In a very short time, Morgan and Alex came to realize that even on two salaries, there was little chance they could stay on budget. Morgan decided to work a second job, which meant he spent 18 hours a day away from home. During this period he made pizzas, washed dishes, worked as a landscaper, painted and made boxes.
The financial stress put a strain on his relationship with Alex. In fact, Morgan explains, "There are twice as many divorces in families that make less than $25,000 than families that make $50,000."
Meanwhile, many low-wage households have children. Morgan and Alex got a taste of what raising kids on a shoestring budget is like when Morgan's niece and nephew came to stay for the weekend.
Morgan decided to take the weekend off to spend time with them. On one outing, they went to a dollar movie theater...but then bought drinks and candy. Alex was more than a little upset at Morgan for this "spending spree." "We're going and spending 12 bucks at the movie just on drinks. That doesn't seem very smart."
Living without medical insurance is like "living right on the edge of a knife every single day," Morgan says. As they found out, it can lead to financial ruin overnight.
Morgan says manual labor had aggravated a wrist injury, but he couldn't afford a doctor's visit. When he tried to visit a free clinic, he was told there weren't enough doctors to see him that day.
The free clinic was not even an option when Alex woke up in the middle of the night with a urinary tract infection. They went to the emergency room and to a 24-hour pharmacy to fill Alex's prescription. Later that day, the pain in Morgan's wrist forced him to go to the emergency room as well.
The bills from the emergency room were enough to significantly harm their budget. "We went to the hospital to get Alex's bill. Just for walking into the emergency room it was $300," Morgan said. "My bill? Just to walk in the door, $551. It's incredible."
After their experiment was over, Morgan and Alex say they were about $1,200 over their budget. "It would have taken us three months to pay it off—as long as nothing happened," Morgan says.
Seeing just how difficult living near minimum wage was, Morgan made some changes in his life. "At my own company we didn't have health care, so the minute I got back, I got everybody who worked for me health care immediately."
Morgan says he's also more aware of issues facing the millions living near the poverty line. "There are so many people who don't need a handout. They need a hand up."
Alex says it made her want the burdens of poverty eased. "It made me realize we need to talk to the people who represent us and say this needs to change on a national level," she says. "This is totally unacceptable for this country."
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