Experience How Expensive It Feels To Live Below The Poverty Line

Living below the poverty line means every necessary purchase is a huge percentage of your salary. Putting those numbers into the context of your own finances will hopefully make you empathize a little more.

If you’re living on the federal poverty line in San Francisco, buying a $4.88 gallon of milk takes a little more than 1% of your weekly take-home pay. If you’re making the average salary in the city–$150,000–the equivalent would be paying $23.51 for the same gallon of milk.


Enter your salary on a new website, and it tells you the “poverty line prices” for everyday goods–helping someone who makes more money have a slightly better understanding of what it feels like to shop when you’re poor. At the average San Francisco salary, laundry detergent would cost $58.04; four rolls of toilet paper would cost $16.64.

Tipping Point Community, the poverty-fighting organization behind the campaign, also temporarily implemented the higher prices in a Nob Hill convenience store, then watched people react.

One out of ten families in the Bay Area lives below the federal poverty line of $24,300, with take-home pay of $22,222.

“We all know that living in San Francisco or the broader Bay Area takes more than $24,000 a year,” says Daniel Lurie, CEO and founder of Tipping Point, which worked with the ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners on the campaign. “We thought this was a compelling way to help more people start to understand what it’s like to live on the line and encourage them to take action.”

When you look at the equivalent prices on the site, it prompts you for donations. The organization funds 45 nonprofits in the region, working on eviction prevention, prenatal care for homeless women, vocational training, and several other programs designed to help address the systemic problems that perpetuate poverty.

Right now, Lurie says, it takes four minimum wage jobs to be self-sufficient in San Francisco. “In a region with as many resources as ours, we need to do more to help people who are struggling to make ends meet,” he says. “I do think we are at a unique moment in time where we can take advantage of the crisis we’re in to encourage and create sustainable change.”


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.