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Benefits of a Crappy Job

100_7295Most of us have probably had several jobs before age thirty. Sometimes you have to go through a few crappy jobs to make you appreciate that good one when it comes along. I thought it would be fun to revisit my younger days and look at some of the jobs I had prior to my current career. I actually learned something from each one.

Snow Cone Salesman

This was my first effort at earning money that didn’t come from my parents. A mother of a friend of mine worked at at a school that had a snow cone machine. She let us use it one summer to sit in front of the Piggly Wiggly and sell snow cones. It was not very fun, and we only did it once or twice a week for a few hours, but we could bring in $20/day or more after paying for ice and syrup. When you can’t drive and have no bills, $40/week goes a long way.

What I learned: Income-expenses (ice and syrup) = profit.

Factory Worker

This was my first official W-2 job when I turned 16. In my hometown, there were 4 garment factories that made a variety of clothing. This was before everything was made in China. The one I worked for made Gap blue jeans. My job was to print those little labels that say “machine wash warm/tumble dry” with the correct size. You’d set up the machine and watch it print a thousand or more labels. Sometimes I hoped for a malfunction to break the monotony. It was minimum wage and around 10-15 hours a week. My lifestyle had inflated because I could drive now, but this was still way more money than I needed.

What I learned: I definitely wanted to go to college to provide a bit more variety in whatever career I chose.

Lifeguard

After my junior year of high school, I took the class to become lifeguard certified. What a great job for a teenager! It was 40 hours a week in the summer, and I had to deal with bratty kids all day. I enjoyed it tremendously and had a great tan. My almost 40 year old self is not very happy with that, but my 17 year old self loved it. Again minimum wage, but I felt really rich.

What I learned: Working parents look for the cheapest baby sitter sometimes. You could drop your kid off at 10 AM,  and for $1, they could swim unitl 5PM. Often, I had to wait with some forlorn child whose Mom didn’t show up until almost 6PM. I never want my daughter to be that kid.

Convenience Store Worker

This was a college job. The store where I worked had a deli with fried chicken and other fried, unhealthy foods like most convenience stores in the south. I did a bit of everything from using a meat slicer, cleaning the soft serve yogurt machine, cashier, washing dishes, making pizza, and using a deep fryer. I’m sure it was also minimum wage and the night hours sucked.

What I Learned: Aside from how to take apart a meat slicer, I learned that I hate hair nets!
I also picked up a great slogan from one of the owners, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”

Summer School Teacher

I did this one summer when I was in college. If you had a certain number of credits, you could teach summer school. Summer school is for the ones who didn’t pass. They REALLY enjoy summer school. (note sarcasm) I believe it paid $10/hour, which seemed like a lot at the time, but holy cow, this was the hardest job I’ve ever had.

What I learned: I could never be a teacher, and please parents, make sure your kid has on undies before they leave the house.

WalMart Vision Center

I worked part time at a Wal Mart vision center for a couple of years during optometry school. Since I already knew a bit about optical labs, they hired me on the spot. I sold cheap glasses and worked as a receptionist for the doctor. I was a victim of my first and only armed robbery while there. During my residency, I worked at another Wal Mart as a fill in doctor on the weekends. As a student, I think I made around $8/hour, and as a doctor, I sometimes made $800 a day.

What I learned: Unless there was no other option, I could not work for Wal Mart. I take pride in my skills, but all Wal Mart wants is volume. Patients expect fast and cheap. Heaven forbid I have to check you for glaucoma. Also, guns trump any sense of loyalty.

Present Tense

I have worked as a private practice optometrist for the same business for almost 13 years now. I purchased the practice in 2002 and hope to sell it within the next few months. Wow, what haven’t I learned at this job? Aside from always striving to deliver the best eye care, I’ve picked up a few other gems.

  • Running an S-corporation
  • Hiring and firing
  • The customer is always right
  • Save 40% of any increase in income until you know how the taxes will turn out
  • How to deal with the public
  • How to understand and play the insurance game
  • How to choose which causes to support and who to turn down
  • Lots of psychology regarding people’s habits and what they deem necessary
  • How to know when to call a lawyer
  • Your lack of planning does not necessitate my emergency

I’ve also met some amazing people because I have the time to ask a few questions. Most of the people I see aren’t using cheap and fast as their main motivation for coming in. Obviously, there are providers who thrive in all kinds of settings, but this has been a great fit for me.

There were a few others that I won’t throw in, like my brief stint as a french fry expert at Dairy Queen. With a poor economy, any job can be a blessing. Even if you hate it, you can use that as a platform to find what you want to do eventually. I can honestly say that I have taken some excellent life lessons away from every crappy job I’ve ever held, and you can’t beat free snow cones!

What did you learn from a crappy job? Ever been robbed at gunpoint?

If you can’t get enough, head over to Monster Piggy Bank to check out my guest post today. 

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

83 comments

  1. I did the lifeguard gig as well for a couple of years in college. Of all my crappy jobs, that was the best one. I think your perspective is great. Even the crappy jobs teach lessons that prepare us for something later in life. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
    Brian Fourman recently posted..Ain’t Nobody Got Time For ThatMy Profile

    • Absolutely! I actually would be a lifeguard again if it paid more than minimum wage. Something about carrying around that whistle…..

  2. I’ve held several crappy jobs in my life, although I was never held up at gunpoint or otherwise.

    Most of my learning experiences come from dealing with insane bosses or just outright rude and inconsiderate customers. I did learn a couple of things.

    1)I loathe working in customer service.

    2) If things start looking bad, there’s no point in hanging in there, they aren’t going to get better. An abusive boss isn’t going to wake up one day and realize the error of his ways. So start planning your exit.
    My Financial Independence Journey recently posted..Norfolk Southern (NSC) Dividend Stock AnalysisMy Profile

    • Good points. Some people burn out and just stay there until they are shells of who they used to be. The smart ones start looking for a way out.

  3. I worked at Pizza Hut which I guess would fit under this categorization :) I learned a lot (wrote a whole post on it!) and I look back at it with fond memories. I suppose if I had to work there forever, though, I would dislike it more and more each year. Working at a tough job for low wages can cause burnout quick.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..Why Twitter Follower Count is PointlessMy Profile

    • I loved your Pizza Hut post. It’s one thing to do a crap job for lots of money. Look at all the people who go to North Dakota to work in the oil fields. When it is crap and the pay is crap, that’s why there is so much turnover and the good ones, like your supervisor at Pizza Hut, move on pretty quickly or you end up hiring high school or college kids.

  4. I have had many crappy jobs. The worst ones were definitely when I cleaned houses and when I was a waitress. Food service is the worst job on the planet!

    I definitely learned from them. I learned that I didn’t want to do those jobs anymore and that I needed to get my act together =)
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Juicing Vegetables: My Unfrugal ObsessionMy Profile

    • Crappy jobs are wonderful for showing you what you don’t want to do. It’s sad that so many people get stuck in them or aren’t willing to get their act together to do something else.

  5. I’ve never been robbed at gun point before, but working where I am working now is pretty crappy. The pay is great, but I don’t like the work or many of the people :(

    As soon as our house is paid off I am moving to consulting so I don’t have to put up with the politics of the place.

    At least having this crappy job will help me appreciate other ones when I finally leave.
    Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..Financial Plans to Make Before MarriageMy Profile

  6. Excellent post Kim! I worked at a convenience store myself my last few years in high school on in to college. I learned I hated hair nets as well, but I can make a mean sandwich! ;) I quickly learned that I HATE the lottery as I saw so many people just throw their money away on it.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Taking the Plunge: Budgeting and the EntrepreneurMy Profile

    • I too was amazed at how much money people shelled out for cigarettes and lottery tickets. My Mom is really religious and was convinced I was going to Hell just for selling them to people.

  7. I was pretty lucky in that my jobs in high school and college were pretty good. I worked for a family member at a store they owned, which was a lot better than flipping burgers, then during college I had a variety of jobs including computer lab rat and Resident Advisor. That was actually ‘really’ a crappy job at times, come to think of it, based on some situations that a couple of immature freshman created in the bathroom. But I’ll leave it at that :)
    Money Beagle recently posted..Today Is The Day To Stop Making ExcusesMy Profile

    • I think RA’s have a really tough job. Trying to tell a bunch of kids who are of legal age to behave doesn’t always work out.

  8. Love the positive attitude that resonates throughout this post! I’ve had many of the same jobs. But I have to say my waitress jobs were some of the most valuable, as they taught me how to truly serve others. Except for maybe the one at the local college town bar – that taught me how to throw a good left hook :-).
    Laurie recently posted..Motivation: Learning From OthersMy Profile

  9. Great stories. I’ve had my fair share of crappy jobs before. Worked in fast food before and it was pretty awful.
    Brett @ wstreetstocks recently posted..SSRX: A Promising Biotech StockMy Profile

    • My Dairy Queen experience only lasted a few weeks. It was worse than any of the ones I listed. I smelled like grease all the time.

      • I am crying I’m laughing so hard – these crappy jobs are hysterical and I think I’ve done just about every one of them. I, however, loved my Dairy Queen job – they actually made us attend a class to learn how to make that little swirl on the sundaes and ice cream cones! Our son finally quit his Pizza Hut job after he delivered $19.95 worth of food to a million dollar plus home and the guy gave him a twenty and told him to keep the change.

  10. Never been held at gun point. I’ve technically only had two jobs in my life (unless you count nannying and babysitting when I was younger than 16, netted me a lot of money though), the one I have now and the retail management job I had. I HATED the retail job, customers can be evil.
    Michelle recently posted..What Does a Virtual Assistant Do?My Profile

    • I still run across the occasional devil in disguise now. They are usually more rude to my staff, but there are a few that make me want to poke something sharp into their eyes.

  11. Ha, yeah, it’s crazy all the jobs we take on when we’re younger. And some of them are really crappy. My job at UPS taught me that those UPS drivers work freaking hard and deal with a lot of crap, and get underpaid and overbooked with packages to deliver. It sucked. I’m always nice to our UPS driver becuase I know how much it sucks!
    Tb at BlueCollarWorkman recently posted..Snowplow Proofing Your MailboxMy Profile

    • I know several career UPS drivers and they all have neck, back, and shoulder problems. I’ve always said a UPS driver in December has to be the worst job on the planet.

  12. I don’t think I’ve ever had a truly crappy job – though the oddest one that I ever had was being the Easter Bunny in the mall that kids take pictures with. It wasn’t fabulous, but the money was great for a 16-year-old!
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..He Said She Said: A Team of ProfessionalsMy Profile

    • I would love to see a picture of that. One job I left out was a librarian assistant. I had to do lots of silly stuff for the summer reading program. Hula dancing in a grass skirt is not a talent I could list on my resume.

  13. Oh man, I’ve had such a variety of side gigs, part-time jobs, etc. over the years! It’s almost comical to revisit the list–I love how you’ve done that here (I also saw J$’s post a little while ago where he did same) because it’s always fun to see how much progress someone has made.
    The Happy Homeowner recently posted..Personal Finance and Lance Armstrong: What You Can Learn from Lance’s Fall from GraceMy Profile

    • What you’re saying making wash care labels isn’t the dream to aspire toward? LOL! There actually was a guy who did that full time, 40 hours a week. I wonder what happened to him when the plant closed up and moved to Mexico.

  14. Definitely never been robbed! Yikes. A friend in high school had that happen at his parent’s jewelry store. We lived in a very nice suburb and it was a shock for everyone, especially so for the family!
    I learned so much about motivating people and how to treat staff from two polar opposite food service jobs that I held. I also spent a summer working with minimum wage (or darn close to it) lifers and that was extremely interesting from a psychological and social perspective. Things like “I don’t believe in doctors,” were stated. Remember that they’re free here and it’s not like this person was into alternative medicine in any way. Fascinating insights, working there. Lots of details about welfare that I knew nothing about, too.
    Anne @ Unique Gifter recently posted..Malibu Mail – Random Acts of KindnessMy Profile

    • Sometimes you certainly learn more from your coworkers that from the job itself. I worked with lots of single moms in some of those crap jobs. Talk about barely getting by. Lesson learned was to always use birth control until you really are ready to have a kid!

  15. Just like bad relationships, you learn more from the ones that didn’t pan out than the ones that did. And, no, I’ve never been robbed at anything-point, but holy majoly that sounds scary.
    Kathleen, Frugal Portland recently posted..What’s the best way to make money on the internet?My Profile

    • It actually happened so fast it was one of those things you aren’t afraid until it’s already over. I was helping a customer and the lady who was at the register was the one who had to get the money out and put it in the guy’s bag. Funny thing was after he left, we were trying to clear out customers because we didn’t know if he was still in the store or not. This one lady refused to leave until she got her glasses. I guess she must have been really blurry or not afraid of guns.

  16. My crappy job was working at a daycare during the summers and winter breaks when I was a junior and a senior in high school. Barely got paid anything, and parents sent their kids to daycare even when they were super sick and should be at home. I can’t count the number of times I got sick. I realized that although I love kids, this was a job that wasn’t for me :)
    Mackenzie recently posted..So, I Knew This Girl…My Profile

    • People who take care of our children and elderly parents, the most important people, get paid the least of most jobs. Ironic, isn’t it?

  17. So that is where the hairnet trauma comes from! You certainly have a wide variety of experience. How sad about the swimming pool kids. What I have learned is mostly that any job is good and has some positive in it. My favorite job was at McD because my team was awesome. Another job was tedious but sent me traveling all over Europe. And having a job since high school teaches the value of money.
    Pauline recently posted..13 money resolutions for 2013: #12 make a plan!My Profile

    • Yes it does. You are much less likely to spend money if you earn it yourself. I think all high school kids should have some sort of a part time job. Not working until 2AM every night, but enough of one to learn about money.

  18. My crappy jobs were either fun, informative, or led me to blogging so I appreciate them all too. Working at the on-campus games room taught me how to deal with absolutely anybody…and we had a good time. Tax office receptionist taught me professionalism. And my crap job for the 6 years after I graduated led me to find blogging and motivated me to start my own business. Crap jobs for the win, lol.
    Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter recently posted..Are You Financially Ready For Kids?My Profile

    • I love crap jobs that make people find out what they really want to do. It would be sad to stay in one forever, and I think lots of people do.

  19. I had my share of crappy jobs as summer jobs! I was a door to door salesman, a ceramic sprayer in a bathroom accessory (manufacturing) company, mail clerk for a corporate office (NYC) and a summer camp handyman. I learned a lot from those jobs about people and it motivated me much more when I had my first professional job.
    krantcents recently posted..I Will Never Retire!My Profile

    • Wow, I bet door to door salesman is tough. I’ve done door to door for political campaigns. They either want to talk your head off or run you off the property.

  20. I think I’m missing out: I haven’t been robbed at gunpoint.

    The fact that you learned so much from these crappy jobs is awesome. Life experiences are so valuable, I hate it when people can’t find the nugget of wisdom in something as small as the snow cone operation.

    You ever see Arrested Development? Your snow cone story made me think of the line: “There’s money in that banana stand.”
    AverageJoe recently posted..College Planning Strategy: A Creative (and Effective) OptionMy Profile

    • I have not seen Arrested Development, but it should go on my Netflix list. I’m sure you could find some shady pawn shops to hang out in if you want to try the gunpoint experience, but it is highly over rated.

  21. Can’t say that I’ve ever been robbed. I haven’t had that many crappy jobs either. Actually, I can’t say that I’ve had many jobs, period. I worked at McDonalds in high school, in the Dean’s Office in college, at OfficeMax for a few years, in banking, and accounting the past 13 years. I wouldn’t classify any of them as crappy since I either learned something or met people who had an impact on me is some way. Guess I’m lucky that way.

    I do have to disagree about the customer always being right. Even when I was younger and in retail, I never practiced that mantra. To me, credibility and self respect are worth more so I could never kiss anyone’s ass or do anything out of the ordinary just because they were the customer and I was a “worker”. I tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear and if they don’t like it, I’m sorry but it’s too damn bad! And yes, I do get some people who bitch, but when I explain that coddling or sucking up to them won’t accomplish anything they are more appreciative.
    Eric J. Nisall – DollarVersity recently posted..Identity Theft Prevention Just Takes A Little EffortMy Profile

    • In a small town, I’ve learned it’s better to eat some crow than have the person bad mouthing you to everyone. Although I have fired a few patients. I just tell them I can’t help them anymore and gave them a refund and copy of their records to go elsewhere. I’ve also found that it is harder for rude people to be rude when you keep giving them positive answers. When you dig deep down most people who yell at receptionists or cashiers are mad about something in their life that they can’t or won’t change, (divorce, debt, kid’s in jail) so they compensate by yelling at people for minor things. I just try to never get negative back. It puts me on their level if I do.

  22. My husband was for a while bussing tables while sorting out his visa. Horrible, low paid (tips left over from the waiters) and completely inflexible (he couldn’t make it one weekend and got fired for it).
    I can’t complain from my odd jobs though – translator for a magazine, tutor, teaching assistant, mystery shopper – I guess they taught me that flexibility is valuable even if you need to trade off other things.

  23. When I worked at 7-11 I learned that nobody should ever put me in a job which involves counting cash.

    I also worked at a clothing factory once. I sewed the tags into the collars of polo shirts. They also made American flags there and I wound up gluing finials onto dowel rods for a year after they lost the polo shirt contract.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Paper Boy?My Profile

  24. Wow, you’ve done a number of interesting jobs. I worked as a cashier most of my teenage years and for a short while during college. The one cashier job that I didn’t like was for a large grocery store. Grocery theft was important to watch out for of course, but they had secret shoppers go through out checkouts and try to steal stuff while checking out and it was our job to stop them. I followed one guy to the door because he wouldn’t stop because he was angry with me for blowing his cover. It doesn’t sound crappy but it was at the time.
    Tackling Our Debt recently posted..Fun, Easy Ways to Teach Your Children About Money – InterviewMy Profile

  25. My first crappy job was when I was in the 6th grade sweeping the shop for my dad at $3 an hour. That don’t sound like much but to a six grader it was more money than I had ever imagined.

  26. I like it – the silver lining to every crappy job! :) I haven’t liked all of my past jobs, but I can say I learned a valuable skill at each one that I was able to apply to something later on. For instance, I learned to solicit business vendors for my consignment sale. Now that’s coming in handy as I try to find corporate sponsors for a local nonprofit.
    Lena @ WhatMommyDoes recently posted..Spring Playdate Ideas for 2- to 5-Year-OldsMy Profile

  27. One thing that I learned is that I am a horrible waitress!! :) I have had my fair share of crappy jobs but working them helps you to appreciate having a good one. I don’t any job will ever be perfect but there is always some sort of skill you can take from it.

  28. One of the crappiest jobs I ever held was in University as a dishwasher on the weekends. I hated that job as it was messy and I couldn’t wait to clean up the pit so it was organized and clean. I took away a responsibility from that job that I never thought I would. I realized that keeping an organized space meant that I could get the job done quicker and in an efficient manner. I keep my office neat, organized and I work much faster now. I can look back and say, I learned something from a crappy job but when we can do that we realize it wasn’t so crappy after all.
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted..Why Has My House Not Sold?My Profile

    • Dishwashers have to be the lowest end of the totem pole in food service. Cleaning other people’s leftovers would certainly be crappy in my book.

  29. How scary to be robbed! One of the crappiest jobs I ever had was working as a trailer editor. I thought I had “made it” as an editor…what could be better?!? But the hours were awful and the people I worked with were so Hollywood. I felt so out of place, and there was one producer that made mine, and everyone else’s life miserable. I learned so many things. That you don’t have to treat people like crap to get ahead. That if your gut tells you the job is terrible, get out. That material things don’t impress me. And that if I ever wanted to like movies again I probably couldn’t be a movie trailer editor.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..Dream TechnologyMy Profile

  30. I dont think I ever had a truly crappy job. The jobs I had during college were all teaching assistant, research assistant or resident advisor. After college, my jobs were not great, I had a horrible commute in my last job, but I did enjoy the job itself.

    Getting robbed on a gun point, wow, scary stuff!
    Suba recently posted..Make more money: 9 reasons why you are NOT earning more moneyMy Profile

  31. I worked as a clerk selling women’s shoes at a local department store. The manager kept pointing out ugly, deformed feet to me all the time and telling me not to wear heels. Approaching 60 now and still don’t wear heels!

    • Feet really weird me out. I don’t think I could ever sell shoes, but my husband did do that for a while at JC Penney and hated it.

  32. I only learned one thing from the crappy jobs I had. Stay in school and work hard so I don’t have work any more crappy jobs. Interestingly, it was the people that I worked with that told me to work hard at school because they wish they could go back and do it all over again.
    Kyle @ Rather-Be-Shopping.com recently posted..Frugal Hack #5: Abandon Your Virtual Shopping Cart & Score a DealMy Profile

  33. Two of my favorite jobs growing up were working at McDonlads and Life Guard. Even though they were not very high paid, can’t beat free food, stress free and I enjoyed whistling down girls :)
    Eddie recently posted..Thought You Should Know: Google Owns Your Online IdentityMy Profile

  34. So true on crappy jobs.

    My worst was waking up at 5:30am to open McDonald’s at 6am for $3.25 an hour. I knew then in high school that I didn’t want to be poor, so I studied like CRAZY to give myself a chance to go to a good school and get a better job.

    Fear of poverty drove me.
    Financial Samurai recently posted..CD Investment Alternatives: Why I’m No Longer Investing In CDsMy Profile

    • I also knew my brain was the only way out of my small town. Thankfully, I got scholarships or I could have ended up making wash/care labels for life. Although, I’d be out of a job now because the factory moved to Mexico.

  35. It is so true that everything we had once upon a time been in has a message or a great story for us later in life! Thanks for writing a ticket for a trip down memory lane :-) Never been robbed but did have a woman with a “concealed” weapon (i.e. thin purse) start to wave it around when she couldn’t get the booth she wanted at the bar. Another painful job I had was filling out forms for a law firm that had jumped on a class action settlement against a diet drug. Each “victim” had a story worse than the one before and the pictures were horrible. I have never touched an artificial diet after that. We all worked tons of hours and holidays since the firm promised a summer clerking position to the person who processed the most files. Come summer, they didn’t hire any of us. But the lawyer got a bonus for having everything done early. grrrrrr

  36. I had many of the same jobs… I applied at Earth Shoe in MA, back when they made shoes in the USA. Ice cream shop at 14. Lawn mowing, hay bailing, selling worms for bait, catching gophers for a bounty, pumped gas, lots of restaurant work, all kinds of stuff.

    The stuff you do to make money is interesting. But I have never been robbed at gun point. Next time, grab the gun and take it away.
    No Nonsense Landlord recently posted..The Costs of a Real Estate EducationMy Profile

    • Catching gophers? That just might top the list of crappy jobs! I’d let the thief take the money any day. I am no hero!

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