McDonald’s has distributed a pamphlet showing employees how to make a budget and stick to it.  As you can see, the pamphlet is a joint effort by McDonald’s, VISA, and (apparently said with a straight face), Wealth Watchers International.  The “key to your financial freedom,” they say, is keeping a budget journal.

Screenshot_1

Here’s the sample budget McDonald’s uses:

Budget 1 pg

The budget is encouraging, to say the least.  With an income of $2060 a month, a 2-earner family can save $100 each month.

But do you notice anything missing?  Food, for example. Presumably, that comes out of the $27 a day in spending money.  Transportation costs? Car payments are included, but not gasoline or upkeep. On an income of $24,000 a year, will this family have a car that needs no maintenance?  And if the two earners have only one car, it’s likely someone will have to take public transportation to work.  Oh, wait  – maybe they both work at the same McDonald’s. And they never buy clothes.

I’m not sure how McDonald’s employees get health insurance for $20.  Or home heating for free.

I compared this budget with those found at the The Economic Policy Institute, which has a “Family Budget Calculator.”  You enter the location and the number of adults and children, and it shows the budget for “a secure yet modest living standard.”  Since McDonald’s used a 2-earner family, I imagined a family with two adults and one child.  Here’s what they would need in San Antonio.

Budget SanAntonio

Here’s a northern city, Akron.

Budget Akron

Both cities require a monthly income of $4400 for a modest living, more than double what McDonald’s envisions for its employees.  The big difference is health care – $1200 a month is a lot more than $20.  Then comes transportation ($600 vs. $0).  Then there’s the $580 for childcare, an item that is also absent from the McDonald’s budget.  (Apparently, workers at Golden Arches are part of that low-fertility problem that some observers in the Wall Street Journal worry about – here for example).

As for daily spending, food alone, at $600, more than wipes out what the McDonald’s budget suggests. Perhaps McDonald’s assumes that the family eats most of their meals on site, taking advantage of the 50% employee discount.

So much for the spending part of the McDonald’s budget.  What about the income part?  The Glass Door  posted these pay ranges for various positions.

Budget wages

Workers might get as little as $6 or even $5 per hour.  The average seems closer to $7.  Fast food is not covered by federal minimum wage, but let’s use that $7.25 as a default estimate.  A forty-hour week, four weeks a month, comes in at $1160 – very close to the $1105 in the McDonald’s sample budget. So that side of the balance sheet is fairly realistic.

That annual income of just under $24,720 is above the official poverty line – $19,530 – but not by all that much.  Given the omissions in the expense column, I would think that a family would find it very hard to live on that little.  And I doubt they could sock away $100 in savings, no matter how much “journaling” they did.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.
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