Driving to the next town. Saving money instead of scraping by. Moving yourself -- and your infant son -- out of your parents' home.
These are just some of the things a minimum wage increase would allow our readers and their loved ones to do.
Following President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, where he called for a national minimum wage of $9 an hour instead of the current rate of $7.25, we asked HuffPost readers if such a change would make a difference in the lives of anyone they knew.
Below, you can find responses from Texas, Georgia and Mississippi -- three of the states with the highest proportions of hourly workers who earn minimum wage or less.
If you'd like to share your story of what a minimum wage hike would mean for you, send us a note at email@example.com.
We got a letter from a reader in Mississippi that put the whole thing in very practical terms:
Twice weekly I sift through jobs at the local employment center. Month after month, one finds the same minimum wage job listings that seem to never get filled -- or if they do, not for very long. One of these listings is for a substitute teacher position, but it's in the next county. $7.25 an hour would barely cover my gas expenses. At $9.00 an hour it would be feasible.
And another reader from Mississippi explained the difference $1.75 can make:
I do know someone making close to minimum wage: my nephew Hendrik. This month his son Daniel will turn one year old. Daniel and his mother Elena are on [the federal assistance program] WIC. And they and Hendrik all live with her parents. Hendrik and Elena cannot afford a place of their own or even basic medical care because they both work for close to minimum wage.
A raise to even $9 an hour would be a significant boost for them both, perhaps providing the extra money they need to move into their own apartment. Now, if they could only land full-time work so that they could get medical insurance, instead of working for a multi-billion dollar fast food chain and a multi-million dollar small-box chain store whose policies are to keep employees at 30 hours or less to avoid paying any benefits.
My guess is that Hendrik and Elena's story is all too common. But the fact that their situation is so ordinary should make us all outraged. When you are reporting the extraordinary outlier stories, don't forget the millions of young people caught in a riptide of no-jobs-and-no-future.
A reader in Texas wrote to tell us:
My granddaughter is working her way through college and working to make living expenses at the same time.
She shares an apartment with a girlfriend and struggles to make ends meet every month. Her mother continues to pay her health and auto insurance. I fill in with a tank of gas, and grocery and clothes shopping trips as needed.
She recently left a job she enjoyed (teaching classes of young children in physical and mental activities) because at $7.50 an hour, she just couldn't make enough money to live on. She is now working as a waitress at a pizza and beer place because she has been assured her tips will be more than she made at her previous job.
When President Obama talked about $9-per-hour minimum wage, I immediately calculated what this would mean to my granddaughter. And it might mean making it through every month as opposed to always coming up short on the money end.
Higher education was a common theme in the letters we received. Said a reader from Abilene, Texas:
In short, raising the minimum wage would allow me to stop living paycheck to paycheck.
I'm a graduate student at Abilene Christian University working three different minimum wage jobs for a total of 30 hours a week. I can't work regular jobs because all of my classes are during the day. I couldn't go to school and work a nine-to-five. All three jobs are with the university.
Because the minimum wage is so low, I have to spend a substantial part of my week working. But since I need to do well in school, I try to work no more than 30 hours a week. The result is that I am perpetually on the edge of not being able to pay my bills. Additionally, I have plenty of student loans from my undergrad which are currently sitting in deferment until I finish my master's.
If the president gets his way and the minimum wage goes up, then I would either be able to make $200 more a month (which I could put toward loans or, better yet, actually start saving), or I could work about six or seven fewer hours a week, giving me more time to focus on my education.
And many readers, like the one below, pointed out that a minimum wage hike would help young people just getting started on their careers.
I live in the suburbs of Savannah, Georgia. I have grandchildren who will be out in the workforce soon, and it is almost impossible for young people living 20-30 miles from town to afford transportation with gasoline prices so high. It dampens their initiative to know that they'll spend most of their earned income after taxes just to get to work.
At some point they will go to college, work part-time at minimum wage, and want to move out of their parents' house. Minimum wage has to be increased in order to help our young people achieve their dreams.
It wasn't just job seekers and low-paid employees who voiced support for a higher minimum wage. We also heard from a few employers, like the reader from Texas who told us:
I am all for the increase in minimum wage; in fact, I believe that it should be raised to $9.50 or $10.00 an hour. I realize that raising the minimum wage may have some negative impact, but I think it would be a positive adjustment in the long run. As an experiment, I would like to see the naysayers attempt to live on the current minimum wage for a month.
I have never made minimum wage, but as an employer of 200+ employees, I have firsthand knowledge of how difficult it is for employees to survive on the current minimum wage. Many people cannot afford adequate health, home or auto insurance, adequate daycare, etc. And many people are forced to take on two or three jobs just to make ends meet, which has familial and sociological repercussions.
Currently, I start my employees out between $9.00 and $11.00 an hour, depending on which city or market that store is in. Then, after 90 days, if their performance is acceptable, the employee gets a review and possibly a raise. I also pay 75% of employees' health and dental insurance coverage, and they can opt to pay for dependent coverage. As a result, my turnover is very low; I rarely have an unemployment claim. My stores are in the retail industry, and I find that happy employees equate to higher store earnings.
I have seen many retail chain stores (J. C. Penney is the first that comes to mind) that have significantly reduced their workforce -- good for their bottom line, but as a result, many customers have taken their business elsewhere or resorted to internet sales.
Taking care of our workforce by raising minimum wage will definitely result in a win-win situation.
Some letters have been edited for length and clarity.