The benefits of working as a teen
Not too long ago, a reader asked me about making money as a teen. It’s becoming harder and harder for young people to get jobs to gain experience and earn spending money for today and for the future. If you’re a teen, how do you get money to start paying for stuff budget for your future?
I believe that one of the best ways for a teenager to learn about making and saving money is to get a summer-job, or work part-time. This is an absolutely amazing way to make a bit of money and gain valuable experience in helping others, and learn about responsibility, endurance, and teamwork in the process.
If the time is managed properly, there is no need for the work to impact negatively on school or other activities. Kids are not fragile vases; in some ways, they need to be protected and nurtured, but in other ways, they are much stronger than adults, and they need the opportunities to get out there, make mistakes, and learn in the process.
Three jobs, and three great learning experiences.
I first started working well before I hit puberty; in fact, I’m not sure I was even in the double-digits. It was so far back that I don’t remember too well now. I had my first full-time summer job the first year I was legally able to do it, which was at sixteen. It was a great experience that taught me a lot about life, and it helped to prepare me for a better future. I had a less than ideal childhood, and the lessons I learned was part of the foundation that helped to see me through it.
The first paid job of my life was a paperboy, way back in the days when my age had just barely crossed over into the double-digits! It was such a long time ago, but I still remember what it was like: I woke up in the dead of night when everyone else was still fast asleep, and I delivered newspapers in the cold winter to the houses in my local neighbourhood. On Saturdays, I nearly fell over with the weight of the papers in the bag resting upon my shoulder. There was no minimum wage, as my salary consisted mainly of tips only!
It sounds like it was really tough, but it wasn’t, and it was also a lot of fun. It was my first real job, and I learned the value of dedication, persistence, and most importantly, endurance. I would go door to door to collect money at the end of the month, and I remember that I got pissed at those that paid with a credit card because I didn’t make any money from them; I was also very happy to converse with those that paid with cash and make some spending money! I no longer remember how the finances actually panned out, but at the time, that’s how it felt.
Let me tell you, as a kid about 20 years ago, getting $100 a month or so in cash was HUGE spending power. As I have mentioned before on this blog, I didn’t have the best background, and the money even came in handy when I lent it to my parents on occasion.
I was a young and immature kid, so I admit that I wasn’t always dedicated and there were some days when people would get their papers past 7 am. I liked to take shortcuts, and more than one person got pissed at seeing my footprints in the snow in their backyard, as I hopped across their fence to take a shortcut.
I don’t remember how the job ended — I might have gotten canned for the fence hopping, or my parents might have pulled me out due to school picking up in the spring. In any case, it was an awesome experience to have as a kid, and I learned a lot from it.
The first summer where I was 16, I went to work as a weeder and landscaper. The first day was tough as I stayed under the hot sun and spent 8 hours pulling out weeds. I think I was full of scrapes by the end, and the “guys” were really surprised because I was just a highschool kid, and they really didn’t expect me to survive. I showed them!
I got used to the job over time, but I will admit: There were times when it was really boring, and I looked forward to lunch time so that I could take a break. I was unsupervised, but the boss could come by at any time so I needed to get the job done.
I later got a high-school friend in on the job; he would bike 15 kilometers or so to my house every morning and our boss would meet us there and pick us up in his car around 6:30am as it was on the way for him. This made the job a lot more fun, and there were fun times where we caught a couple making out in a car behind one of the warehouses, or the day when I ran around with a bunch of angry bees chasing me!
Yes, we were teenagers, and a couple of days we really goofed off, getting into mud fights and pelting each other with mudballs. We accidentally got someone’s car full of mud and got in trouble with the boss; I feel really bad about it now.
Although there were the fun times and the times we really goofed off, in retrospect I think we both learned a lot about the value of hard work and getting things done, even during a hot day under the sun. We also learned about responsibility and that there are consequences to behaviour, such as getting into trouble after getting someone’s car full of mud. It was a good lesson to learn!
First factory job
The next summer, I had my first job ever that paid more than minimum wage (in fact, it paid double!): I applied for employment at the local fish factory and I was accepted. I can only imagine that my previous experience in delivering papers and working as a landscaper was a help in getting this job.
I had a rotating position on an assembly line, and this was the hardest job I had ever had to date: I had various responsibilities such as inspecting and sorting the fish fillets, packing them into boxes, and stacking the boxes onto pallets. It was extremely monotonous and boring, not to mention stinky, but it was the best money I had earned to date and I was going to college after the summer, so I needed the money.
I met a lot of various people at that job, such as a 25 year old computer programmer that was doing this as a second job to pay tuition, and people from all walks of life. My favourite co-workers were the older women: They were all so kind and helpful, and they were always in good spirits. It was the first time I had ever worked in an industrialized setting, and I learned that I really didn’t like it. Staring at a moving conveyor belt made me feel quite ill at times. I also learned how to put up with things that one doesn’t like, in order to reap a greater reward: going to college, and getting an education.
I also learned about the tricks that union guys played on their management! The bosses were often referred to as “bastards” and other names which I won’t print here, and we had a “game” where we would go to the bathroom and we spent many minutes goofing off while the older guys smoked. I was young and impressionable, and I took part in those charades.
In all fairness, I also saw that while unions could be quite stupid, they also served a valuable purpose: they served as an effective counterweight to the demands of management and saw to it that the workers’ rights were respected and that the workers were treated fairly. I think that it was an invaluable part of my education to be able to see things from both sides of the glass.
Tightening regulations are making it harder for the youth to get jobs.
These jobs were a great way for me to earn some money when I was younger and gain some valuable experience at the same time, but unfortunately, our government is making it more difficult for young people to find a job today . This is terrible, since it means that many young people are missing out on a great chance to learn some real life lessons that they can then apply to their futures. Some people try to get their first job only once they’re done college, and they are completely unprepared for that world.
How are governments making it more difficult?
Some jurisdictions have minimum wages that rise faster than inflation.
The minimum wage is, on the surface, a well-meaning regulation meant to protect submarginal workers from exploitation, but what it actually does is rather more sinister: An employer will only hire a worker if he will not lose money by doing so. Not only does the minimum wage prevent new and inexperienced workers like teens from getting hired and gaining the valuable experience they need to move up in the workplace, but it also encourages employers to hire illegal immigrants and do more work under the table. These illegal immigrants do not get to enjoy the same legal protections that the rest of us do. The minimum wage, in effect, hurts those that it purports to help.
There’s no way I would have gotten that landscaping job if the minimum wage had been a couple bucks higher, and that would have meant no fish factory job the next year and less money for college.
Would you rather see these kids gaining valuable experience through a job, or going down the wrong path on the street where nobody watches or cares? I have been in that environment, and the easiest way to hurt poor people is for rich people to pass laws and regulations that pretend to “help” the poor, but have the opposite effect.
Some jurisdictions have excessive child-labour laws that prevent legitimate and safe work from being done.
Where I live it is more reasonable, with those under 16 excluded from riskier occupations and those under 14 still allowed to work (i.e. deliver newspapers), but needing parental permission. I think this is reasonable, but other places go too far in their efforts to “save the children”. In these places, it is illegal for teens to engage in most types of employment unless they are at least 16 to 18 years old.
I think this is ridiculous. I understand that kids are physically and emotionally immature, and I am not proposing to put them in a dangerous workplace or in charge of heavy machinery, but at the same time, there are plenty of safe things that a kid could do, like learning how to program, write websites, simple carpentry work (stuff we did in shop class at 14 or so, anyways), helping out in a general store, and stuff like that. Why should a kid be deprived of this chance to gain valuable life experience? Soon the only option left will be to become a kid actor/actress, at least until 16 to 18 years old.
Life is about learning, and we are never too young to start learning valuable lessons for the future.
I was by no means a model worker and I did my fair share of goofs, nor was I a financial wizard that masterfully invested what I had earned. I wish I knew back then what I know now, but the whole point is that these opportunities were a learning experience. It was much better that I started learning these lessons at a young age and not for the first time at 25. Life is all about learning, and we will never learn unless we have the opportunity to get out there, make mistakes, and learn from our experiences.
These part-time and summer jobs were a great way for me to start gaining that experience, and if you are a teenager, I highly recommend trying out a part-time or summer job: you will gain a lot from the experience, gain valuable skills that will help you avoid student loans later on, learn through experience on how to save money, and you may very well enjoy it and have stories of your own to share some day.
Dear reader, what are your own experiences from working when you were younger? I am looking forward to hearing your stories!