I’ve seen a lot of stories about living on a minimum or small wage in a major city lately, such as this woman who got fired for saying she couldn’t live off what her CEO was paying her in San Francisco. That’s to be expected, since this is a bit of a politically charged issue right now, and I try to stay away from that sort of thing on here. However, issues related to writing are totally fair game, and I want to talk about all of these articles playing off that concern with taglines like “I Lived off This Much Money in This City for a MONTH and it was . . .”

Like this one ($8.25 an hour in NYC).

This is BS. Take it from a poor starving writer, who was a poor starving college student before that. Living off anything for a month is easyalright? You know how you could save money for spending just a month on minimum wage? You could just not eat at all for the entire month. Most well-fed people could go a long uncomfortable month without food and survive. In fact, most of us could do pretty well straight-up homeless and panhandling for a month.

It’s actually pretty easy to live on minimum wage in an average, easy, month. The problem is you never get ahead. You fill in as much of the pit as you can before the next unexpected disaster comes along and digs it all up again. You know, what, let’s switch that up a bit. If you’re living on minimum wage, you can only afford to build your life with sand. You can make some amazing sand castles, but it’s only so long before the tide comes in again.

To be fair, Kathleen Elkins, author of the article above, does acknowledge that unexpected costs are the real enemy, but she does it in possibly the dumbest way possible. She explains that her best friend’s birthday ate up half of her $150 of discretionary money for the month. This is that “one month” thing leaking through. You know what someone actually living on that budget full time would do? Skip the party, or go and just not order something. Friends’ birthday parties aren’t the unexpected costs people run up against. Those would be cavities, broken bones, traffic accidents, strep throat, broken computers, clogged sinks, etc. Going out for friends’ parties are the things you give up out the gate.

A month is nothing because the cost is measured in the steady interest rates of misery and missed opportunities spread out over years. The trips you didn’t take, the friends you didn’t keep, the persistent shoulder pain you ignore because it will either go away, or won’t, because you can’t afford surgery or even PT. That’s where the cost of barely getting by is measured. And people manage to do amazing things in spite of it.

This isn’t going to be a long rant about the troubles of being poor, or near poor, though; this is a writing blog. It just drives me crazy when I see “reporting” that’s capitalizing on the illusion of empathy and shared struggle. Living off expenses + $150 dollars, with no pressure if everything goes south, for a tiny amount of time, as research for an article that probably paid at least $2000, is not reporting. It’s just slightly more pretentious than usual clickbait.

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2 Thoughts on “Why “I Lived on X Dollars a Day for a Month in Y City” Stories are Total BS”

    • Yes and no. If you treat it like a job, it’s not particularly high risk. Average pay comes in at $48,144/year. http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Writer/Salary

      A lot of people just don’t want to treat it like a job. They’re the equivalent of those guys high school who played basketball an hour every day or two and really thought they were headed for the NBA someday.

      “I’m going to spend three years on each draft on this one novel, and that’s going to make me a millionaire!”

      Thanks for stopping by!

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