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A Detailed Look at My Job History Tracing Back to When I Was Thirteen: Part 1

By: Steve Johnson

8/25/2009 - 14 Comments

I started working when I was Thirteen years old and I thought it would be fun to try and remember each job I’ve had and what I learned along the way.

This is Part 1 of an article series which takes a look at what I learned from each job that I have had since I started working at the age of thirteen.

Twenty years ago, it was common for teenagers to work summer jobs and most high school aged students also worked during the school year primarily to pay for their wheels.

What amazes me is how few teenagers get a job before college today.  By the time I was thirteen, I was bored out of my mind at home all summer long.  I remember asking my mother how I could get a job and she jumped at the opportunity to put my busy hands to work.  

High School

1st Job – My first job was actually before high school, at a local auto body shop. It was only about three miles from my home, so I could easily bike to work each day unless it rained then my parents would bring me.  I remember the first day, mom and I walked into the place and asked for a job application. The owner asked how old I was. When I said thirteen he said that he is only suppose to hire kids fifteen and older.  We tried many different local businesses and they all said I needed to be fifteen.  But that didn’t seem to stop my mother.  Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from this experience was that persistence pays off. 

We came back to the auto body shop several times and asked again and again about something that I could help with.  The owner finally said, ok you can start tomorrow.  I got the feeling that he didn’t think I would do anything but get in the way. So I knew I had to prove myself.  He only agreed to let me work if my mother signed a statement that she approved of me working just in case I got hurt and they got sued.  To secure the deal, I also agreed to work for $1/hour – that’s right $1 per hour, even though minimum wage was something like $3.50/hour.  

I remember working as hard as I could, knowing the owner was testing me with the hardest jobs he could think of.  My primary job was to clean up after the auto body workers so they could focus their time working on billable tasks.  My tasks consisted of cleaning the paint guns, cutting up the large cardboard boxes, hand sanding vehicle parts like bumpers and fenders, putting tools away and sweeping.

In the first week I worked 20 hours and I remember the owner giving me a $20 bill out of his wallet. That was a lot of money for a thirteen year old in 1987.  I think my weekly allowance was $1 dollar, so $20 dollars was like my entire summer allowance in one week. The next week I got $2/hour, doubling my wages within one week.  By the end of the next summer I was earning more than minimum wage. I don’t remember for sure, but I think I was earning $4.50 per hour. 

In 1987 the economy was growing but people were still conservative with their spending because of the long recession that lasted into the early 80’s. It wasn’t until the mid 80’s before the economy turned the corner after Paul Volker increased interest rates to put an end of the massive inflation that devastated the economy.

I worked the next two summers and sometimes 10-15 hours per week during the school year after football season at the body shop until I was sixteen.  At the time, I had $4,000 in a bank CD earning something like 12% interest.  That is about $12,000 in today’s dollars. I also used a lot of the money to pay for school clothes and motorized toys, like go-carts, mini-bikes and motorcycles.  Contrast this with today’s teens that are $12,000 in debt on their parent’s credit cards.

In part 2 of this article series, I’m going to continue reminiscing about my childhood jobs and how they molded my financial education.

  • Series Introduction
  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3
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