Deep Dive Into an EMT’s Budget

Disclaimer: The statements made in this post are the opinion of the author. They should not be viewed as financial advice. Please consult with a financial specialist before making any financial decisions.
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An Emergency Medical Technician is WAY more than an ambulance driver. A good EMT can be the difference between life and death as people travel to the hospital.

They require many hours of training and certification that can take years to get.

Yet these underappreciated heroes are among the most underpaid workers in America.

That is why I have chosen an EMT for the second installment of the budget deep dive.

The budget deep dive will look at different low paid professional and other jobs to show those that work similar jobs a path to financial security and independence on a doable budget.

My first deep dive was into a teacher’s budget.

Photo by Mathias P.R. Reding on

Calculating an EMT’s Take Home Pay

The average EMT’s salary is $37,170. While in some professions you tend to increase pay substantially over a career, EMT salaries are actually surprising constant and low. A starting EMT, for example, will probably earn around $34,000.

So with the difference being nominal we will just focus on the average salary in this review.

First, it is important to calculate your gross pay. This is how much you make before anything is taken out. For an EMT making $37,170 that would be $3,097 each month.

Please note that in no situations is your gross pay how much money actually hits your bank account. So let’s start chipping away at it.

First, you have federal payroll taxes for social security and medicare. This tax rate is currently 7.65%. The average EMT will pay about $236 a month (yearly gross pay, times .0765 divided by 12).

That leaves us with $2,861.

Now you have federal income tax. Not counting other deductions and rebates, that depends on your tax bracket. To figure out exactly how much you’ll pay, use this calculator.

Our average EMT would owe $231 per month leaving $2,630.

Next we have state income tax, which ranges from 0% in places like Texas and Alaska, to 4.4% in New York. So let’s go with the median number of 2.2%. Just know that yours may be higher or lower.

So at 2.2% the average EMT owes $68 per month, leaving $2,562.

Now that taxes are out of the way, you have deductions from your employer. Some of these are still your money, you just don’t have it to live on each month, like contributions to a 401(k). We won’t deal with those right now in this budget.

The other big expense that comes out is your medical costs. This ranges wildly from $100 for singles (or less on medicaid), to $500 for families, to over a $1,000 for more specific coverage.

An average EMT, sadly, is right on the line for qualifying for medicaid in most states. So look into that to avoid overpaying for insurance.

Just to have a realistic budget we’ll go with $500 (which is a straight expense regardless of your income), just know that your situation will differ.

That $500 expense leaves $2,062 for our EMT.

While other expenses and taxes are possible, these are the most common, so these are the numbers we’re going to work with. This is your actual take home pay, also called your net pay.

How Much Can an EMT Spend on The Big Three?

The big three are also known as the three biggest money suckers. These are the places that most of your money goes every month if you’re an average American.

The three biggest money suckers are housing, transportation, and food.

The percentages I reference for how much you can expect to spend on each item can be found on

Let’s look at each in turn.


Housing is by far American’s biggest expense taking up an average of 33% of American spending.

That is entirely too much. 33% of your take of home pay leaves you with too little wiggle room, especially for a lower income earner.

Still, you need a place to live, so I would recommend about 20-25% of you net pay and certainly no higher than 30%.

If you can get lower and feel comfortable, even better.

At 25%, the average EMT is paying at most $515. Remember that that includes taxes and insurance if you are buying a home, so be careful.

That probably sounds low, but that is one of the easiest ways to make sure you have enough money. Lower your housing costs.

That leaves an average EMT with $1,547 per month.

Hopefully, seeing that such a small chunk still left only $1,500 you’ll know why keeping that expense down is so important.


Transportation is another biggie. But mostly because people make it big on purpose.

The average amount spent on transportation in a budget is about 16%.

That’s $495 per month for an EMT. But gasoline is only 5% of the budget, and insurance is somewhere between $100 and $150 most likely.

So what is the bulk of that cost? Your expensive car payment!

Car payments are the most expensive part of owning a car, so the sooner you get out of a car payment the sooner you have more room in your budget.

Just do it!

But let’s assume that you have a car payment just so we have a realistic budget. Remember to adjust accordingly.

That leaves us with $1,052 per month.

Things are getting tight and we haven’t even made it out of the big three. But we can make it!


Food is the big expense that nobody seems to think about. You have to eat, so we just buy things. But that is not how it should be.

There are ways to lower your large expenses in housing and transportation, but they take time and a lot of commitment.

Food on the other hand is a variable expense, so it is easy to make a change in the next two to three months or sooner.

In other words, if you are tracking your spending for the first time and trying to create a budget, look to food as the first line to cut at for wiggle room.

That being said, food still costs money so don’t underspend and miss out on the nutrition you need to thrive.

If you want to know how much to spend on food, I have a whole post about food spending.

But assuming you’re an average person with a partner or a kid, then the maximum you should spend on food each month is $400 at this income level.

Please spend less than that if you can and be healthy.

This includes eating out to, so be careful!

The lower you can get your food budget, the more money you have for things that matter to you beyond just surviving.

If our EMT only spends $400 then we still have $652 in our budget.

Dealing With Other Expenses

Now, after you’ve paid for the big three, you have other expenses. These include your utility bills, internet, cell phone, entertainment, clothing, widgets, electronics, and anything else you want to buy.

How much you spend on each of those is up to you, but if you need help lowering some of those costs, I have a few suggestions.

If your utility bill is high, try taking drastic steps to lower it.

If you aren’t satisfied with you phone bill, don’t buy a new phone every year and switch to a cheaper provider. I use Reach Mobile and I’m enjoying it. You can get a bonus using my referral code K0D6L5CH if you’d like.

Try to negotiate your internet bill at least yearly.

Look into free or cheap forms of entertainment like outdoor activities and more.

Buy clothing second hand and electronics second generation.

Cut out anything that isn’t bringing value to your life.

And EMTs, don’t spend money when you’re bored on the job!

Check out this link for more ideas on being frugal.

Now, please remember that you do not have that whole $652 to spend here.

For reasons I’m about to explain, the budget for these items should be at most $446.

See the example budget below for a break down of each item

The reason you should avoid spending all of it is you also need to be setting aside money for retirement.

Budget line ItemEMT Budget
Net Pay$2,062
Misc. Expenses$51
Retirement (minimum)$206
Example Budget

There are ALWAYS more expenses than you plan for. Have wiggle room in your budget.

How Much Do EMTs Need to Invest to Retire?

Retirement may seem like a long way off, but it is never too early to start saving for retirement.

There are a variety of factors that determine how much you need to save for retirement, most of which I don’t have time to get into here.

Those include how much you plan on spending, how much you’ll get from a pension, will your partner continue to work, how late you will retire, the expected inflation, and so forth.

Sadly, there aren’t any solid resources to help you figure that out, but I would start by talking to a financial planner and go from there.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to go with a much simpler answer, and that is the advice from the Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason to “pay thyself first” a sum of 10% you income.

If you consistently pay yourself ten percent, over the course of a career you could save a substantial amount.

This is especially true if you take steps to boost your income but still live on your EMT wages.

Now the more you can put in the better, but if you need a place to start–start at 10%.

And if you get a small raise, take half of that raise and immediately invest that. You’ll never miss it and it will grow until you are able to retire.

At 10% an EMT should be investing $206 at minimum each month.

But remember, do as much as you can!

If you want to be a millionaire investing in your 401k over 30 years then you’ll probably need to invest over $1,000 a month.

Start small and build up to it. You’ll get there as you put your mind to it.

The EMT Advantage

Every profession has an advantage of some kind that can be used to become more financially stable. These are things like high income potential, ability to get overtime, flexibility in schedule, or commission based work.

For an EMT it is paid time on call.

While there are many duties that an on duty EMT has to perform, and others you want to (like sleep). Some days there is just not much to do.

While you could chat or play videos games, aid time on call is the best time for you to better your situation.

I would recommend using that time to either further your education to move up the pay ladder or cultivate a hobby into an online business.

First, gaining more education is crucial if you want to get anywhere in the medical field. Many EMTs aren’t doing it as a long term career but as a place to get medical experience. You can double that by taking time to learn more while you wait.

Second, using your free time when you have it to boost your income can be a rewarding and meaningful use of your time. With so many jobs available online these days there is something for everyone.

You can learn to design websites, do freelance writing, manage an ecommerce site, etc. Anything that will let you work when it is convenient to work, but still pays well, is your key.

Use your EMT advantage to create financial security.

The key though is to still stick to your regular budget then invest and save the rest.

You can easily make an extra $1,000 a month or more with these side businesses.

That is your whole retirement right there if you invest it right.

EMTs can have a fulfilling job savings lives and still build wealth with a little extra elbow grease!

So put those amazing brains of yours to work!

What are other advantages that EMTs have? What other jobs do you want me to review? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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A list of definitions used on this blog can be found here.

Gross Pay: Your total pay before any money is taken out from taxes, insurance, or retirement investing.

Federal Payroll Tax: Tax that is paid on running payroll (paying employees) half of which is paid by your employer and the other half is paid by you. This tax pays for social security and medicare. Please note that if you are self employed you are responsible for the entire tax.

Federal Income Tax: Taxes paid to the federal government based on your taxable income (income that isn’t protected by tax shelters like a 401k or deductions). The more money you make the more you pay in a graduated or bracket system. This is where deduction and rebates come in that create tax returns.

State Income Tax: Taxes paid to the state government based on your taxable income. Each state has different tax rates and rules what is taxed.

410(k): An account offered through your employer that is not taxed upfront, but it is taxed taxed when you pull it out. (See retirement accounts on the definitions page)

Net Pay: Your actual take home pay after taxes and other deductions from your paycheck such as insurance premiums.

Variable Expense: Monthly expenses that are not consistently the same amount. Examples of this are food, your utility bill, and gas.

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