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.