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Janelle Irwin’s Fight for $15 Challenge: Day 1

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

During all of the pre-Election Day craziness, I want to remind everyone that today is day 1 of my Fight for $15 challenge. So far today I have skipped my usual coffee and quiche from Creative Soul and instead ate a grapefruit from the fridge and brewed my own cup of joe.

Last night’s leftovers are lunch in lieu of my weekly outing with my oldest daughter after she gets out of school. I don’t mind the leftovers, but Lexi and I enjoy our weekly lunches with just the two of us. If I were a minimum wage worker that’s something we would rarely be able to share.

Even with the savings eating in for breakfast and lunch, dinner from the grocery story still cost $10 for a pork roast and side. Fortunately we have a home garden that allows me to make a salad for free.

The Fight for $15 challenge let’s people know what it would be like to live on minimum wage. It accounts for a $17 per day budget. That’s the estimated amount of daily cash flow minimum wage workers have each day after taking into account fixed expenses like rent and other bills.

That means I have just $7 left in my budget for the day to compensate for any unforeseen expenses. With three kids those could range from a sudden need for school supplies to medicine if someone gets sick. God forbid any trip to the doctor would be necessary – the co-pay alone is $20, more than my daily budget.

I also have only a half-tank of gas. I find myself strategically planning how to make sure that gets me through the week. It means no extra trips to the dog park or to visit family.

Just thinking about the sacrifices I would have to make to do this for more than a week is daunting. It’s one thing to sacrifice for yourself to ensure your family is provided for, but without a living wage, my children would also sacrifice.

Our family already lives on a tight budget. With my fiancé currently earning his PhD in history and my earnings as a local journalist, we get by paycheck to paycheck.

But even still, our middle class income allows us to go out to the Hollander every Sunday for trivia. We eat dinner beforehand to save on the outing, but can still let the kids order a dessert and treat ourselves to a craft brew while we’re there. It’s something they look forward to all week and a much needed outing with friends for the grown-ups.

But as a minimum wage worker, it’s an expense that couldn’t be justified and an experience the kids would miss out on.

We also like to offer little rewards as incentive to the girls for things like making good grades or being particularly helpful around the house. As a low-wage worker, those incentives would be reduced to a simple thank you. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it sure makes parenting a little easier when there’s a carrot to dangle.

In this first day I also think about the things our family has that we wouldn’t have if I were a low-wage worker. Each of the girls have their own computers, which makes their studies much easier. They all have cell phones, which gives mom a piece of mind when they stay at a friend’s house or stay late at school.

We have a nice house where they all enjoy sleeping in separate bedrooms. We have a fenced-in front yard and back with two dogs and two cats. They’re learning responsibility by helping care for pets, a valuable life lesson I couldn’t provide without a living wage.

I’m looking forward to this week not just to remind myself why living wages are important or to showcase that to readers, but because it serves as another lesson to my daughters – that even though some of their friends have more than us – some live on the beach or have nicer phones – they are still truly lucky to have so much.

Please follow along this week as I share my own observations as well as those from my family.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email

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