News & Resources

Surviving on Minimum Wage: How I Did It

Jan. 5, 2015
4 mins
A woman holds up her coffee mug and stares out the window as she works on her laptop

The Canadian dream of employment attracts many newcomers each month to the "True North" - despite dwindling job numbers, immigrants continue to arrive in huge numbers. Once here, the challenge is to find work -- anywhere possible -- to hold them over while they search for a position within their chosen profession.

The best place to find many of these new immigrants, besides at the airport when they arrive, is in call centres. Here, you will find engineers, doctors, teachers, journalists, business graduates -- all highly educated professionals with years of experience working together in a collective manner, selling goods and services throughout North America. Most of them have a family to support, a mountain of bills, and financial requirements such as rent, mortgages, groceries, etc. Many are also working on minimum wage.

How to survive on minimum wage

With such a low monthly income, is it even possible to survive, say nothing of living comfortably and even saving? I can attest it is, because I've done it: working for $11 per hour, 44 hours a week and making about $1,700-$1,900 per month after taxes. I was paying $650 monthly in rent (sharing a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Toronto to offset transportation costs) and about $300 on groceries and another $200 on miscellaneous activities, including eating out sometimes and weekly beer. I was even able to save during this time period and I managed it by taking advantage of the following programs.

Take advantage of tax free savings

Despite making so little, I always saved about $500 to $700 and religiously deposited $400 in a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA). As the name suggests, income saved within a TFSA is not taxed and neither is its withdrawal. You can deposit not only cash but also other investments such as mutual funds, stocks, bonds and Guaranteed Income Certificates. The maximum annual contribution to TFSA is $5,500 and  it also includes  contribution room that was unused from the previous year and the amount withdrawn a year before.

Try helpful tax credits

To save on child-care costs, many immigrant families opt to have one parent stay home while the other works. For those earning minimum wage, finances are squeezed especially tight. In situations where only one partner works, income splitting or the family tax cut goes a long way in balancing what can be an overwhelming tax situation.

It is advisable to put some investment in the name  of the non-working spouse. In this case they are taxed much lower rather than having it all taxed in one person’s hands. Tax credits, no matter how small, can go a long way in helping your budget.

Take advantage of as many as you can; save those transit passes, receipts of payment for your child's sports and fitness programs, charitable donations -- every penny counts when it comes to your tax return. This may come as a surprise to some, but it is possible to receive tax credits even when reporting income received from outside of Canada. If there is a tax treaty between Canada and your home country, you may get credit for tax already paid in another country.

Work when no one else wants to

I always found holidays presented extra earning opportunity when working in call centres and retail. Working stat holidays and logging overtime can mean up to 90% more money for someone earning $11 per hour. Even when working regular hours, you can still earn 50% more on that particular day. 

For those call centres in Canada serving U.S. clients, those working on Canadian public holidays are paid double when working on a holiday. As per my personal experience, it is by no means an easy task working odd jobs, especially in a call centre. But with careful, meticulous planning and putting in extra hours there is an opportunity to save even when working on minimum wages.

Pracheer Saran

Pracheer Saran is a travel enthusiast and a freelance writer who loves to write about his escapades, from travel to beer – but when it comes to finances, he still had a lot to learn. Pracheer first moved to Canada five years ago and found that as a new immigrant, getting a credit card to building a credit history was a mammoth task for him. He mostly learned from trial and error – and is still learning!

Latest life insurance articles

10 Myths About Life Insurance Busted – Some May Surprise You
You may be young with no kids and no mortgage. Life insurance is for someone older, who has dependents right? Wrong. Let’s debunk life insurance myths and learn why everyone needs some form of coverage.
Will a Life Insurance Policy Cover Death Due to COVID-19?
Demand for life insurance may be on the rise during the pandemic as more Canadians consider buying a policy or reviewing ones they already have. If you’re thinking of applying for a policy, here are a few things to keep in mind.
How Does Vaping and e-Cigarettes Affect Life Insurance?
Many insurers may classify vaping in the same way they do smoking. If you smoke or vape, you can still qualify for a life insurance premium, but in all likelihood, you will pay a higher rate than someone who does not.