Paid work is usually a good thing for your finances, even with low-paying positions. You go somewhere, clock in, clock out, and a receive a paycheck. It’s then up to you to apply that income in a productive way. However, some jobs encourage you to spend your hard-earned money, before you ever receive your paycheck. I’m still reminded of how one of my part-time jobs, from over ten years ago, may have done more harm than good.
I had a pretty painful day at work the other day. It was more than the typical tedium of another day spent commuting to the beige walls of my prison cell. The underwire of my bra was impaling me under my arm. It had broken through the fabric. Once I finally escaped from the newly-tortuous device that night, it occurred to me that this was a fairly dire development in my wardrobe situation. In our quest to pay off debt, I have vowed to go as long as possible without buying any new clothes. I have purchased almost no new clothing for more than three years. The broken bra was a basic, nude-colored one. It was a wardrobe staple. I may be able to repair it. However, for a brief moment, I found myself thinking about going shopping to replace it . . . at Victoria’s Secret.
I worked at Victoria’s Secret for several years during undergraduate school. It was a part-time job that I used to earn “spending money.” Thinking back on that time, I can’t help but get a little upset at myself. I traded my time for money, and those paychecks were often spent long before payday.
Back then, the employee perks seemed like a nice way for the company to take care of their employees. You received a discount on purchases at Victoria’s Secret, as well as other chains owned by the same company (ex. Express and The Limited). I believe it was 30% off any regular-priced item. And then, there was the Semi-Annual Sale. You can get such “great deals” on everything in the store. Employees would always get first dibs. In organizing boxes and boxes of merchandise, you were able to set aside anything that caught your eye. Of course, the employee discount did not apply to these purchases. Finally, every so often, when they released a new line, we would receive a totally free bra or pair of underwear.
I can actually remember telling Mr. Smith that I would have enough bras and panties to “last a lifetime.” But I bought a lot of other stuff too. Victoria’s Secret carries lots of comfortable clothing and expensive bath products. I even have a glitter brush for any special occasions calling for sparkles. I ended up buying a lot of VS crap. And, regular trips to the mall caused even more trouble. I had breaks to wander around and to frequently walk by the windows with the trendiest new clothing on display. Even visits to the food court added up quickly.
The coup de grâce came thanks to a Victoria’s Secret credit card. Signing customers up for store credit cards was one of our job responsibilities. There were incentives for the employee who had the most sign-ups for the day. It wasn’t that hard to get customers to fall for the pitch. The card came with a “rewards book” (which is really just coupons for discounts on later purchases) and some type of branded merchandise. But you can only give the spiel so many times, before you start believing it. I soon found myself with my very own Victoria’s Secret credit card. The interest rate was horrible, and although my credit limit was only a few hundred dollars, it was almost always maxed out.
I parted ways with the company a long time ago, but still have drawers full of merchandise. There are things that still get used, but there are other items, like the glitter brush or my velour track suit, that just serve as a reminder of hard-earned money that was wasted on brand-name stuff. I try not to be too hard on myself, because we’ve learned the error of our ways and are working hard to fix our finances. But it’s hard to totally disregard the opportunity costs of all that spending.
My experience serves as a real-life example of why so many people find it hard “to get ahead.” Even at a fast food job, if you’re buying a meal or two every time you work, it will seriously cut into your profit margin. The only way to fix financial problems is by being more deliberate about spending. Think about what you’re doing, instead of just spending out of convenience or because all of your coworkers are buying something. You can do better than that!
Ultimately, it’s hard to say whether the costs of that part-time job outweighed the benefits, because it’s not like we budgeted or tracked anything money-related back then. I can tell you one thing for sure: I will not be returning to the mall any time soon.