Way back in the day I woke up one morning and decided I wanted a job. I was 15 years old, and my father had told me that if I wanted money for the mall or other entertainment categories that I would have to earn it myself. He didn’t mean chores – I was expected to do that anyway. He didn’t mean compensation for good grades at school – I was expected to get those anyway. So in my enthusiasm I put my feelers out and discovered that a friend had secretly been working at a fast food chain for the past two months. I think she was embarrassed to tell anyone, but I embraced it wholeheartedly and took in an application and a CV that had little more than my contact information and my paper route on it.
The hiring and the training took no time at all, and I was soon working four-hour shifts for $7.15 an hour. When my first paycheque came in I couldn’t believe it. I’d gotten approximately $200, and it was all mine! I took my small fortune home (it was actually a cheque – this was way back in the day…) and showed my mom. She is a very wise lady, and knowing I would go spend every cent of it on rather atrocious fashion choices, insisted that I open a high-yield savings account with ING (now Tangerine) and promise that I would save half of every paycheque in it. For a long time I didn’t understand why, but I did it diligently every two weeks.
In my teen years that excitement of earning that money never went away. It was as if I could do anything with it, this little stash that I hoarded with the tenacity of Smaug the dragon from The Hobbit. I felt powerful, and I also felt like I could treat myself and my friends to anything our hearts desired. Suddenly, three years later, I had a savings of $10,000, supplemented by birthday gifts and a higher paying summer job between university semesters. Working at the Golden Arches had allowed me to save well, and I owe a lot of my current situations to it (and of course to my parents for helping me out with it, but this post isn’t about them, no matter how much I love them).
I won’t lie, I hated the actual work in the fast food industry. It’s non-stop and while most customers are fine, there will always be some who are unforgivably rude and even downright mean. One man threw a chicken burger at me because there wasn’t enough mayo on it. Another told me that I would be attractive if I wasn’t so fat (I was 16 at the time, imagine how my confidence felt after that). Yet another tried to steal $10 from my till then yelled at me about what an idiot I was – the till was recounted and it turned out I was in the right, but the guy was absolutely unabashed about the whole bloody incident. Asshole. That being said, now I have skin made of steel – I learned very quickly not to take things to heart, and how to use humour in situations that could make people upset or uncomfortable. Empathy also grew, because someone has to be having a really bad day to take it out on the teen behind the till.
I also became a whiz at mental math, learned a work ethic that has held to this day, and became very aware of how unhealthy foods affected my body. (coming home smelling like French fries after every shift has made me stay away from them for over a decade). My eyes were opened to the possibilities that came with accumulating wealth, and how being financially responsible could make me a wealthy teenager. I lost sight of some of these lessons in my early twenties, but they came roaring back after I had a brush with a bank account with nothing in it for six months. Nowadays I look back over my three years in the service industry and am incredibly grateful for how they shaped me personally and financially. Every young person should be given the opportunity to work hard for something and reap the rewards. It is not glamorous, and it is not easy, but it can help set someone up for a lifetime of good habits and financial comfort.