4 Important Money Lessons We Learned While Working for Minimum Wage

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Five Guys Burgers and Fries location in the Metrotech Center in the New York borough of Brooklyn
Alamy
I'd say there's a good chance I inadvertently messed up a few orders at my first minimum-wage job. I was a freshman in college, still learning the basics of burger-grilling as the resident grill cook at an on-campus restaurant. On my first day at work -- much to my horror -- half-eaten burgers started trickling back in to the kitchen, completely raw in the middle. So I improvised by nuking each burger in the microwave before sending it back out.

Though that was possibly -- OK, definitely -- not the best solution, the lesson was still learned: Sometimes things don't go as planned, and you've got to improvise rather than huddle in a corner in the fetal position.

But that's not all I learned while making minimum wage. The jobs that paid me the least are also the ones that taught me some priceless financial lessons.

1. Track Your Spending

Two things I'm bad at in life are multitasking and math -- both essential skills for a cashier. Just my luck, when Johnny and I were servers at a Mexican restaurant during our first year of marriage, we had to take shifts cashiering -- all while making $5.85 an hour. At the end of the shift, we'd count every cent in the money drawer and pray to the accounting gods that it matched what was in the computer. We won't talk about the time I was off by $50, but we will say that we use similar skills to track every cent we spend today. At the end of every month, we put our tracking skills to the test and balance our budget.

2. Know the Difference Between Wants and Needs

Not all of my minimum-wage lessons were learned on the job. When Johnny and I were living on minimum wage, we couldn't afford many extras. In some ways, Johnny considers that a blessing, since our furniture wasn't littered with all the unnecessary pillows it is today. But our tight budget also helped us learn what we could live without. We didn't have smartphones or cable, we shared one (barely functional) car, and we limited our Christmas spending on each other to $50. Because we learned then how to live on a tight budget, we're able to keep our spending minimal today, while maximizing opportunities for saving and investing.

3. Make Your Money Go Farther by Reducing Waste

Johnny and I both worked multiple stints in the food industry, where it was essential to minimize waste. Johnny worked at Jamba Juice his freshman year of college. He was charged with the task of rotating ingredients -- putting the old in the front, and the new in the back.
To this day, he rotates our own items in our fridge after every grocery trip. The old milk comes to the front, as do the eggs, sodas and bread. On top of that, we write out each and every needed item before each grocery trip and plan our meals two weeks in advance -- all in the name of avoiding unnecessary spending. (Jamba Juice, this is all your fault.)

4. Stick With It, Even When It's Hard

I loathed flipping hamburgers. Before that job, I'd always just quit if I hated something. But I couldn't quit because I really needed the extra dough. And I doubt Johnny enjoyed walking around on sticky floors all day at Jamba Juice or regularly stepping in manure when he painted fences one summer. But we stuck to it (no pun intended), and we're better off because of that. Similarly, we find ourselves sticking with our budget even when we kind of hate it, because we know it's what we should be doing.

Admittedly, my burger-flipping skills have since gotten rusty. But I hope someday my children develop some burger-flipping skills of their own. Because alongside learning to hate hairnets, they'll also learn some unforgettable financial life lessons.

Joanna and Johnny are the writing duo behind OurFreakingBudget.com, a personal finance blog documenting the joys, pains and realities of living on a budget. Here are a few popular posts from their blog:

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rogerstark325

my Aunty Charlotte just got a nearly new silver Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible by working part time online from home... best site Bar29.COM

November 25 2013 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
aniconn

These is a good way to live even if you are making more than minimum wage.

November 25 2013 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hsstempe

the only lesson NEEDED LEARNING HERE IS EASY - minimum wage IS NOT ENOUGH! OH BY THE WAY, feed yourself lst.

November 25 2013 at 10:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
toosmart4u

If you are on social security and medicare thank a democrat, if you want to end these 2 fine programs vote republican. For that is how they voted when these 2 bills were on the floor. In a few years Obamacare will be there too.

November 25 2013 at 7:03 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to toosmart4u's comment
willypfistergash

Obamacare will ne where, insolvent like SS and medicare? If you lost your health insurance and your doctor due to obamacare, thank a democrat. Not a single Republican voted for that POS.

November 25 2013 at 9:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to willypfistergash's comment
mac2jr

Actually, the Republicans wrote some 200 portions of the Bill, voted for the original Bill in mass, then passed nearly a 1,000 pages of modification they added, then did not vote for the Bill...

Truth really hurts Republicans, doesn't it...?

November 25 2013 at 10:10 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down
betty_brock

Malarkey, mac and cheese.

November 25 2013 at 10:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
jrb359

If you are being decieved, lied to, or are paying high taxes and watching the money being wasted be sure to thank a Democrat!

November 25 2013 at 9:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jrb359's comment
betty_brock

So true.

November 25 2013 at 10:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
Sales Energy

you Know they shoyld teach this in school but they don't ,it took mr yr's to learn what Want In need's were . I still have the same P.C Fread flint Stone have me in as for my cell lol lol wel let's just say it's very old .
My car run's great in it has over 230,000 Mile's on it BuTT it's mind.
I just wish I learnd how to conserve many yr's ago

November 24 2013 at 8:20 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
crimeslawyer

Mature adults still working for minimum wage are losers. Don't feel sorry for you.

November 24 2013 at 1:56 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to crimeslawyer's comment
laptop603

What we learned from working minimum wage is that it's good to outwork your peers and move up to not make minimum wage. We also learned we need an education to prevent us from working minimum wage.

November 24 2013 at 1:47 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
eye.feltersnatch

OBAMIT ECONOMY="BENGHAZI"~"SPYING"~"BENGHAZI"~"SPYING"

November 24 2013 at 9:53 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to eye.feltersnatch's comment
mac2jr

Economy="Iraq war"~"Afghan war"~"trillions borrowed from Asia"~"Medicare part D"~"unfunded mandates"~"100,000 corporations fleeing America"~"8,400 American dead"~"900,000 Americans in VA care"~"34,800 American Families stripped of their wage earners"~"40,000,000 out of work"~"54,000,000 seniors ignored"~"47,000,000 without health care insurance"~"inner cities abandoned by the Corporations"~"Stock market crash worse since 1929" ~ etc., all under the three George W. Bush administrations.

Now that is an eye.opener.to.you

November 24 2013 at 10:06 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mac2jr's comment
mac2jr

You people are in total denial of the destruction caused by Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II... unreal..

November 24 2013 at 3:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
eye.feltersnatch

IS THAT THE" 4.9" UNEMPLOYMENT RATE FOR HIS 8 YEARS AS "PRESIDENT" BUSH WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THAT BOMBED THE "HELL" OUT OF THE MUSLIM TERRORISTS THAT BOMBED AMERICA FIRST ?????~~~~>OBAMIT=~>31% APPROVAL RATING=DISGRACE

November 24 2013 at 10:52 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

I've done everything from food service to building Space Shuttle parts.
Each occupation had advantages and dis-advantages. There were some beautiful things about the "loathsome" jobs. To start with I didn't need a union or seniority - there wasn't a line of people nipping at my heels to get my job, so it was low stress. I always worked for good people that wanted to pay me more, but couldn't.
If you buy solutions to everything, you'll always be broke.

November 24 2013 at 5:43 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to alfredschrader's comment
eye.feltersnatch

ABOLISH THIS MUSLIM CLOWNS UNCONSTITUTIONAL "WELFARE "HELL" CARE NOWWWW. !!!!

November 24 2013 at 9:28 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to eye.feltersnatch's comment
hynotman

Or... just keep smoking crack - doing what you know best!

November 24 2013 at 9:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
mac2jr

I too followed your career path, from a 75-cent job in the fields picking mustard weeds, to working on the moon and mars shots. And you are very correct, the best times were during the lower paying jobs where stress (which finally caused a heart attack) was minimal..

Totally agree with you on this.

November 24 2013 at 9:42 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
nvisiblegypsys

started work at 14 tossing hay-bales from a flatbed trailer into a barn loft for $250 per month.
eventually started working for a precious metals foundry for $5 per hour.
through hard work, loyalty, and realizing that i'm ENTITLED to NOTHING, now 29 yrs later I have one of the best paying jobs in my county, with the same foundry.
you CAN advance and improve your own working life situation, but you have to be willing to WORK, at work...not stay on your cellphone, play w/your handheld gameboys, overstay your breaks, and do absolutely as little as you can get away with.
the world owes us NOTHING, neither does our govt.
this is falling on deaf ears though, as now we've become a nation of self important, self entitled leeches.
thanks Dr.Spock ! you were WRONG.....we're not all "special"............

November 24 2013 at 3:47 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nvisiblegypsys's comment
mac2jr

We have paid our taxes and for our entitlements, and we do expect our government to do something in return.. We are all Special, but in our ways, and even the worst among us has something to contribute.

As for the 'Government' - WE ARE the Government; we are the people that elect the people, we have a says via all sorts of media, and we have the power to fire those we elected if they screw up..

November 24 2013 at 9:46 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply