Seven-year-old me loved when adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had my answer ready: the sixth Spice Girl.
Obviously, that didn’t happen.
I did, however, become a lot of other things: pizza girl, mall employee, office assistant, resident assistant, tour guide leader, unpaid intern and, finally, professional writer and editor.
In the years since I started my first job at 16, I’ve held a lot of different titles—which is why I wasn’t surprised to learn that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most young workers hold an average of 6.3 jobs between the ages of 18 and 25.
Like many of my peers, I spent my fair share of summers and weekends slaving away at part-time jobs long before I ever landed a full-time gig. Looking back, it’s clear to me that these five positions (however small) helped prepare me for my current career and life as a financially independent adult.
1. Food Service
One week after I turned 16, I donned a blue polo shirt and joined my older brother at the local Domino’s Pizza. He showed me the ropes, and before long I was taking orders, addressing complaints from unhappy customers, organizing delivery bags for drivers and even tossing dough like a pro. Best of all: I had access to free pizza. So what if it had gone cold by the end of the night?
Despite the freebies, the job was by no means glamorous. I came home covered with cornmeal and pizza sauce. The pay wasn’t great (just above minimum wage), but the modest checks that I picked up every two weeks made me a more conscientious consumer. For the first time, I knew what it felt like to make and spend my own money. But the biggest change in my money habits came in the form of tipping anyone and everyone who had a hand in my food service—especially pizza delivery drivers.
2. Public Service
For four summers, I worked in the public records office at my local sheriff’s office. It was a solid gig for a new high school graduate: I didn’t have to come home smelling like pepperoni, all of my weekends (and evenings!) were free, and, best of all, the pay was better.
As I learned to handle the slight bump in my monthly budget, I also had a chance to play witness to the minutiae of how the outcomes of annual budget meetings affected the lives of others—and it wasn’t always pretty. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office is the sixth-largest employer in my Florida hometown. When rumors about budget meetings circulated at the water cooler, it wasn’t just my pay that was on the line. Neighbors, friends’ parents and my own mother worked there too.
When the recession hit, hiring freezes were implemented. Raises stopped. In 2011, salaries were cut by 3%. Despite the tense financial atmosphere, I was amazed at how the CCSO employees banded together to do the best job they could with the limited resources available to them. My summers in the records office taught me more about how spending works on a broad level—and how it affects my everyday life—than any government class ever could.