What Working At Walmart Taught Me

walmartIf you’ve been following my blog I’ve written about how I grew up in government housing and my mistakes with my finances when I finished college. During college my mother had moved to Texas for a year due to the high cost of living in Hawaii. I joined her in the summer and got a job as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant. I would go into work at 10am, work until 2pm and stay at the restaurant for “rest” between 2 to 4pm. I would then work again from 4 to 10pm five days a week, for that I would earn $2.10 an hour plus tips. With the tips and the 14 hour work days it averaged out to $8 an hour. It was hard grueling work, the kitchen was manned by all illegal Mexicans except one guy who was legal. I knew this because when the health inspector came around it was only him and the owner cooking, the rest of the crew was absent.

With my determination and strong work ethic I had a plan for the long hours and grueling work.  So I did what any determined American would do, I quit.  Before I quit I had gotten a job at Walmart as a cashier paying $7.25 an hour.  We lived a quarter of a mile from the Walmart and had only one car so I walked to work.  (When I have children and tell them this story the walk to Walmart will become a Lincolnesque 2 mile walk.)  Some of my coworkers who saw me walking would sometimes pick me up, a few of them felt sorry for me that I had to walk to work.

$7.25 an hour at that time was a dollar over minimum wage.  Just showing up on time and not stealing anything put me in the top 15% of cashiers.  The biggest theft at retail isn’t from customers, it’s from the employees who let friends and family steal.  I would often bring lunch from home which baffled my coworkers as they would all eat there.  It didn’t make sense to me that they would spend $10 a meal which was nearly two hours of work. If you worked 8 hours with lunch, snacking, and the driving associated with the job you would net only 5.5 hours of pay once you paid that all out.

Working at a nearly minimum wage job meant devoting your entire life to it.  My schedule was made weekly, so I didn’t know what shifts or time I would be working .  I would often work 39 hours on various days so they wouldn’t have to pay me benefits, although when they were short I would sometimes get 60 hours.    Since I was in college couldn’t care less about health insurance, but for others they had to get several part time jobs to survive.  Here’s  some of the sad truth:  Someone in their 40s who makes minimum wage there is a reason why they make that.  Often not the smartest person and even simple tasks like scanning was a struggle.

There were two girls I would try to flirt with.  One was receptive, but since our schedules didn’t match up we couldn’t hang out.  Plus I was always physically tired so I wouldn’t even know what to do ( I don’t know how some guys can do the unhook the bra with one hand, that takes talent)  The other told me to ask her out only after I finished college and got a “real” job because I was actually worse off than anyone there because I had negative net worth with my student loans.  She was right,  if I dropped out of college with my at the time $18,000 in student loans I would be worse off than the average Walmart employee.  I couldn’t find love in Walmart.

Some of my young coworkers were going to college, while most had no plan.  They were actually more concerned about getting a new car, rims or saving to go on a nice vacation.  That summer I had never worked so hard in my entire life.  I was extremely grateful for that experience, because that reminded me that the world is full of shitty jobs and busting ass as a poor student wasn’t one of them.

I’m blessed that I now make more in a day than I made in an entire week at Walmart. When I need to work 50-60 hours a week at my job I remember that it’s more rewarding than working those hours at Walmart.  My experiences there is a major reason why I’ve stayed with my company for 15 years, I’ve come out farther ahead job hopping for higher pay.  With tenure and demonstrating my value I’ve been fortunate never to have been laid off, something that could’ve happen if I job hopped.    If it wasn’t for my Walmart job experience I most likely would slack off and take my job for granted, or worse constantly complain about my job.  My colleagues think they have stress, stress is trying to live on $7.25 an hour.

What job shaped your work experience or define you? How exactly does someone find love in Walmart?


  1. I tell this exact scenario to my brother every single time he bitches about his job.

    He seems to have forgotten how nasty it was to work at minimum wage, let alone temp jobs at a fairly decent rate, and now whines about how he doesn’t make enough money.

    I mean .. it’s the reason why we even worked minimum wage jobs as kids in the first place — so that we were motivated to study hard, stay in school and to NOT end up having that as our only choice.
    save. spend. splurge. recently posted…Investing Series: Should you sign up with TD Canada Trust E-Series Funds or go with Questrade and Vanguard or iShares ETFs?My Profile

    • I believe everyone should work a minimum wage job as a good motivator. Unfortunately some of the younger generation has never had one and expect high salaries.

  2. Great story, Charles. My defining work experience came from deciding to drop out of college and move to California to follow a girl. No job lined up, no money, no car: just left. I was on my own! Yay!

    Realizing I’d need money to live, I walked across the street and got a job as an administrative assistant at the Red Cross. 40 hours a week, but low hourly pay ($9/hour, I think, in 1999). In the same parking lot was a Hollywood video, and I got a 2nd job to work their in the evenings. That paid worse, but I needed the money. After a few months of this routine, I was worn down to a nub without a lot of money to show for it, and I decided I needed to finish getting my degree so I wouldn’t be working these kind of jobs forever. I applied for and got a job at the local CSU university and, get this, employees could take classes for free! I busted my ass at that job like you would not believe, and took 12 units at night after work to finish my B.A. Like you, the experience with working a low paying job provided a good lesson.

    These days, I do job hop to chase salary, but I figure there are many roads leading to Rome on that front. Thanks for the post, friend!
    Done by Forty recently posted…Should We Pay Personal Capital to Advise Us?My Profile

    • DBF you’re a computer programmer right? In your industry job hopping benefits you based on the demand for your skills. In my type of sales the grass is not always greener on the other side, I could’ve made more but my tenure would be less.

  3. The sad thing is that not everybody gets it and they don’t understand that these low paying jobs should be temporary and just a proof that you have to study and work hard to get better.

    While I was in college, I was trying to find work and wherever I went they wanted to take me through a “trial” period of one month. After that month ended, they said they need one more month. Being naive, I ended up “trialing” for them, in a horrible environment, for three months before quitting. I had some minor satisfaction when I heard that just a few months after that the radio station went bankrupt, but I also learned that if there’s somebody I can trust, that’s me. The first of two steps that took me to a successful (at least until now) self employed career.
    C. the Romanian recently posted…Cost of Living in Romania & Bucharest in 2014My Profile

  4. Interesting the biggest theft is from employees and the families and friends!

    $7.50 is huge man. That is $3 more an hour I made at McDonald’s! I wasn’t smart enough to operate a cashier.
    Sam recently posted…So You’re Thinking About Quitting Your Job And Traveling Around The WorldMy Profile

  5. Steven lau says:

    Great story. I used to work as a stocker in a warehouse. That was grueling work that paid minimum. I never want to do that kind of job again.

  6. My first “real” job (other than picking raspberries, delivering flyers, babysitting etc) was working at Woolco (a Canadian department store, that ultimately was bought by WalMart). It was the summer I turned 16 and I rode my bike to work every day.
    I ended up working in the small restaurant that was in the back of the store – I learned how to be a short-order cook on the grill and deep fryer, as well as do the occasional round on the cash register and clear tables. I worked for minimum wage, and I worked *hard*. We were literally told that when things were slow, we should “wash walls”.

    My coworkers were
    1) a woman who had worked there for 15 years – she was the manager, and handled all of the ordering etc. She was *not* a happy person.

    2) a woman who was in her late 20′s and who had worked off and on for the past 10 years. She would take time off when she would get pregnant, and would come back when the kid was in daycare/preschool. She had 3 children. She loved the job, and said that it was much better than working “on the floor” – she had previously done a stint in women’s wear.

    3) a woman who had graduated high school 3-4 years earlier, and hadn’t gone on to any college or university. She worked part time at this job and didn’t really like it, but had no aspirations to do anything else

    4) a woman who was in university to get her teaching degree, and was working for the summer to earn money for her next year of school. She took me under her wing a bit, and pointed out that this *shouldn’t* be my career – it was simply a means to an end.

    Up until this time, I had just assumed that after high school I would probably go to university – mostly because my mom expected it, and because I was a good student, and mostly liked school, so more school seemed okay. But this summer of working with this crew, was the best experience for me – it solidified my resolve to go to college so that I could get a better job – ANY better job – than working at Woolco for minimum wage for the rest of my life :)

    Ultimately, I graduated high school, went to university and got my B.Commerce, then did a post-grad diploma program in software programming, and have a career that I couldn’t possibly have predicted, when I was 16 and working at Woolco.

    P.S. – my first summer after I started college, I ended up *back* in the same store, but at this point, WalMart had bought the company, so now I was working at WalMart – and making a buck or so *above* minimum wage – in fact, making *more* than my mother, who was making minimum wage at the time, working for H&R Block that summer.

  7. Charles, I just love reading the stories about your childhood, as they are similar to mine in the ways of struggling, poor, etc. I spent many crappy hours working in fast food, etc., with creepy managers an even creepier patrons in our area of town, and it was definitely a catalyst to find/do something better. Eventually I worked in a sit-down restaurant, waitressing, which led to a job next door as a bookkeeper for an electronics shop. That was huge for me. It was the job that made me realize I didn’t have to put up with the crap jobs if I didn’t want to.
    Laurie@thefrugalfarmer recently posted…Best Personal Finance Articles for the Week Ending 1-18-14My Profile

  8. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It’s just a fact of life that not everyone is cut out to be a professional or a college graduate. I hope that there is no shame in working at Walmart or a similar position for them.

    I dropped out of college for one semester in my junior year. I was unsure as to what I wanted to do and was feeling lost. Apparently, I thought I would find myself by working at Radio Shack. Maybe I could be a store manager and make a career of it. After a few months of helping people find the right sized battery for their cordless phones, I realized that a college degree probably was the best way for me to go. I’m glad I had that experience to help me figure things out.
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  9. Call centre job for a charity was definitely the worst. Most calls I couldn’t get the charity’s full name out before I’d hear the disconnect (didn’t help that the Charity’s name was a mouthfull). To make things worse, if you didn’t hit a minimum number of donations, you’d get sent home early to boot!. Less pay and public shaming. Beat that!.
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  10. I got my first job when I was a young teenager, younger than most of my friends. It was a crappy job that didn’t pay well but I am happy I had it.
    SuburbanFinance recently posted…Saving Thousands From Your Budget Per Year With One Easy Trick!My Profile

  11. I got my first job at age 12. I worked in a kitchen of a Masonic Temple. (The head cook lived across the street from our family.) Looking back, I am not sure how I was able to work this job at my tender age. I earned minimum wage and of course, even got my Social Security card then. It was hard, hard work. Sometimes they had banquets for 1000 people. We had to first set all the tables, pour coffee for the seated guests, then bus all those tables of dirty dishes back to the kitchen. When I was fourteen, I learned to run the dishwasher too. I would work about 4-6 times each month for different events. I quit when I was 16 to get a summer waitressing job.

    After that, at age 17, I found a new job for two years at a small family-owned grocery store. By then, I knew I wanted to get out of any business that involved food and make sure I had a college education, which I did earn. (teaching)

  12. My perspective in life has also changed over the last 15 years (and I’m in my late 20′s). I think life is meant to do that to us. If we let it. I’m (usually) grateful for the knocks I’ve taken and for the things I’ve learned as a result.
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  1. […] ass workers with bad attitudes that think the job is beneath them.  I saw that when I worked at Walmart.  When you apply for a job and get hired you’ve made a commitment, not showing up is not […]

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