20 jobs you’re most (and least) likely to live paycheck to paycheck

Most people have to work to pay the bills. Whether you struggle to cover your expenses or have more than enough depends, in large part, on the type of work you do.

To determine which jobs are most and least likely to leave you living paycheck to paycheck, GOBankingRates used wage estimates for all occupations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Then we used the annual cost of living for a single adult in the U.S. — $29,027 — to determine how much of a shortfall or surplus there would be for the jobs with the lowest and highest annual median pay.

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Jobs you're most (and least) likely to live check to check
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Jobs you're most (and least) likely to live check to check

10 Jobs You’re Most Likely to Live Paycheck to Paycheck

The lowest-paying jobs typically don’t require any formal education, which might make them ideal for high school or college students looking to earn extra cash. But the pay for these 10 jobs isn’t enough to cover the annual cost of living for a single adult.

Gaming Dealer: $9.27 Per Hour

People go to casinos hoping to strike it rich playing poker or blackjack. But the people dealing the cards are far from rich with an annual median salary of just $19,011.20. They also know the house always wins, so you can’t count on games of chance to become wealthy. Avoiding get-rich schemes and having multiple sources of income are some secrets to getting rich and maintaining your wealth.

Food Preparation and Service: $9.35 Per Hour

To slice, peel, cut and prepare ingredients for dishes, you don’t need any formal education — just on-the-job training. However, the work hours can be tough — early mornings, late evenings, weekends and holidays, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the pay for food preparation workers is low.

The annual median income is $19,440, which is $9,587 short of having enough to cover the average cost of living. This job could leave you struggling to survive paycheck to paycheck.

Shampooer: $9.47 Per Hour

Shampooing and rinsing customers’ hair at a salon doesn’t take a college degree or any formal training. As a result, it’s one of the lowest-paying jobs. The annual median salary of $19,700 might, however, help pay for cosmetology school to become a stylist — if you had someone, such as a parent, helping you cover the excess cost-of-living expenses to the tune of $9,327.

Fast Food Cook: $9.55 Per Hour

Fast food cooks get their training on the job. But it’s one of the lowest-paying jobs because it doesn’t require formal education. With a median annual salary of $19,073.60, fast food cooks might need to juggle a second job to make ends meet.

Usher and Lobby Attendant: $9.58 Per Hour

Collecting tickets from people who attend movies or shows isn’t the ticket to ample income. If you’re in this profession, it’s no secret why you’re struggling to make ends meet. The annual median salary is $19,920, more than $9,000 less than what it will take to cover your cost of living.

Restaurant Host: $9.60 Per Hour

This job requires greeting restaurant patrons. But it might be hard to show them to their tables with a smile if you’re struggling to make ends meet with this low-paying job. The annual median salary for a restaurant host or hostess is $19,980, which is $9,047 less than what is needed to cover the average cost of living.

Food Concession and Counter Attendant: $9.60 Per Hour

You can get a job serving food to diners at a counter without any formal education or previous work experience. But don’t expect the pay to be enough to cover the cost of living. The annual median salary of $19,219.20 falls more than $9,800 short of being enough to pay for everyday expenses.

Waiter: $9.61 Per Hour

Late nights, hours on your feet, stress from having to serve customers quickly — that’s all part of the job for waiters and waitresses. What this job doesn’t come with, though, is a big paycheck. The median annual salary is $19,990, which is more than $9,000 short of covering the cost of living. As a result, waiters might need to find ways to make more money — that is, unless they’re getting big tips in addition to their salary.

Amusement and Recreation Attendant: $9.69 Per Hour

Working at an amusement park or recreation facility might seem like a fun job, but earning $9.27 an hour will make it hard to have fun off-hours. With a median annual salary of $20,160, you’ll need another $8,867 to cover living costs. Better start looking for free ways to have fun.

Cashier: $9.70 Per Hour

Whether working in stores, supermarkets or gas stations, these entry-level workers don’t need a formal education to process payments from customers. What they do need is another $9,724.60 because the median annual salary of $19,302.40 isn’t enough to cover the average cost of living. Or they could look for ways to cut monthly costs.

10 Jobs You’re Least Likely to Live Paycheck to Paycheck

To earn the big bucks, you have to put in your time first — time in college, possibly graduate school and on the job. You might also have to work long hours. Even though you’ll have plenty of money to cover the cost of living, maintaining a work-life balance with these jobs might be hard.

Judge: $60.52 Per Hour

Lawyers who want a bigger paycheck can climb the career ladder to become a judge. After covering the cost of living, a judge’s median annual income of $125,880.40 leaves them with $96,853.40 to pay down debt, save for retirement or other expenses.

Becoming a judge typically takes several years of experience practicing law as an attorney — which first requires a law degree and passing a state bar exam.

Marketing Manager: $63.07 Per Hour

Marketing managers have an annual median income of $131,180, leaving them with $102,153 after covering the cost of living. This job involves planning and coordinating marketing programs for companies and organizations. It can include determining the demand for a company’s products, overseeing product development and developing pricing strategies.

To get this lucrative job, you don’t necessarily need a master’s degree. Most marketing managers have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, communications, business or similar field.

Petroleum Engineer: $61.65 Per Hour

Despite a downturn in the oil industry, petroleum engineers still can make a good living — enough to easily cover the cost of living. With an annual median salary of $128,230, they can pay for everyday expenses and still have $99,203 leftover.

Petroleum engineers find ways to extract oil and gas. The job requires a bachelor’s degree in engineering, ideally petroleum engineering.

Computer and Information Systems Manager: $65.29 Per Hour

One of the hottest and highest-paying STEM jobs, computer and information systems managers make a lot of money coordinating computer-related activities for organizations. This job typically requires a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience.

With a median annual salary of $135,800, computer and information systems managers would still have $106,773 left after covering the cost of living.

Architectural and Engineering Manager: $64.78 Per Hour

A job planning and coordinating architecture or engineering projects might pay well. These managers have $105,703 left after covering daily expenses on a median annual salary of $134,730.

To be an architectural or engineering manager, you need a bachelor’s degree and at least five years of experience as an architect or engineer. However, getting one of these jobs might be tough because the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects strong competition in this field.

Nurse Anesthetist: $77.05 Per Hour

This job involves assisting anesthesiologists and overseeing patient recovery from anesthesia. A median annual income of $160,270 leaves nurse anesthetists with $131,243 after paying cost-of-living expenses. Add on that this is one of the few jobs still offering pension plans, and you have a lucrative retirement ahead of you.

To get this job, you need a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a license as a registered nurse, at least one year of critical care experience and completion of an accredited nurse anesthesia program and national certification exam, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

Pediatrician: $81.24 Per Hour

Although pediatricians don’t make quite as much as some other doctors, their annual median income of $168,990 gives them enough to cover their cost of living and then some. The extra $139,963 they have after paying everyday expenses could be used to quickly pay down student loan debt they have from medical school.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, pediatricians have to go through four years of medical school and three years in a residency program. Those who specialize have to spend another two to six years in a fellowship.

Dentist: $83.17 Per Hour

With a median annual income of $173,000, dentists could easily cover the cost of living and have $143,973 leftover — which they might need to pay off undergraduate and graduate school loans. To become a dentist, you have to get a bachelor’s degree, graduate from a four-year dental school and then pass a licensing exam.

Chief Executive: $87.12 Per Hour

Being a chief executive comes with big responsibilities and, often, a big paycheck. CEOs plan and direct the operational activities of companies or organizations and make sure they meet their goals. They earn a median annual income of $181,210 that easily covers the average cost of living and still leaves $152,183 to indulge in hobbies only the rich can afford.

A college degree typically is the ticket to becoming a CEO — but not a requirement. Examples abound of people who became the head of companies without a college degree, such as Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates.

Family and General Practitioner: $91.58 Per Hour

It’s probably no surprise that the highest-paying career is in the medical field. General practitioners earn six figures diagnosing diseases and treating patients. With an annual median income of $190,490, they’re the least likely on our list to live paycheck to paycheck because they still have $161,463 after covering the cost of living.

It’s worth noting, however, that earning a lot of money doesn’t guarantee you won’t be living paycheck to paycheck. Even the rich make money mistakes that can leave them struggling financially.


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