5 Money Ideas For Low-Wage Earners (and those on a tight budget) / by Jennifer Chan


I’d like to preface by acknowledging that some of these tips may not be an option for you. These are merely taken from my own experience when I had minimum wage and close-to-minimum wage jobs. However, I had no dependents and had parents I could’ve asked for help if I was truly in a bind. I never had to ask my parents for money, oddly enough, but they may have given me the occasional small cash gift.

Live at Home

If you have the opportunity to live at home, rent-free, please do it. That eliminates your biggest expense, next to food. If you are fortunate enough to have parents who can afford rent or their mortgage and do not need you to chip in for that, I would suggest offering to contribute to groceries and figure out a manageable amount. I was lucky that while I was working part-time in a minimum wage job, I was able to live with my mom, rent-free. Another time, however, I was working part-time in a different minimum-wage job and living with two other roommates in a downtown apartment (which was essentially an attic). My rent was $525.

Lower Your Cell Phone Plan

Cell phone plans are expensive in Canada. However, some carriers are pricier than others. I recently cancelled my Telus account because I was paying $110.00 for… not much. I tried to negotiate with them and they wouldn’t budge. When my contract was close to ending, I switched to their no-frills counterpart – Koodo Mobile. Koodo was offering a $10.00 rebate for the first 6 months for new customers who were bringing their own phones. Since I had an unlocked phone, I signed right up. I currently pay around $50.00, tax included, with a few GBs of data.

I suggest if money is tight to sign up with one of the no-frills carriers like Koodo Mobile, Freedom Mobile or Virgin and elect for a simple phone plan without data. If you live in a big city, chances are that WIFI is available everywhere. In Toronto, WIFI is even available for free at some of the major subway stations! My partner has like 500 MB of data and she actually only uses it when she’s in a bind. Most of the time, she turns off her data. She has an iPhone but doesn’t use iMessage. She also has free WIFI at work. Her phone bill is cheaper than mine.

Save $20 - $50 Per Paycheque

This will probably seem like a stretch, and it is. But do what you can. You still need an emergency fund so you don’t run into debt with unexpected expenses. I somehow managed to do this when I worked a part-time minimum wage job while living on my own. I lived in an apartment with two other girls in Kensington Market (if you’re unfamiliar with this Toronto neighbourhood, google it) and even though money was always tight and I ate my fair share of Chinese pastries for dinner, I managed to somehow survive. I did have consumer debt, but overall it was pretty manageable. Again, I didn’t have dependents or a car, and one of the benefits of living in this neighbourhood was that I was right downtown. The only times I really even used public transit was to get to work. Most of the time, I walked.

Small Fruit & Produce Shops Are Your Friends

Again, this is coming from someone who lives in one of the most diverse cities in the world, but if you have a Chinatown or something similar in your city, you should think about shopping there for your fruit and produce. While I no longer live near Chinatown, I’m really lucky because there is a local, family-run fruit & produce store within an 8 minute walk from my apartment. The prices are insanely cheap. I’ve managed to buy a large pack of strawberries for $1.99, where around the corner the same pack of strawberries is sold at Sobeys for $4.99. Both are from the exact same company. Like, WHAT.  The only difference is that one is set up in a small storefront, and the other is a big box chain store with large overhead. There are certain negative connotations about buying fruit & produce from places that aren’t chain grocery stores (I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about those opinions), but honestly, it’s all the same. I am so grateful that this family-run business exists and is in my neighbourhood because it’s the single most important factor in reducing my grocery budget, while still eating healthy. I hope that wherever you live, you’re able to look beyond box stores and find some local businesses that provide cheaper grocery options.

The Library is the Best

So long as you can prove where you live (i.e. phone bill with your address), you generally are able to sign up for a library card. I know this goes without saying, but the library is the best. Not only can you ask the library to order books that they don’t have available, but they also have movies and various community events that are free. For me, going to the library fosters a sense of togetherness, since I grew up going to the library and attending their children’s events. As an adult, I’ve also had the ability to increase my personal finance knowledge, since I’ve taken out books like, “It’s Never too Late” by Gail Vaz Oxlade. Keep funding alive for this important public organization, and sign up for a library card today!

I hope that some of these tips are useful to you. In reality, most of these tips can be applied to people who aren’t low-wage earners, but these came to mind because I personally used these strategies when I was a low-wage earner. If you have more suggestions please let me know, so I can incorporate them in future posts!