Thanks for taking the “tough choices” challenge. ​
Interested in the numbers?
Let’s dive in.

$43,030 is the annual salary we used for this example.


This is higher than the median income in 30303, the ZIP code for HOPE Atlanta’s headquarters. We chose this number because it is above the threshold for a family of three to qualify for Peach Care. We wanted to demonstrate that even working families above the poverty line can struggle to make ends meet.


$2,778 is the estimated monthly take-home pay of an individual making $43,030.

After federal and state taxes, the estimated biweekly paycheck for someone earning a $43,030 salary would be $1,380 (we used this calculator to come up with the estimate).

$450 is the approximate cost of leasing and insuring a used car.

According to Edmunds data from 2019, the average monthly lease on a used car is $411. We factored in another $39 for “bare bones” state-required car insurance.

A MARTA bus pass costs $128 per month.

$1,040 is the fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in 30303. $1,185 is the fair market rent for a two-bedroom.


Here’s where we got that data.

$350 per month could cover some basic, short-term insurance plans for a family of 3.


Let’s assume the single mother in this example works for a small employer with fewer than 50 employees; they do not provide health benefits. This family must shop for their policy, and while there might be some short-term options available for $350 or less (assuming no tobacco use, etc.), keep in mind that plans in this price range would still require copays and high deductibles. An accident or sudden health emergency could quickly lead to mounting debt. In fact, sudden crises are a top reason families fall into homelessness.

According to Rent Cafe, the average monthly costs for electricity and gas in Georgia are slightly higher than what we listed in our exercise: $123 for power and $87 for gas. For this exercise, we’ve assumed that the family is conservative in using A/C and heating (plus, they’re living in a small apartment).


Home internet averages around $30/month, and a single-line cell phone and data plan with phone installments would run this family another ~$70.

$350 is the average cost of “food at home” in Atlanta.


According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Atlanta families spend $4,217 per year on food they prepare at home. That comes out to just over $350 per month. Keep in mind that this “grocery budget” includes food only and doesn’t account for other necessities, like toiletries. And this family’s grocery bill would likely be even higher if they were buying baby formula and diapers.


The maximum salary for a family of 3 to qualify for SNAP benefits is $28,548.

Child care in Georgia is expensive.


According to the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, childcare for an infant costs around $637 per month. For a four-year-old, it is $542 each month. For this exercise, we assumed the single mother had children in each of these categories.

Cable TV. While this is sometimes seen as a “luxury” expense, multitasking working mothers may regard this as a must-have.


School supplies and clothing. The family in this scenario would need to find a way to secure these must-have items cheaply or through donations.


College or student loan payments. The average student loan debt in the U.S. costs $393 per month.


Renter’s insurance. Many apartment buildings require renters to carry renter’s insurance, which costs around $25 per month.


Emergency or retirement fund contributions. Every family needs an emergency fund, and everyone wants to retire in old age. Unfortunately, with this salary and the current living costs, it would be difficult to find extra money to put aside in savings.