Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Humility of Working For Minimum Wage

Lately, we have been following a Dave Ramsey-esque plan.  Eliminate needless spending, build up savings, cut debt.  Simple plan.  Difficult Execution.

When we got married, we agreed that I would stay at home with the kids when they were little.  So, there went 8 years of me not working.  Then I went back to work briefly in the school system a few years ago before we started homeschooling.  That salary barely paid my dry-cleaning bill.  During this time, we lived slightly above our means, I have to admit.  We didn't want to miss out on opportunities that we'd never have again, memories that we'd never be able to make again.  So we did the Disney Cruise.  Twice. We bought organic everything when the kids were little.  We purchased a ridiculously expensive antique china cabinet.  And we probably shouldn't have bought that Suburban new off the lot (kicking ourselves bigtime over that one).  Fast forward many years later and we've got credit card debt. 

You can only squeeze so much out of a family's budget.  We gave up television.  I gave up my Blackberry.  We started mega-couponing.  But still, we were not seeing a huge difference.  We knew we'd not only have to decrease spending, but increase what was coming in.  My awesome husband supports us fabulously and works his tail off in a demanding job.  But a downturned economy, decreased property values, and just the increased cost of living with a growing family made it necessary to bring in a little extra.  I didn't want my husband to miss out on "guy time" with the kids after working all day.  And one of the perks of homeschooling is that I already get to see my kids all week long.  It made sense for me to work a few nights a week and see if it would make a dent in the debt.

Wow.  Have you ever tried to find work between the hours of 4pm-midnight?  All that's out there, ladies and gentlemen, is retail and restaurant (and other seedy professions that may or may not be legal).  I proved many years ago that I can't waitress to save my life.  So began my adventures working at my local mega-bookstore for $7.31 an hour.  So far, I've been working 4 nights a week until closing, which can be midnight-1am, depending on how much the ill-mannered teenagers trash the store each night.  I'm surrounded by various colorful characters, some of whom I'm delighted to work alongside.  Others, whose drama I just have to chalk up to immaturity and naivete.  But sometimes, I just have to walk behind the shelves and mouth the words "Jesus. Help. Me."  The only good thing about this situation is that I'm surrounded by books and that I can help people find what they are looking for.  Sometimes I lead them to Shakespeare's "Hamlet" with a spring in my step.  Other times, I show them where the witchcraft books are with a roll of the eyes and a silent prayer.  It's a very messed up world out there and I've been sheltered from it for a long time.

I don't quite look this cute cleaning the store.
You know, the best thing about vacuuming twenty-million square feet of carpet or cleaning a toilet that a man has peed in, is that it reminds me how good I've had it for so long.  It reminds me that some people have to make ends meet on this paycheck.  And it reminds me not to take for granted the little things.  The physical exhaustion is great (1am is not my favorite bedtime).  The rewards are mediocre.  But the money, as long as it's stockpiled in savings, will go toward our greater good in the long-run.

Funny thing is, out of the 8 people that we've hired for the holidays, almost all of us are thirty-somethings working a second job to pay off debt.  I feel like I'm in sympathetic company.  Here's hoping my piggy bank gets filled quickly.  My 38 year old body can't take much more.


Nikki said...

I have seriously thought about finding an early morning job at a coffee shop or an evening gig like you're doing. Maybe something seasonal would be a good way to start??

I'm Nikki from the Crew stopping by for a visit. I'm following you now. There are so many of us on the Crew and it's hard to track everyone down! :)

amy (mamascout) said...

This is really inspiring and commendable. I loved working in bookstores - it was one of my favorite jobs.

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