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Joy

6 states where the minimum wage and cost of living offer the best bang for your buck

The highest state minimum wage in the U.S. is now $16.28 per hour, but some cities are even higher.

State minimum wages range from $7.25/hr to $17.00/hr in 2024.

Public discourse about minimum wage and living wages has been ongoing for years, with people debating whether the government should mandate a minimum hourly pay for workers.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the first federal minimum wage law in 1938, setting the lowest wage a worker could be paid at 25 cents per hour. Nearly a century later, the federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr, holding steady since 2009, with people lobbying to raise it to at least $15/hr for over a decade. However, in addition to federal law, each state has its own laws, a handful of which establish a state minimum wage higher than $15, a handful of which don't have a set minimum wage at all and everything in between.

Cost of living has also been a hot topic as inflation has squeezed everyone's wallets and certain cities and states have become utterly unaffordable, especially for people in low-wage jobs or who who are just starting out in their careers. So how do minimum wage and cost of living correlate state-by-state? Are there any sweet spots with a high(er) minimum wage and low(er) cost of living?


While there’s no perfect storm of super low cost of living and super high minimum wage—for instance, Washington, D.C. has the highest state minimum wage at $17/hr, but housing costs 140% more than the national average—there are some states where the ratio is far more favorable than others. According to Insider Monkey, here are the top six states where you can get the most bang for your minimum wage buck.

6. New Mexico

The Land of Enchantment offers a relatively decent living for its $12/hr minimum wage thanks to the state's below average cost of living. According to Rent Cafe, housing in New Mexico is 8% lower than the national average, monthly utilities are 9% lower, food is 4% lower, transportation is 3% lower and healthcare, goods and services are 2% lower.

According to Smart Asset, Albuquerque, New Mexico ranks as No. 10 in U.S. cities where minimum wage goes the furthest.

5. New Jersey

The Garden State's relatively higher-than-average cost of living is counteracted by relatively solid minimum wage of $14.13/hr. Most of the cost of living in New Jersey is wrapped up in housing, which is 30% higher than the national average, according to Rent Cafe, and utilities, which are 12% higher. Goods and services are 5% higher, but healthcare is 2% lower than the national average. Food and transportation are 1% and 2% higher, respectively.

4. Connecticut

With both a cost of living and minimum wage slightly higher than New Jersey, Connecticut rolls in at No. 4 with a $15/hr minimum wage. Where the Constitution State hits hardest is in utilities, which Rent Cafe places at 30% higher than the national average, and housing, which is 24% higher. Healthcare and goods and services are both 9% higher, while transportation and food are just 1% and 2% above average.

3. Missouri

The Show-Me State says, "Show me the money!" with its somewhat respectable $12/hr minimum wage, which goes pretty far with its relatively low cost of living. Housing is the biggest cost benefit Missouri offers at 18% lower than the national average. But utilities, food, healthcare, and goods and services are also all below average, with only transportation landing right at the national average.

Additionally, St. Louis clocked in at No. 5 for a minimum wage real-world value of $13.68 when adjusting for the city's lower-than-average cost of living.

2. Washington

With the highest state minimum wage in the nation (unless you count Washington, D.C.), Washington's $16.48/hr puts it in second place when accounting for cost of living. Make no mistake, Washington isn't cheap overall, with a cost of living 15% higher than the national average. Housing and transportation hit hard at 29% and 27% higher than the national average, respectively. Healthcare is pricey as well at 20% higher than average. Food costs 12% more, but utilities clock in at 7% less than the national average.

Two cities in Washington hit the top 15 for highest real minimum wage value, though, with Seattle at No. 13 and Spokane at No. 2.

map of united states with these states highlighted in green: Washington, New Mexico, Missouri, Illinois, New Jersey and Connecticut

These six states offer the best minimum wage to cost of living ratio.

Created with mapchart.net

1. Illinois

If you want the best bang for your minimum wage buck, head to the Prairie State with its $13/hr minimum wage and 8% lower than average cost of living. Housing in Illinois is 22% lower than average and utilities are 10% lower. The only expense that comes in higher than average for Illinois is transportation at 3% above average, which isn't enough to keep it out of the top spot.

However, there are some minimum wage sweet spots in certain U.S. cities that aren't reflected in these state rankings. According to Smart Asset, Denver, CO, is the city where minimum wage goes the farthest in the nation. Colorado comes in at a respectable 7th place in state minimum-wage-to-cost-of-living ratio, but Denver has its own mandatory minimum wage of $18.29/hr.

A citywide minimum wage is part of what puts Seattle at the No. 13 spot on that same list. Seattle is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., but its $19.97 minimum wage for most workers changes the ratio in its favor.

Other cities in the top 10 include Buffalo, NY; Minneapolis, MN; Tucson, AZ; St. Paul, MN; Phoenix, AZ and Stockton, CA.

The minimum wage conversation may vary widely across the U.S., with different costs of living and different state laws on the books. But if you're looking to move someplace where your wage will go the furthest, these six states will likely be your best bet to check out first.

Education

The amount of money Americans budgeted for food 100 years ago is mind-boggling

If we think our grocery bills are high now, it's nothing compared to what families spent in the early 1900s.

Even if we shop at the most expensive stores, we still don't spend as much of our income on food as they did in 1901.

As inflation following the COVID-19 pandemic peaked in the summer of 2022, Americans keenly felt it at the grocery check-out. It seemed as if prices had gone up on everything, and our food budgets took a hit. Even though inflation has eased since then, many of us are still lamenting the amount we're spending on groceries and dining out every month.

A New York Post headline ominously pronounced in February 2024 that "Americans have not spent this much of their incomes on food since the Gulf War," citing a federal statistic that U.S.consumers spent 11.3% of their disposable income on food—a higher percentage than we've seen in the past 30 years.

But as they say, it's all relative. While we balk at spending 11% of our income on food, families in the early 1900s would have been thrilled at spending that little on food.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent a whopping 42.5% of their household budgets on food in 1901, nearly four times what we spend now. In real numbers, that means the equivalent of a household with the current median income of almost $75,000/yr spending $2,610 a month on food. And that was the reality for a long time—even a few decades later in the 1930s, people were still spending more than a third of their income on food compared to our 11% today.

And the economy, while different in its nature, wasn't drastically different in terms of numbers at that time. The unemployment rate for Americans in 1901 was 4.0%, approximately the same as March of 2024. The country was between two mild recessions and it would only be two more years before it overtook Britain as the world's wealthiest nation. It's not like there was some huge economic downturn that had caused food prices to soar at that time. Food just cost a whole lot more relative to people's income back then.

Okay, so food budgets were high relative to income back then, but what about housing? Surely, people spent far less of their money on housing at that time, right?

Less, yes, but not by as much as we might assume. In 1901, housing made up 23.3% of the average household budget, while in 2022 it was 33%. Definitely an increase, but not as drastic as the decrease in our food budgets. (Caveat: Those percentages don't speak to everyone's individual situation—some Americans are spending upwards of 50% of their income on rent and utilities.) Our clothing expenditures have also gone down by a lot since 1901, from 14% of income to less than 3%.

So where is all of our money going to make our budgets feel squeezed? One spending category that's not even included in the 1901 statistics, which makes up double digit percentages of our spending today, is transportation. In 1901, the automobile industry was in its infancy, still a couple decades away from its first big boom that made cars commonplace. Now we have cars, buses, subways, air travel—and the fuel for all of those things—that people in 1901 simply didn't have to consider.

We also have technology like computers and smartphones now that have become more necessity than nice-to-have. And along with that, of course, we have copious entertainment extras that most of us can't imagine living without.

Another expenditure that doesn't show up in 1901 is healthcare, which takes up 8% of our budgets now. Did people simply not have healthcare expenses back then?

Basically, no, they didn't. According NPR, Americans spent around $5 a year ($100 in today's dollars) on medical care in 1900, primarily because there wasn't a whole lot of medical care to be had. We forget how far our advancements in medicine came in the 20th century, and that those advancements have a cost. Throw in the health insurance industry evolving in the middle of the 1900s, and now medical costs make up a decent chunk of our budgets.

It's fascinating to take a step back and look at the big picture of history when we find ourselves complaining about the price of a banana or a bag of rice. It's not that we can't or shouldn't feel frustrated when our cost of living increases, but when it comes to food budgets, we're living in pretty flush times, relatively speaking. Especially when we consider how much more access we have to different kinds of foods than ever before.

Fluctuations in retail prices have always occurred, of course, due to wars, recessions, etc., and some items have become more expensive while others have gotten cheaper, relatively speaking. But regardless of individual prices, if we find ourselves lamenting our curren grocery bill, it might help to remember how much more of the average budget food used to be. Even if grocery prices were to rise more, we still won't be anywhere near the percentage of our paychecks that food used to take up, and that's certainly something to be grateful for.

Pop Culture

Woman goes up to strangers on the street and asks how much money they make in their jobs

It's all in the name of salary transparency, and some of these people's salaries are mind-blowing.

From teachers to software engineers to dog groomers and more, here's what people say they make.

Asking someone how much money they make is taboo, at least in American culture. Unless someone's salary is posted publicly, most of us don't even know how much our own coworkers or bosses make, much less complete strangers.

Google isn't a whole lot of help on this front, as compensation in specific jobs can vary wildly depending on the market, someone's education level, years of experience and other factors. So if we're curious about how much someone around us makes in their job, we're often just left to wonder and guess. We're not going to ask out of common courtesy, and most people aren't likely to volunteer the information unprompted because that's also seen as uncouth.

None of that awkwardness around money questions has stopped Hannah Williams, creator of Salary Transparent Street, though. The company's popular social media videos have garnered millions of views and likes with a simple premise: asking people on the street what they do for a living and how much they make.


And interestingly enough, people seem perfectly happy to share.

Some jobs, such as software engineer, have expectedly high wages, though even those varied quite a bit (which could be based on location, but apparently not based on experience, according to this video):

@salarytransparentstreet

How much do Software Engineers make? #salarytransparentstreet compilation! #salarytransparency #paytransparency #softwaredeveloper #softwareengineer #softwareengineering

But other high paying jobs may not be as well known. For instance, a certified anesthesiology assistant shared that she makes over $200,000 a year.

Williams interviewed people in trades jobs, and that was quite eye-opening. (Did you know tattoo artists and hairdressers can make well over six figures? Perhaps they are outliers, but even if they are, holy moly.)

@salarytransparentstreet

Want to get into a trade? Learn how at the link in our bio! 🛠️💄⛑️ Trade jobs are some of the most in-demand, secure, and high-paying jobs out there. #indeedpartner #salarytransparentstreet #salarytransparency #paytransparency #tradejobs #tradejob #tradejobpay #tradejobopportunities

Again, these are specific people's situations, and people in the same job can make a wide range of wages, but one thing Salary Transparent Street does is help people know what's possible with real-life examples.

How about something like a teacher? There's a wide range there, too. But considering the above, it's mostly not amazing. Watch:

@salarytransparentstreet

One year ago! How much do #Teachers make? #salarycompilation #salarytransparentstreet #salarytransparency #paytransparency #teacherpay #onthisday

Salary Transparent Street has grown beyond just on-the-street interviews to include career path assistance, a salary negotiation guide, salary database and more, which you can find on their website.

If you want to see a whole lot more salary interviews with travel nurses, data analysts, UPS driver and more, check out Salary Transparent Street on TikTok and Instagram.

Pop Culture

People reveal which paid memberships are 100 percent worth every penny

"Costco… For the chicken and food court alone it is worth it."

Photo (left) by Johannes Andersson on Unsplash Photo (right) by Ben Wicks on Unsplash

From National Parks passes to air ambulance services, some memberships are totally worth it.

With the basic cost of living stretching many folks financially, people are always on the lookout for ways to save money. But with long-term commitments and ever-increasing costs, people are also often wary of memberships or subscriptions that might save you money (or at least be worth what they cost), but also might not.

Thanks to a Reddit user who asked fellow Redditors, "What membership is 100% worth every penny you pay for it?" we've got a list of memberships that might actually be worth checking out.

The kinds of memberships people listed vary widely, from warehouse stores to learning programs to medical evacuation services, but everyone who shared made a strong case for why the cost of them are worth it.


Here are the memberships people say are worth every penny:

Emergency Helicopter Services

"I live on an island in Alaska with limited healthcare. An emergency flight to a more capable hospital will cost $50000. For $100 a year I save $49900 if I ever need their services. That $100 covers everyone living under my roof. There is no limit on the number of flights. And seniors pay $75. Of course, the flight isn't a guarantee. Bad weather or the donated jet needing repairs can, and does, prevent you from being flown out." – Ksan_of_Tongass

"Can't believe someone beat me to this.
A year and a half ago, I had to be medevaced to Seattle with a broken back. Price tag on the flight would have been $141,110.89...
Good thing we are a member of the air med network!" – Tedious_research

"More common than you would think. They have this same premise in rural Texas for about $25/m." – sevargmas

The Great Courses (or Wondrium)

"The Great Courses. It’s now under the umbrella of Wondrium (and they have a bunch of other stuff, but I look for the GC stuff) They have hundreds of courses. Each one has roughly 26-40 lectures. They’re the best professors in the world - the ones that students report as their favorite teachers.

My boyfriend and I always have four on Thursdays: a science, an art, a philosophy (or wild card) and a history. We’ve done classes like: botany, the analects of Confucius, The Medici’s, the physics of time, early humans and the history of food.

I’ve got a good deal with them at $10/month all I can stream. Great for lifelong learners." – Shaydie

"I bought a 2 year subscription (when it was 50% off) and never looked back. Ancient Egypt is probably the best course I've ever taken, even including courses I've taken in college. It's old (1999) and some things have been disproven since, but it's still so damn good. Now I'm watching Ancient Mesopotamia, which is also very good." – Ok-Supermarket-1414

"I’ve learned so many things from having a Wondrium subscription (and mostly the great courses ones are my favourites). I think having the streaming version of this versus buying courses has led me to learn so many more things than I would have, and try and some and find out they weren’t really for me." — Shipping_away_at_it

Mountains rising up behind a lake at sunset

Grand Tetons National Park

Photo by Nate Foong on Unsplash

National Parks Pass

"The US National Park Senior Pass. The BEST bargain in the nation." – BrunoGerace

"We toured the us in an rv this year, and the america the beautiful pass paid for itself many, many, many times over." – mushnu

"And if you're not a Senior (or Vet) the annual pass is still a deal. Visit 3 NPs or NMs in a year and it's paid for itself." – Kerensky97

"I’m canadian, I’ve seen national parks in canada, a lot of europe and the us, and it’s not even a fair contest. The national parks in america are s tier amazing sites. Diverse, well cared for yet wild, affordable, etc." – mushnu

The YMCA (though this varies a lot by location and income)

"YMCA - I pay $70 a month for a family of four and it includes use of the pool, gym, and sauna and up to four hours of childcare a day. I go nearly everyday and have lost 60 pounds over the last six months. It’s also my only childcare as a stay at home mom so it keeps me sane." – neopolitandynomite

"Came here to say this! I’m in WI and pay $82/month for my family of 7. We go 3-4 times a week, love it. Also have volunteered to coach soccer and have kids in the youth sports. Pool, hot tub and sauna is like a spa to me." – Martini6288

"My family YMCA membership (one adult + children) is $115/mo, but even so, it's totally worth it! I attend at least 3 group ex classes a week, my kids go in the kid zone, they get swim lessons, T-ball, summer camp, etc at reduced cost. It's also very convenient as we live right across the street. We attend many of their special events too (Halloween party, pumpkins in the pool, etc)." – WhJoMaShRa

AAA

"AAA or equivalent roadside service club in your respective country. A single tow costs more than your membership and it quickly pays for itself. Plus all the other discounts and affiliated services they offer, it is absolutely worth the money." – llcucf80

"Between tows and the times either I or someone I was with locked their keys in their car, it has more than paid for itself. It has been a life saver more than once." – nelsonalgrencametome

"Family car broke down on a road trip. My dad had some upper level AAA membership or something, because they covered the tow, a bus ticket for me home while they got covered in the affiliated hotel for 2 nights, along with meals." – DopeCharma

"I haven't owned a vehicle in over 6 years, up until the last two years I've had a AAA membership.

It's worth mentioning that it's not like insurance, it's your membership. I kept it because I could call them if a friend needed a tow, someone locked their keys in their car, needed gas but no way to get it, flat and no spare, doesn't matter

If you have a membership, youre present, card in hand, doesn't matter who's vehicle it is, you're golden. I even got complete strangers a tow, I wasn't gonna use them.

One time I even got my own vehicle out of an impound using AAA because the tow company was certified with AAA and it was only impounded for expired tags. I didn't pay a dime to the tow company, they just got more from me requesting the tow through AAA to an auto shop

Amazing service, 100% worth every penny." – drklunk

front view of a costco store

Costco can save you on a lot more than just chicken.

Photo by Grant Beirute on Unsplash

Costco

"Costco… For the chicken and food court alone it is worth it." – Peach3ater

"Even if you ONLY buy allergy med from Costco, it’s worth the membership fee. $70 membership + $14 bottle of 365 allergy pills is basically 2-3 months max of Claritin or other brands at regular grocery store." – the_bio

"For me it's my contacts. Just my regular prescription for a year is more of a discount at costco vs 1800contacts than the membership costs." – MRoad

"There are so many things it can save you $10 a month on. It’s insane. My wife and I probably save $120 a month on everything from bulkier groceries/snacks, paper towels/toilet paper, laundry detergent, some clothes, tires and gas. We don’t even drink soda or have pets, both of which can more than pay for a membership. We live an hour away and factor our time/wear and tear on the car into how much it saves us. $120 a month easily even on a light month." – sevseg_decoder

Spotify Premium

"I've had Spotify premium since 2011 and I listen to it all day every day. Best value subscription." – Breakfast_1796

"Undoubtedly this, especially compared to what you used to have to spend on physical media. Even then, you’d be stuck with the same handful of albums with one good track instead of nearly every song ever recorded." – Chewie83

"Sometimes I imagine explaining Spotify to my 16-year-old self. "So for about the price of a single CD a month... You can have all the music ever, on demand. All of it, Whenever you want..." It's honestly a dream come true for me lol." – DAFUQ404

"I've had the spotify family plan since like 2015 or so. 15/month for 6 people? Yes please!!! I'd be paying 10 just for me to have premium. Now my fiancée, my adult children, my bestie, and her husband all have a quality music service." – eyemacwgrl