Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lessons I Could Learn from My Younger Self - Value Work

When I turned sixteen, I started looking for a part time job for the summer. I had very specific ideas of where I wanted to work: Barnes and Noble, The Gap, Express, The Wall, or basically anyplace that could be considered cool. I put in a lot of applications, but I didn't get much of a response because I was so young and I had never worked before and had no experience. Well, if nothing came around then I had decided that I would just hang out all summer.

My mother was not fond of that idea.

She came home from grocery shopping one day, and as I helped her unpack she told me that I had an interview at the grocery store.

I was horrified. 1. I was not interested in working in a grocery store. 2. My mother filled out an application, talked to the manager, and got me an interview. I immediately threw a fit, but my mom made me go to the store anyway.

Oddly enough, this wasn't even an interview. When I got there they asked for my papers, which I didn't even bring with me, because I was already hired. So I had to go home and get them and bring them back to the store.

I remember watching the manager fill out the papers and saw her write an illegible amount under the hourly wage. I had to leave that store and go to a different place for orientation immediately. In the car, my dad and I tried to made out how much I would be getting paid. "I'm pretty sure that says $8.75!" I remember saying excitedly, but my dad scoffed at me, saying no way would they pay a sixteen year with no experience that much money. When I got to orientation, the number was sadly fixed to $5.75.

I had never attached an amount of money to my time before, but once I started working it was all I could do. The number $5.75 was etched permanently in my brain. The job was okay once I started. I saw a lot of people that I knew, but they didn't laugh at me as I had feared. Instead they actually thought it was cool that I had a job, since they weren't as lucky that summer. I have some pretty good memories from working at the store, and actually I remember being amazed that people could save so much money from coupons. One lady came in with a loaded cart that cost over $200 and she got it down to $20 with coupons. I've always tried to repeat that, but have never had success on my own.

But there were a lot of downsides to the job as well. I would be stuck standing for hours and hours on end. People were frequently quite rude to me. And on one horrible occasion, I actually got drenched with blood when a man threw a giant sloppy steak on the belt and it basically exploded. I worked hard that summer, and I worked a lot.

This is where the $5.75 comes into play. For a while after I got the job, I couldn't buy anythingbecause I realized how long I had to work to get that money. A soda and candy bar was no longer just a snack, but 20 minute of work. A CD was three hours! Going out with friends could cost me six hours! Nothing seemed worth it anymore.

Instead I put half of the money in my savings account, and I put half in the safe at home and I continued working and saving. Then one day I was at the mall with my mother when I saw it - the most beautiful Betsey Johnson dress. I was going to a party soon and I needed a dress anyway, so I decided to go into the store and try it on. It was perfect, but it was also around $200 - way more than I had ever spent on an article of clothing. "Well," my mother said, "let's go."

"No," I replied. "I'm going to buy it." Even though it was surely 8 million hours of work, it seemed worth it. Finally, something seemed worth it. She made me go home anyway so that I could think about it, but a few days later I still wanted it, so we went back to the mall. I went to the register with money that I had earned and I spent it on a dress. Walking out of the store, I was so proud that I was able to get something so wonderful.

To be fair, I can't say that it was the wisest decision I ever made. I wore it once. It still hangs in my closet 11 years later, a relic of the 90s that will most likely never be worn again. But I can't say at all that I regret the purchase. I smile whenever I see it, and view it as the first object that I really earned.

Like I mentioned yesterday, I just don't make these connections anymore. I've had a lot of jobs since then, and I never experienced the hourly mentality again - instead just looking at my paychecks as a whole. I no longer get paid an hourly wage, so I rarely attach my work to my spending. I would really love to be able to get into this mindset again, because decisions do actually become much easier when you attach time to it.


lowincomelady said...

Great post! I really enjoyed reading it. I remember when I worked my first job, I got paid $6 an hour. It doesn't add up to much especially as it was a part time job!

mapgirl said...

I know exactly what you mean. I also measured purchases in high school by hours spent at work. Of course, this was when I was making $5 an hour. :-)

A 2-hour movie for $6.00 was worth the hour and fraction to spend entertaining myself. Books, so much the better. Concerts, almost never.

Lizzie said...

I've just stumbled onto your blog and this is the first post i've read, but its good because it made me think... hang on how much do i earn an hour. Its an interesting way of thinking, would i spend an hour working so that i can buy this?

Anny said...

I completely relate! One of my first jobs after college was substitute teaching. The pay was $100 a day so I started considering everything in that respect. I got a used car for about a month's worth of pay, insurance was a day's work, a new coat was half a day, etc. Its such a round number that I still ocassionally catch myself converting cost into subbing work *lol*

Jessica Morris said...

aww - I love this post too. :) Great lesson!

eemusings said...

I used to think in terms of how long it would take me to earn something, too! But not anymore. Partly becaus I make more now, and partly because I'm lucky enough to qualify for a weekly student allowance which I don't have to pay back. Doesn't stop my being frugal (stingy, even) sometimes. I just don't think in that way anymore. It's hard not to though when you're on a low wage - my lowest was $8.50 when I got my first job, a princely sum considering minimum was $7.60!