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How Much Is That in Minimum Wage Hours?

Do you ever feel like you don’t have a good handle on how much money is worth? I mean really worth, in terms of sweat and blood, rather than how much stuff it can buy? With credit cards and electronic bank statements, the true cost of money is often difficult to truly comprehend because there are so many abstractions. Money is an abstraction of labor and effort.

You earn money through labor. Some labor is hard, like in a factory or a mine, while others are easier, shuffling papers in an air conditioned office; but both types require time and energy and both result in money. The point is, spending money, rather than bartering labor for goods and services, abstracts away the value of that money and it sometimes helps to put things back into focus.

So, why don’t we?

Let’s put things back into perspective by listing popular and common products in terms of minimum wage labor hours. Using the federal minimum wage in the United States, at $6.55, we calculated how much stuff cost in minimum wage hours.

Some of the more surprising figures? That $443k party AIG threw for their salespersons [3] cost 67,634 minimum wage hours. Lehman CEO Fuld’s cash compensation from 2000 to 2008 was $500 million [4] – or 76,335,878 minimum wage hours (26,142 minimum wage years, if 8 hours are in a day). Finally, that $700 billion bailout package will cost 36,599,394 minimum wage years. Yikes.

Item Price Hours Days
Private 4-Year College Tuition [5] $94,848 14,480.61 1,810.08
Public 4-Year College Tuition [5] $24,740 3,777.1 472.14
Public 2-Year College Tuition [5] $9,444 1,441.83 180.23
Average Wedding $30,000 4,580.15 572.52
2008 Toyota Prius $21,500 3,282.44 410.3
2009 Lamborghini Gallardo $198,000 30,229.01 3,778.63
An Ounce of Gold ~$900 137.4 17.2
6.2 carat Diamond (G, VS2) [6] $384,500 58,702.29 7,337.79
Xbox 360 Console [7] $259.99 39.7 4.96
Garmin nüvi 670 GPS [8] $327 49.92 6.24
Gallon of Gas [9] $3.15 0.48 -.–
Gallon of Heating Oil [9] $3.38 0.52 -.–
One Million Dollars $1,000,000 152,671.76 19,083.97
$500/mo. Rent $500 76.33 9.5
$1,000/mo. Rent $1,000 152.66 19.1
Two Movie Tickets $20 3.05 -.–

We made some assumptions in compiling this list. One is that a day consists of eight hours. Another is that while the cost is in post-tax dollars, minimum wage is in pre-tax dollars (i.e. the employee still has to pay tax on the $6.55/hr wage), so things really cost more in terms of hours than what is listed.