How Did Childhood Jobs Influence Your Current Financial Situation?

by Darwin on February 16, 2010

My wife and I were talking about teaching our kids about money the other day and she mentioned how entrepreneurial our 5 year old seems.  I haven’t really started to talk to the kids about money too much other than the piggybank 50/50 save/spend thing which will eventually become a bit more structured.  However, this topic of our 5 year old being so interested in starting a lemonade stand and making money at his age had me reminiscing about some of the early jobs I had.  In retrospect, I think many of these experiences in my formative years had an influence on my current financial habits and interests.

Under 10 Years Old

  • Welcome to My Childhood – My father was definitely from the old school (which I value much more now than I did at the time) and didn’t believe in this “video game crap”, kids with soft hands and goofing off all the time.  He always kept us busy either with sports, work or study.  We had playtime with our friends too of course, but if it was a nice summer day and I was in the basement watching the latest Transformers or G.I. Joe (isn’t funny how these are new movies again?), it would burn him up to no end.  Sleeping in was forbidden as well.  He’d scream up the stairs, “Get off your back, put on your pack soldier!” followed by some sort of bad bugle impression and I’d be blasted out of bed unceremoniously.  This taught me to wake up early so I didn’t have to meet that untimely wakeup call.
  • Splitting Wood, Gardening – Anyway, in my early years, I learned how to do everything from plant seeds and pick vegetables to mow the lawn and split wood.  On the side, my father delivered firewood for years.  He’d go to developments where they were clearing lots and load up huge logs on his truck or cut them up with the chainsaw there and put the rolls in the truck.  He’d bring them home and we’d split them.  We had a wood burning stove so this exercise certainly spared us considerable heating costs each year, but he also sold cords of wood at night and on weekends.  I don’t recall all the specifics, but I think in his peak years, he was selling probably 100 cords a year at something like $100 each, so he’d pull in an extra $10,000 a year.  I had no clue about income and expenses and what it would cost to send me to college someday, but in retrospect, I can see why he did it.  He also liked to stay in shape and it was definitely a workout!
  • Vegetable Stand – We had enough land to have a decent sized vegetable garden growing everything from corn and peas to pumpkins and zucchini.  I recall we’d pick a bunch of vegetables and there would be way more than we could possibly eat without spoiling, so he’d set me up with a stand by the road.  I’d sell stuff for a quarter for this, 50 cents for that.  Before you know it, by the end of the day, I’d have taken in like 7 or 8 bucks.  I learned about making change, upselling (yes, I used to try and get people to buy even more stuff than what they asked for, I just didn’t know it was an actual marketing ploy at the time), dealing with people and I saw the entire cycle from start to finish – from planting seeds through harvest through sale.  I was really learning about how the world works.  Money didn’t just grow on trees, but indirectly, over time and with hard work, it kind of did!

10-15 Years Old

  • A Job For Every Season – While some of the garden stuff continued, I outgrew the vegetable stand thing and I started to translate chores I had at home into money elsewhere in the neighborhood.  In the winter, we had to shovel snow.  In the summer, we had to mow the lawn.  In the fall, we had to rake and blow leaves.  We had a fair number of elderly neighbors who willingly took up the opportunity to have leaves taken care of twenty bucks or a lawn mowed for twenty bucks or sidewalks shoveled for 5 bucks.  Eventually, in the summers, I had some standing lawn-mowing jobs for about twenty bucks per week if I recall. In one case, my dad had to load the lawnmower on the back of the truck and drive across town.  I recall dodging the vicious German Shepard endearingly named “socks” that would lay down and pretend to be asleep near his dog house and then lunge at me as I mowed near his doghouse.  Anyway, it was surely a hassle for my dad to drive me all the way over to my brother’s baseball coach’s house to mow his lawn each Saturday, but he did it so I could have a scheduled job.  Sure, there were some Saturdays that I wanted to just lay around or go hang with my friends, but I learned to work around it.  It was a commitment, an obligation I had, to get that lawn mowed each weekend and make it up Sundays if it rained.

16 Years Old

  • Retail – By sixteen, I was getting to be the age where I could work in retail stores with other kids my age but I wasn’t quite driving yet.  I worked at a Bradlees, which was kind of like a K-Mart of the time.  That was kind of a boring retail cash register-type job, but I had learned some skills in regards to working efficiently, making change, doing quick calculations in my head, diffusing angry customer confrontations and other skills that probably indirectly transferred to later roles.
  • Animals Need Food Too – For an entire summer and part of the school year, I worked at a “Feed Farm” delivering horse feed and other large animal feed to farmers.  I used to have to carry 2 fifty pound bags at a time off the truck, up ladders, down stairs, all kinds of places where the farmers wanted the feed.  When we weren’t on a run, I had to work in the feed store, which I didn’t like quite as much.  I found inventory and the register there to be quite boring.  I was kind of drawn to the camaraderie of driving around the state with the driver, delivering feed and seeing all kinds of different farms and animals.  The pay wasn’t great though and the owner was notoriously cheap.  My parents drove me to these jobs since I didn’t drive yet.

17 Years Old

  • The “Big Time” at the Grocery – Once I had my car, I started working at a ShopRite (typical large grocery store).  I had started on typical inventory/cashier type positions.  I recall working much more quickly and efficiently than most.  I had employed this double-handed scanning technique where I would whip the stuff by on the scanner and someone with a $300 order would be done in no time.  I’d spin around and bag stuff if they weren’t (I never understood people who stood there and watched me bag 400 items instead of helping move things along themselves) and then jump back on the scanner and whip stuff through.  I was quickly promoted to what they called “Front-End”.  It was kind of like a supervisory position, I guess, where I was in charge of keeping things moving and it had financial responsibilities as well.  I had to count the cashier’s drawers at the end of the night and report discrepancies, address customer complaints, run around for a price check now and then, over-ride cash registers for mistakes, schedule the cashier breaks and such.  It was a definite morale boost being promoted into somewhat of a leadership role at that age, being given charge over people with more tenure and age then myself, presumably due to some efficiencies and leadership skills I had demonstrated early on.  When I was getting ready to go off to college, I remember the store manager expressing disappointment that I’d be leaving and he offered me an assistant manager role there, but I had my heart set on college.

College – School in Session

  • Snotty Clothing Store – While in college, I had worked a few odd jobs ranging from a stint at Abercrombie & Fitch which had those “big shirts” that all the cool people (so we thought) were wearing at the time.  We were able to get decent discounts of like 30 or 40% off by working there, but I didn’t like the job at all. Snobs, snobs, snobs.
  • Tutoring Paid Dividends! – I also tutored chemistry since I had taken to it in highschool and college.  As luck would have it, that’s how I landed my wife!  She wasn’t doing well in her chem class and a mutual friend introduced us so I could tutor her and that was that!  Since then, I’ve learned much more from her than she has from me, but it’s funny how a thing like a college side job can have such a fateful influence on the rest of your life.
  • The Future is Metals (maybe) – My senior year, I had a decent gig tied to my major where I worked in a development lab for metal injection molding at Allied Signal.  It was supposed to be the technology of the future for making everything from golf clubs to watches.  I’m sure if it ever took off or not, but it was a good learning experience that I was able to cite during my subsequent job interview process.

College – Summers

  • Dodging Dogs and Dirty Looks – I mixed it up during summers.  For two summers, I had a summer intern job for my Dad’s insurance company measuring the houses of the insured for “reassessment”, basically making sure if they added square footage, deck, etc., they were properly insured.  I had to deal with angry people that didn’t read their mail to know I was coming, didn’t answer their door, and then when I started measuring, threatened me since I was on their property.  In two cases, they literally “sic’d” their dog on me.  It was like something out of a movie.  Also, my colleague was mugged for his Polaroid camera on an inner-city jaunt.  Decent job, decent pay, not relevant to my major.
  • Tree Work is No Walk in the Park – Another summer, I worked for my brother who owned a tree service.  He jobs both large and small from clearing entire lots with heavy equipment to just removing fallen trees off people’s houses, etc.  It was backbreaking work, but it was a fun bunch of guys and I got to spend a lot of time with my older brother that summer, which was shortly before he stopped talking to our entire family after marrying a truly evil woman (sad but true, long story).
  • So Much Promise…My final summer job was supposed to be related to my Chemical Engineering role to help me land a job post-graduation.  It was a classmate’s dad’s company that applied coatings and paints to siding.  Sounds boring, but it was sold as a way to optimize manufacturing processes, develop new coatings, work in the plant, etc. using my degree. It was a total lie.  I ended up climbing on rolls of aluminum each day in a hot warehouse for inventory “cycle counts”, and I worked on some new computer system install they were doing.  It was pretty annoying that I was duped into a useless internship for my final summer.

Finally, My First Real Job!

After all that, I landed a job in biopharma manufacturing.  After working very long hours for years, I transitioned into a technical role and some business roles including the present project management role with an MBA along the way.  While Chemical Engineering is a perennial top paying job at graduation (see the top majors for 2010 by salary), I didn’t stay within that discipline for long at all.

Early Learnings

I can’t say that any one of the jobs I had in my youth had a huge impact on my professionally, but I think the cumulative experience of the various jobs and my upbringing had a great deal to do with the current success and satisfaction I have now in everything from my career to my marriage to how I raise my children now.  I learned how people treat “workers” when I was all dirty hauling logs in the summer or carrying bags of horse and pig food through smelly barns.  I always make sure to treat people doing work for us with kindness and respect.  I learned about leadership and building trust and friendships on the job.  I learned that life isn’t always fair.  I also learned that money isn’t everything.  These are things that kids that don’t work often don’t learn until it’s too late – in their first real job.

What Were Your Most Influential Jobs Earlier in Life?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 LeanLifeCoach February 16, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Great post… It is easy to forget the early days and the early lessons. I had the typical start doing odd jobs in the neighborhood and being a paperboy. I learned how to hustle and negotiate early. As a teen I spend a summer working in my brother in-laws store and nepotism being what it is I got to do all the cool things like mop the bathroom floor.:-) Really though he did a lot for me as he showed me all other aspects of his business including cold calling, selling, inventory control…. I’ve used some of it all in every job since.


Darwin Reply:

@LeanLifeCoach, Oh yeah, my brother’s crew used to bust me relentlessly on the job because of who I was. Great example was by the chainsaws, the ground was all wet. They said, “uh-oh, must be gas. Stick your finger in it and smell it”. I smelled it and it wasn’t gas. They pissed on the ground and I was sniffing it. Daily occurrence; nepotism goes both ways!


2 Monevator February 17, 2010 at 5:15 am

Great post, and a fascinating subject.

I was all ready to write a big comment about my years at school doing a paper route, and then I read LeanLifeCoach’s comments. 🙂

Seriously, I don’t know if research has been done on it, but I’d bet the correlation between early morning paper delivery and a certain kind of success in life is huge.

Just as Warren Buffett — the patron saint of paperboys! Although admittedly he did go on to own and run the route by 14, or similar…


Darwin Reply:

@Monevator, Oh yeah, I used to go on my brother’s paper route with him. I guess my dad got sick of driving kids around at all hours by the time I got to the age. But just recently, my aunt commented that I was a “weird kid” that was interested in money at an early age. Is that so weird to be entrepreneurial? Set me up to not be a complete financial idiot as an adult at least…


Monevator Reply:

@Darwin, I think it is a little weird. My mistake was to change tack between 17 and 23 or so, and become really interested in arty stuff and left wing politics!

Oh well, you’re only young once, eh?

When I saw the light again, I’d missed a prime opportunity to put myself onto a fast track in to the financial services industry, not that I would have enjoyed it or stuck it out I think. But I might have, and the income from say fund management likely would have dwarfed my other endeavours!

Still, don’t look back – except to childhood nostalgia, which leaves you with a warm feeling…


3 tim1198 February 19, 2010 at 7:36 am

I highly recommend working in a restaurant while in highschool. The skills I learned in the restaurant business greatly benefits my work in Engineering today. How is that? Here are some key life skills I’ve learned in the restaurant business 20 years ago that I still use on a daily basis:

Customer service, dealing with difficult people, time management, prioritization, how to run a good business, how to run a bad business, managing people, etc… Most working people and even engineers don’t have these critical skills.


4 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff February 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm

What a fun post! I loved that you met your wife on a side job…I met my husband while working a college job too. 🙂

Under 10 years old:
I didn’t earn much. I sold some bracelets I made for 25 cents each and walked a few dogs for $1 a walk. My parents didn’t do the allowance thing.

10-15 years old:
I received my CPR certification and started babysitting with I was 13 years old. I only babysat for one family and made $5 an hour for two young kids. I loved it.

15-17 years old:
We moved out of the country. I made $12 a week for 6 months by working “bus duty” on my Holland school bus. I simply kept the kids quiet for the driver.

I was also a volunteer English instructor in Argentina for about a year for 6 year olds.

18-22 years old:
I worked the 24 hour help desk for my dorm my freshman year for $5.15 an hour. I actually met my husband during a 12am-4am shift one night…I was bored and he seemed to have nothing to do since he kept walking by, so I asked him to keep me company. I found out much later that he thought I was cute and was trying to think of something to say. 🙂

I was a “donation collector” (telemarketer) for my college right before my sophomore year for about 3 months. I hated it and quit as soon as I scored a position at the games room on campus. I worked in that games room for my last 3 years. I loved interacting with the customers and my coworkers…that was my favorite job ever.

Since I started putting myself through college my sophomore year, I worked 3 additional part-time jobs on and off as needed. I worked in the University Center Admin Office every summer, I dealt poker and blackjack at company parties on weekends (legal since they would bet with fake money and “earn” tickets for drawings), and I was a seasonal tax office receptionist full time my last semester. That was also the semester I was planning our wedding…I think my brain nearly exploded by the summer of 2005.

My First Real Job:
I’m still at it. It doesn’t use my major, but I had just gotten married and wanted something stable with benefits. It doesn’t pay much ($35,000), but it is low stress, allows me to read and blog for 3 hours a day, never exceeds 40 hours a week, has full medical, dental, vision, and life insurance, and I’m great at what I do – the customers love me and I always get great reviews.

So I stay even though I regularly hear from my mother that “I’m not living up to my full potential”. Yeah, well, I enjoy it as much as I’d enjoy any full time job, and it allows me to have fun with the rest of my life. Sorry, Mom. 🙂

The way I see my job history is that I’ve always enjoyed hoarding money, but I never really seaked out optimal profits. I try to do what’s fun. I value my social life more than I value working and will always prioritize my life with that in mind. That sounds lazy, but I’m not…I love being the best at what I do, I just like hanging out with my husband and friends as much as possible too.

Thanks for such a fun post!!!


5 Spedie June 4, 2010 at 9:58 am

My parents didn’t do the “allowance” thing either.

My experience:
1. Under 10 years old: Nothing for money except a few failed lemonade and Kool Aid stands. I had regular chores around the house, lots of them.
2. 10 to 16 years old: I was a papergirl. My route was clear across town and we lived in a rainy and snowy area – my dad took me once in his car during a bad storm – it was quicker for me to do my route on my bike. I did some babysitting, but didn’t care for it. I grabbed my dad’s mower, turned it around backwards, jumped on my bicycle and would pull the mower around backwards looking for lawns to mow in the summer. This work led to more work like clearing rocks out of land in preperation for grass being laid down. I was dependable. I could make $40 a weekend and had some regular customers mowing lawns and weeding. This was back in the 1970’s. As a result, I had my own savings account at age 16. I also planted my own garden (quite large) at my dad’s house and would grow corn, zucchini, tomato plants, etc.
3. 16 to 19 years old: I was emancipated at age 16. I was then an adult under the law. I landed a real job as a cook in a small restaurant and waited tables. At age 19 I went into the Army. I also picked vege’s and odd jobs for an old farmer. He told my mom that I was the hardest working girl he had ever seen in his entire life. I wouldn’t stop for anything and was like a machine out in the fields. I build my mom a large deck out of her own wood. I was good with a chainsaw.
4. 19 years old to 21 years old: At 21 years old, I remained debt free and had a 6 month fully funded emergency fund. I worked any job that would hire me. Sometimes I had two jobs.
5. 21 years old and up: I finished my college degree with no loans at at 37, after a failed marriage and two kids. I now make in excess of $100K per year.

I definitely think my early years had a large influence on where I am today.


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