted for sleep is not sufficient rest. Sure, for temporary period, a short one, but not on a continuous basis.

Max brings up the cooking angle

This is a real issue for many.

As a practical measure, I am a big fan of having some time on a day off to prep, at least in part, a week’s worth of meals. Basically, you’re making your own frozen dinners. Make 'em up, pop 'em in the freezer, when you get home from work nuke 'em in the microwave. It’s a lot better than eating junk when you get home because you’re too tired to cook, or short on time.

On the upside, that sort of in-advance-prep can dovetail well with eating on a very limited budget. For example, this week I made a crockpot of leek-and-potato soup. One day I add some shredded cheese on top, another day I might add some vegetables like chopped carrots and mushrooms, another day another variation. Have everything in the fridge ready to combine and nuke.

Another week I might do a pot of beans and eat them in a variety of different ways during the week.

Of course, that does require electricity, a fridge, and a microwave (you don’t need a crockpot, just a pot, to make the above although a crockpot is a nice appliance to have).

Here is a comparison of MIT’s estimate and my budget as revised in post #5 and adapted to MIT’s categories,

MIT budget My budget
living wage $15.44 $12.20*
pre-tax annual income $32,117 $25,376
taxes $4,480** $4,314
post-tax annual income $27,636 $21,062

* In post #5 I erroneously gave the living wage for my budget as $11.51. I had forgotten to take out Medicare and Social Security taxes in addition to the federal income tax.

** MIT's estimate on taxes may be a little over $1,000 short. The federal income tax rate for that bracket is $995 + 12% of income over $13,900 (see IRS Publication 15-T). With an annual income of $32,117 the employer would withhold $3,181. Then the employee's Medicare tax rate is 1.45% and the Social Security tax rate is 6.2%. That makes for an additional $2,457 in taxes. The total taxes levied on the income given by MIT should be, by my calculation, $5,638. Some of the withheld money will probably come back, so maybe that's where the discrepancy is. One would have to understand the "Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center Microsimulation Model", version 0217-1, to close this mystery.

MIT budget My budget
food $3,177 $3,000
medical $2,792 $3,240
housing*** $11,868 $13,500
transportation $5,113 $360
civic $1,811 $0
other $2,875 $960
total $27,636 $21,060

*** MIT's housing category includes utilities but not telecoms (which are "other"). My budget as presented in this table reflects that categorization. MIT also assumes a I'd be renting a bedroom rather than an apartment or house, or co-renting a dwelling. I didn't search for those arrangements when making my budget because its so circumstantial.

The largest difference is transportation, which I cut entirely from my original budget in favor of a $30/mo bus pass. In the “other” category, of note, MIT includes equipment and service for broadband (at $60/mo) and a cell phone ($48.64/mo), whereas I only include cell phone service (at $45/mo). I can’t tell from the whitepaper but it is possible MIT counted the cost of broadband and cell phone service twice in their “other” category estimate - once with their own dedicated cost factor, and again when drawing on the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey. See pages 7 and 8 here, where after describing their own “cost element for broadband and cell phone service”, they write “expenditures for other necessities are based on 2019 data […] including: […] (5) Broadband and Cell Phone Service.”


First, I should note that I was mistakenly discussing a universal basic income, not a living wage. The standards should be higher than I was recommending. I’m merely following up to quibble, not to support the recommendation.

40% of people get 6 hours or less per night:

I’m not aware of an epidemic of sleep-deprivation based deaths affecting near half of the population and, I’m fairly sure, you can survive a month on 6 hours of sleep on weekdays, so whether that is optimal or not, it’s very far from disastrous. It’s the everyday for 40% of everyone you see in the streets.

As said, once you have employment, you would be able to afford transportation so we’re talking a period of a month at most that this would be necessary.

From history, walking two hours to work (e.g. 6-8 miles) seems fairly common. That there doesn’t seem to be more than that recorded does make me somewhat skeptical of the theoretically accomplishable numbers. A 7 mile radius is still 153 miles^2 worth of area. For context, I believe that Manhattan island is about 2.5 miles wide. It’s not really a small hunting ground.

And…? So what?

Lack of adequate sleep not only leads to issues with chronic exhaustion, it can also be a factor in high blood pressure, weight gain, and other ills. It doesn’t kill you quickly, it kills you slowly and degrades your health along the way. Sure, you can survive. For awhile. That doesn’t mean it’s OK. It’s a crime that so many people are conditioned to accept less than adequate sleep.

Oh, OK.

Yep. But back then you didn’t have to deal with things like crossing freeways or suspicious neighbors calling the cops because a “suspicious person” was seen walking in their neighborhood. Walking! Outrageous!

I’m still trying to work out a reasonable minimal water consumption.

The shower I could cut to two minutes of running water, by turning off the faucet while scrubbing. Apparently two minutes is somewhere around 4.2 gallons.

The toilet is guaranteed low-flow (the city will cover a replacement if it isn’t), so while I could probably manage one flush a day that means a lot of stink in a very small living space for negligible savings. It’s 1.6 gal per flush. Most days I’ll be working, away from the home toilet. I think 5 gal / day is a good estimate here.

I could probably get by washing dishes with < 2 gal a day if I do it the old-fashioned way, filling up a basin to wash and then rinsing with scalding hot water.

Let’s assume I wash my hands with 1 gal of running water, and I do this at home an average of five times a day for 5 gal / day. I brush my teeth twice a day, which probably takes 0.5 gal / day to rinse the brush. I also wash my face in the morning after shaving, but I’m lucky enough (or so I’ve heard) not to have to use any water to actually shave. It’s just to get the already-cut hairs off my face. Let’s say that takes 1 gal / day. I cut my hair short enough that it needs no prep. So for hygiene, daily consumption would be 6.5 gal / day.

I don’t see how I can avoid a load of laundry per week. Apparently that’s 15-19 gallons per week in a high efficiency washer, or I could go with 42 gallons per week for a normal washer. Assuming the latter, that’s 6 gal / day. There is the possibility of washing laundry by hand, like with a washboard and a tub, but I haven’t done that since grade school and don’t know what the water consumption is.

The running total would be 4.2+5+2+6.5+6 = 23.7 gal / day, not including food or drink.

Water is billed by my city by each 1000 gal per month. Even in months with 31 days I have no financial incentive to use less than ~32 gal a day. That leaves me seven gallons a day, on average, to use for food/cooking and drink - plenty! Especially if I’m not rinsing leafy greens or anything like that. My big pot for steaming or boiling or de-starching is probably 2.5 gallons. 7 gal seems like a lot.

In the OP I estimated $51.34 / mo, rounded up to $55 / mo, based on the lifestyle I am used to presently. Let’s re-examine the water bill with the water consumption laid out above.

If I keep water consumption below 32 gal / day on average, the water bill would be $41.97 / mo. I’m rounding all expenses on the budget up to the nearest $5 / mo, so $45/mo. Annual savings would be about $120.

Using twice that much water however, would only increase annual expenses by about $22.50.


Not entirely sure why you’re planning to skimp on water, but OK, I’ll play…

You’re looking for a “navy shower”. You rinse off. Turn off the water. Soap up/scrub. Turn the water back on to rinse again. Done. If you really want to cut back, wet a washcloth with water/bodywash, soap up/scrub, then turn the water on to rinse.

Use the used dishwashing water to flush the toilet. That gets you a re-use of some of your water. With a little practice you might get two flushes out of the dishwater and a low-flow toilet. When you flush with a bucket (essentially what we’re talking about) you want to pour the 1.5/2 gallons in rapidly to get the siphon going. Do it slowly and nothing will happen.

If you’re holding it to two flushes a day I’d recommend just before you go to work and just before bed. If you do do that, though, you might want to add a little bleach to the bowl once a week to help keep things clean.

Wow, that’s quite a bit of water.

Try this: pour some water in a bowl (about a pint will do). Use that to wet your hands. Use a SMALL amount of soap and do the 30 second soap up routine. Use what’s in the bowl to rinse. WAY less water use. Save the used water (technically, it’s called “grey water”) for toilet flushing purposes.

For tooth brushing: put about 8 ounces of water in a cup. Apply toothpaste to brush. Brush. Rinse brush in cup of water. Use water in cup to rinse mouth. Spit used water into your toilet flushing water bucket.

When my dad was in the National Guard he had only 1 quart of water a day for hygiene or something of the sort. When I used to go wilderness camping where you have to carry all your water (and water is heavy) I used the same techniques.

In many ways running water on tap is a luxury. It’s a wonderful luxury. But if you’re going for only strictly necessary you can cut way, way back.

Oh, if you hand wash any clothes at home put the water from that in your toilet flushing water bucket. Make pasta? drain the cooking water into the toilet flushing water bucket. See how that works? You might wind up with more than you need, in which case flush freely!

For your consideration: Hand crank washing machine. There are many models and options available. The “salad spinner” feature is great, it really cuts down on the drying time. This won’t work for bedding or other really large items, but you should be able to occasionally visit a laundromat for that. Oh, for in-home laundry you might also want a clothes drying rack. I usually set mine up in the bath tub so I don’t have to worry about drips.

Don’t forget - the laundry water goes in the toilet flushing water bucket! Basically, you want to get TWO uses out of most of your water.

Again - use that used water for your toilet.

It actually is - our civilization tends to be very wasteful of water. With that, doing at least some of your laundry in home with a handcrank machine is very doable.

And that is why most people don’t adopt the water conservation methods I’ve outlined above.

StGermain pushed me. Water isn’t really a big concern here in Florida… if I am renting/buying a house or something, which is probably the only situation where the water bill would reflect my water consumption - there is virtually unlimited source of non-potable water literally two feet below my feet.

Noooo! That pasta water is for the sauce, or soup or something! :laughing:


This is something I didn’t know existed. One of the reviews said the instructions call for a little over 2 gallons for the “large” load, but the dimensions show it has only a 15" diameter and a 14.5" height. The washer I use once a week is probably larger than 2’ in diameter and almost 3’ deep. I would probably do five loads a week in the handcrank operated washer.

Indoor drying racks would require a running a good dehumidifier, I’m not sure if it is cheaper than a gas dryer considering the extra time.


Max - Do you have any co-workers making about the same as you who could answer some of the questions you have about expenses? I think talking to someone who lives in the area and can walk you through their daily lives would be helpful.

I didn’t mean to bog you down with the water thing. It was just one of the things that didn’t look right about your numbers.

I don’t know where you live, so I picked Ocala as a central FL town. Here’s an apartment with water, washer & dryer included. Free basic cable. Free wifi around the pool (?).


Well, OK, but you’re missing out on some GREAT flushing action!]


Oh, sorry - forgot how humid Florida is all the time. This time of year I’m always looks for ways to ADD humidity to my living quarters. Oops!

Yes, some of our past employees commuted from the outskirts of Ocala. Lots of economic growth out there, cheaper living, so I hear. But the flipside, I don’t think a car would be optional. I think most people commute.

ETA: I posted the MIT living wage estimate for my county in post #29. MIT thinks housing in my county (inc. utilities) should be around $11,800. My budget called for $13,500. For comparison MIT says housing in Marion county shoud be around $7,800.


I am horrified at these statements, both as a practical matter and as a moral one.

For starters, as noted above, a ‘living wage’ in a society in which you are expected to continually save for your own retirement needs must include excess capital beyond mere ‘living expenses’ as to allow the recipient to save and invest that money.

In addition, I don’t need to type out the 13,543rd post in this Boards history which goes into the math of compound interest. Or quote the pithy, yet true, phrase ‘pay yourself first’.

I contend a ‘living wage’ which does not provide the recipient the dignity of participating in our capitalist system for the purposes of saving for retirement is not a true ‘living wage’.

And, to everyone’s point, yes, the living wage needed is different for each individual: there can’t be just one defined amount. Regardless, as long as you live in the United States, whatever amount you decide your “Living Wage” to be, it must include retirement contributions. Otherwise your living wage only covers part of your life, and is therefore not a true LW.

Encouraged, not expected. How many 25-year olds do you expect to save for retirement? I wouldn’t expect most people to save for retirement until midlife, if they ever save at all.

Mind you, I live next to the largest retirement community in the country.