I Make $30K per Year. How Can I Survive?

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People who make a minimum wage are often entitled to government benefits that help them stay afloat financially. However, if you're earning $30,000 per year, you're probably making more than minimum wage, yet less than you need to feel financially secure. Here are some tips for making a $30,000 salary last.

1. Keep your housing costs as low as possible

As a general rule, it's wise to keep your housing expenses to 30% or less of your take-home pay. But in some housing markets, that may not be easy or even possible.

If you can't find an affordable home on your own, you may want to look into government assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Depending on where you live and the number of people in your household, you may be entitled to some help. For example, you could receive housing vouchers that offset a portion of your rent. You may be eligible for public housing that is more affordable than general housing, or subsidized private housing, which also comes at a lower price tag, rent-wise, than what you'd generally pay.

If you're not eligible for a government assistance program, which may be the case if you're single and earning $30,000, you could try sharing an apartment with a roommate to keep your costs down. Another option? Try bartering in exchange for a lower rent. Your landlord might agree to a rent reduction if you're willing to do light maintenance or tackle certain ongoing tasks.

2. Make sure to have an emergency fund -- even if it's a small one

As a general rule, you should aim to have at least three months' worth of essential living expenses socked away in a savings account. That way, if you lose your job for a period of time or encounter a surprise expense (like a car repair you can't put off), you won't risk racking up debt instantly. Of course, accumulating three months' worth of cash isn't easy on a $30,000 income, so don't expect to hit that threshold right away. But you should try to put some money into the bank for emergencies, even if it's just a few hundred dollars to start with.

3. See if you're eligible for food benefits

We all need to eat, but depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for government assistance that makes it easier to put food on the table in the form of the SNAP program. You can sign up for SNAP benefits through the state you live in and the eligibility requirements can vary. If you're single and earning $30,000, you won't be eligible, but if you're a family of four living on $30,000, you're within the income limit for assistance (at least through Sept. 30, 2020).

Furthermore, you may be entitled to benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) if your income is limited to $30,000 a year. As is the case with SNAP, you won't qualify on that income if you're single. But if it's you and at least one young child, you'll likely qualify for assistance, at least through June 30, 2021. Like SNAP, you apply for WIC benefits through your home state.

If you're not eligible for government aid, your next best bet is to aim to keep your food costs as low as possible. Specifically, you should:

  • Look online for coupons -- and keep track of their expiration dates so you don't let them go to waste
  • Make a point of stocking up when the items you use frequently are on sale (but only if you have room to store them)
  • Making shopping lists before going out for groceries so you're less likely to waste food or get stuck with perishables you can't use
  • Avoid dining out (even fast food can be more expensive than comparable food you cook in your own kitchen)

4. Explore options for affordable healthcare

Going without health insurance means you risk catastrophic bills in the event you fall ill or get hurt. If you're single and earn $30,000 a year, you likely won't qualify for Medicaid, though you may qualify if you're a family on that income. You can apply for Medicaid through your home state.

Otherwise, if you don't get health insurance through your job, you may be eligible for a health insurance subsidy that makes your marketplace plan more affordable. The subsidy you qualify for will depend on your family size and where you live, but if you're eligible, the sum you're entitled to will be applied to your health insurance premiums so that you pay less for them.

It also pays to be strategic when stocking up on medication. If there's a prescription you take regularly, see if you're eligible for 90-day supplies, which can be far more affordable than paying for repeated 30-day renewals. Also, some pharmaceutical companies have programs in place to assist low-income patients, so it pays to apply with the maker of your medication.

Living on $30,000 a year is not an easy thing to do. If that's your reality right now, do your best to stretch that income, but also look at ways to boost it in the future. That could involve growing your job skills to score a promotion, changing career paths to do something more lucrative, or even researching salary data to make sure you're being compensated fairly. There's nothing wrong with fighting for higher wages, and boosted earnings could buy you some financial breathing room.

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