How to Live on $15/Hour in Austin

When Ben Patterson, a student at the University of Texas, graduates this spring, he will join the large group of Austinians who earn $15 an hour at their primary workplace.

Once the ‘living’ wage that thousands across the country have fought for make the national minimum wageliving on $15/hour is now an almost insurmountable task in many urban metros, including Austin’s burgeoning tech hub, where the the median home price has exceeded $600,000 in March.

Charles Mitchell, owner Capital Budgeting Strategies, knows only too well the dangers of recent college graduates. He’s worked with clients with as little as $67 to their name and says living alone is doable, if you’re willing to sacrifice time or luxury.

Here’s the key to budgeting for that $15/hour income in Austin, according to Mitchell:

Find your hidden accommodation gem

In addition to paying off debt early, avoiding high-interest loans like payday loans and sacrificing some of life’s luxuries, Mitchell told Austinia the key is finding cheap housing.

Affordable housing might seem like a piece of old Austin legend, and it would be hard to find housing in Mitchell’s sweet spot – one that costs less than 28% of your monthly budget. For a full-time employee earning $15 per hour, this income amounts to $2,217 per month.

This allocates $620 per month for rent. Selections can be slim — only two resorts offer four-bedroom apartments for this range in Austin on– but with enough flatmates, some promotions and the help of apartment locators, this is still very little possible in the city.

The more likely scenario, like Patterson’s, could be to find other budget areas to cut. Mitchell recommends skimping on luxuries, like payments for nicer cars, and cutting back on savings if necessary.

“I’ll be able to more or less prioritize paying ‘X’ amount for rent each month,” Patterson said. “Trying not to just spend exuberantly or be impulsive with buying habits…just knowing that in the next few months I have to start being able to dish out an extra $1,000 every month just to live. “

But $15 an hour isn’t enough anymore, even for Austin homeowners. Fae, an Amazon and Whole Foods employee who uses a pseudonym since going against the company media policyhas owned a house in Pflugerville for 20 years, when it was worth half its current value.

But like virtually every other co-worker she knows, Fae has landed several extra jobs in order to make a living in her town.

Get a scramble

Fae recently had a bittersweet celebration as her hourly wage rose to $15.25, a 25-cent increase after three years with the company. Salaries like his put the median salary for Amazon employees at just over $31,000 in Austin, less than half the median salary at Google, Meta and Apple.

“Even full-time (employees), it doesn’t matter, they can’t rely on Amazon as a living job,” Fae told Austinia. “Everyone I know has a side job.”

Even before stepping out on his own, Patterson is preparing to work more for a second stream of income that works with his hours at his current job at Austin FC’s Q2 stadium without spending his energy on the ground.

A side hustle can be essential to pay off loans early and start saving for retirement (Mitchell recommends a high-interest IRA), but it doesn’t have to be too taxing: Mitchell said everything from taking food delivery shifts to having a garage sale could re-energize your budget.

Find a sustainable employer

Patterson didn’t take his current job for the money – rather he hopes his current gig at the stadium could lead to his breakthrough in the sports industry.

Accepting a job with clear upward mobility is key, says Mitchell, and bonuses like matching 401(k) plans or other perks are a huge plus. If your job offers neither and still doesn’t pay enough, it might be time to consider moving to a more sustainable job.

Mitchell said many people don’t learn the financial literacy tools needed to make a living in Austin, and many other people are never informed about available job options. Although Austin hasn’t received much praise for its affordability in recent months, it boasts a booming job market, with more than 58,000 additional jobs created from February 2020 to February 2022.

If your debt is low and you have more time, it is always advisable to invest in a marketable skill online or at a local community college. And while it may not be as desirable, some restaurants and entry-level positions, including McDonald’s, have increased starting salary for some positions over $15 per hour.

Stay or go?

Even with that guidance in place, Fae and Patterson agree that their current salary is hardly achievable in Austin.

“The way rents and real estate keep getting more and more expensive…I don’t think it’s in a sustainable place,” Patterson said. “Even today it’s a bit on the fringes with people still managing to make ends meet.”

“There probably isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t guess if I’m making the right call,” Patterson said. “But I’m also pretty confident, just knowing myself as a person, that I’ll be able to… sort myself out and find a way to make things work.”

Fae plans to stay too, even if other Austinites she knows could be kicked out, as she collects workplace horror stories – and unlivable wages – at Amazon before her line of products from home care does not take off.

“Everybody who’s originally from Austin can’t even afford to live in Austin (anymore) and they’re just moving out,” Fae said. “My question is, how do they get out of this?”

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