How Do You Go From Minimum Wage to $80K In A Year? Part 1

After Mrs. PoP’s post on your’s truly working minimum wage, we’ve gotten a couple of questions on how I (Mr. PoP!) went from earning next to nothing in 2010 to the $80K or so I’ve earned in 2011 and 2012.  Hopefully the next two or three posts will be a how-to guide for somebody to have the sort of success I’ve had over the last few years.

The series is going to go something like this:

So first a little background…


Do you want Fries with that?

Socrates never had to flip burgers!

Socrates never had to flip burgers!

In college, I made up my mind to study what I wanted; in my case – Philosophy. I knew there might be consequences to this decision later on, but its worth noting that all of my role models and heros (family member and famous entreprenuers) who had achieved monetary success had done so without the benefit of a college degree. There was lots of joking about having to flip burgers after I graduated, but I knew I was smart, capable of hard work, and could live on ramen for the next few years while I got something going.

When I gave up on buying the business I had my heart set on, it was pretty rough. Over that year I had really fallen in love with the idea, and giving up a dream was tough. To complicate matters, Mrs. Pop and I had gotten married, and we had a new house payment and a kitten to support. Six months into my marriage, I was being supported by my wife and was hanging out at home all day with the cat.  Did I mention this was when the unemployment rate was 12%? Awesome doesn’t begin to describe my level of self confidence.


Fear of Sales

Happily, I am nothing if not determined. I fired up excel and and began to flip through the local listings. Pickings were pretty slim, but I applied (and got rejected) from almost everything. You know those guys that fold the shirts at JC Penny? Yeah, wasn’t qualified for that. Janitor? Ditto. Stock clerk? Nope.

One type of work that frequently came up was commission sales – no experience necessary. Everybody from car dealerships, to Real Estate brokerages, to cell-phone stores needed people who were willing to work on commission.

Why were these roles so difficult to fill? In retrospect, I think there are two reasons. First, I think it was because people, myself included, are scared to work in a position where they are directly rewarded for their performance. Second, when people think sales they think of the slimy used car dealer or, my personal favorite, Alec Baldwin from Glen Garry Glen Ross. Sales seemed scary and dirty; not a good combination.

Here is the stereotype I had in my head:

But at this point, I just needed a job, and quickly. Resume in hand, clean shirt and freshly shaven, I drove down to a local cell-phone shop to apply in person. After a short interview where the manager asked me some basic questions, I was told to show up on Monday of the following week. Success!

Honestly, retail sales was a grind. Long hours in the evenings and weekends, no respect from customers, and scummy co-workers who were constantly trying to scam you for extra sales. However, the upside was huge. I learned that if you are smart and hardworking, you could always find work in front line retail sales, and the money was more than you could get elsewhere. Mrs. PoP and I were running the numbers just now on our nightly walk, and while at the cell-phone store, I was on track to make $45K/year with no previous experience during the worst recession in the past 30 years.


Stock around for more from me (Mr. PoP) in Part 2, where I’ll describe how I jumped into a cushy high-tech sales position at a huge company where I make $80K every year.  But for now, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the WSJ review of “The Art of the Sale,” a book by Delves Broughton.

Mr. Delves Broughton knows that as customers we have all had terrible sales experiences, but he reminds us of an American tradition—stretching from Benjamin Franklin to Sam Walton—that considers sales the great leveler. “It holds that in a properly functioning democracy, no matter the condition of your birth, if you can sell, you can slice through any obstacles of class, status, or upbringing in a way inconceivable in more hidebound societies.” 


So dear reader – would you ever consider working a 100% commission sales job? What if the higher pay brought you closer to Financial Independence?


Click to continue reading to Part 2: Getting “Rescued” and A Professional Sales Environment

48 comments to How Do You Go From Minimum Wage to $80K In A Year? Part 1

  • Congrats on not giving up, and you clearly have a strong marriage to help you. I would never work on commission only, I would rather look for a way to create my own business, with little money down (such as freelancing my skills or tutoring), at least the money earned, if any, would be 100% mine!

    • Mr. PoP

      Thanks Pauline…I am thankful that she didn’t kick me out =)

      I was doing free-lance computer repair during that time, but found that I could earn much more in sales-I would love to own my own business someday!

      • Wouldn’t have kicked him out =) In fact, I think there were days at the time that I had more confidence than Mr. PoP that he would find something when he was scouring the job listings.

  • I don’t think I would be very good at sales and I would be very scared to work for 100% commission but that is just me. It is obviously working out great for you. Great job!

    • Mr. PoP

      Thanks holly-trust me, i was shocked to find that I was good at this stuff! One thing that I’m trying to do with this series is to show people that working on commission has a huge upside, including money and flexibility of time. What would it take to convince you to work commission?

      • I don’t know…but I would probably be good at it actually. I have some serious people skills and I would probably be able to sell a product if I actually believed in it. I wouldn’t be able to sell something that I didn’t think was a good product, though.

  • I had a job offer out of college for a financial advisor postion that was 100% commision, but I turned it down. I am too analytical and not enough of a sales person. I like being behind the scenes.

    • Mr. PoP

      I could have said the same! The type of sales I do now revolves around solving problems…the more problems I solve for my clients, the more I am rewarded…my analytical nature loves this aspect.

  • Great job sticking at it. I could not hack it in a sales role. Much like Sean stated, I am too analytical to be successful in sales. I’d much rather be behind the scenes as opposed to the front line.

  • My bf works in sales and it’s extremely exciting to be in almost complete control of how much you make!

    • Mr. PoP

      It is! And its bringing us closer to our financial goals (FIRE, etc) much more quickly than any other work I could have found.

  • I have been offered sales jobs and turned them down because of all of the above. I was also an actor and didn’t feel like the work load matched the payout, but I’m glad it worked out for you. What a great story!

  • Last week my professor was talking about how different majors do on the GRE (graduate records exam). She said that philosophy majors do the best on it. Here’s a link with a breakdown for proof.
    Sad to say that accounting majors do poorly.
    Philosophy majors also do well on the LSATs so maybe you could go to law school and represent all those “sleezy” salespeople.

    • haha, that’s interesting that philosophy majors do well on the LSATs. I’ve always been told that math people do well on the LSATs – but there’s a lot of overlap in math and philosophy in the area of logic, so perhaps that’s a large part of what increaes scores on the LSATs?

  • I’m excited to hear the rest of the story, but hat’s off for trying something new. I always think that smart, motivated people will find a way to succeed,even if the odds are not in your favor.

    • That’s was totally how Mr. PoP looked at college – he was pretty confident that he was smart and motivated enough to figure things out when he was done, so he may as well spend some quality time studying something he really enjoyed and might never have the chance to get as in depth with – philosophy!

  • You know, it’s funny – I’ve always had a particular hatred for sales, yet that’s basically what I depend on now for 100% of my income as a freelancer. I have to spend time hustling and marketing, which are two things I never thought I would want or have to do. I’ve learned a lot in this first year about selling without selling out, and I’m interested to see how the next year goes. Normally I would go, “SALES? Yuck!” but sometimes it’s necessary.

    • The book that Mr. PoP quoted from at the end of the post is one you might enjoy – his basic premise is that if he can teach one skill to his kids, it’d be how to sell because then he’d know they will always be able to feed and clothe themselves. But since nobody teaches sales, we all grow up thinking it’s awful and sleazy when it doesn’t have to be! You’re probably not sleazy at all with your selling – you’re giving good services to people at prices that they feel are worth it!

  • I actually prefer being compensated based on performance. That’s why I think I like blogging so much, the more work you put in(as long as it’s good) the better results you’ll see. I definitely cannot say the same thing about my day job.

    • Glad to see you’re getting good results from your blogging, Harry – though it doesn’t bode well for your current employers if they don’t get their act together and pay you when you over perform expectations!

  • I think it would be too stressful. I’m too used to doing my days work and then knowing no matter what happens I am going to get paid.

    • It’s definitely a high stress job sometimes, but most days Mr. PoP knows that as long as he’s finding solutions for his clients’ needs, there will be an upside in it for him. He just has to figure out what those needs are.

  • That’s awesome that you’re so good at sales! Also that you were willing to take the risk and it has really paid off for you. I am not as awesome at it, at all. I used to work as an assistant to someone in sales… he lived and breathed it, he just couldn’t turn it off. He was good at it, but it was annoying if you were around all the time.

    • It’s funny because people who have known Mr. PoP for years don’t think of him as a salesperson… and I think of his job more as a solution finder than a sales person. His company has lots of different products that can help a huge variety of customers. His job is figuring out the customers needs and matching them with the right solution so they walk away knowing they got exactly what they needed.

  • […] How Do You Go From Minimum Wage to $80K In A Year? Part 1 at Planting our Pennies […]

  • Very interesting article.

    There have been times in my life when I was tempted to apply for the same type of sales job that you describe, but I never took the plunge.

    I even looked online to see people’s comments on their jobs, and I recall the majority being negative with a few positive ones. The positive one’s took your perspective and focused on the positive aspects of the job, and didn’t let the negative aspect drive them down.

    • Turnover in sales can definitely be high – the book Mr. PoP quoted from talks a lot about how a positive attitude towards sales and challenges will take you very far.
      If I remember correctly, the author actually had stats on turnover rates between groups with similar qualifications at the same sales job, but measured differences in their attitudes. Those with positive attitudes consistently outperformed, and it only served to reinforce the positive attitude… A good cycle to get into. But you’re right, attitude makes a huge difference.

  • […] How Do You Go From Minimum Wage to $80K In A Year? Part 1 […]

  • That must have been a great feeling when you found out you were awesome in sales. I have been in sales briefly and have found out I’m not very good at it. I found it hard convincing people to part with their money even though I believed in the product/service. Part of it may have to do that I’m quite introverted and not a people person. 😛

    • It’s so weird that people think the introverted thing is a show stopper. We are both incredibly introverted – but that hasn’t impeded Mr. PoP’s success at all. In fact, it might be part of his strengths. He’s really good at listening to his clients and figuring out what they need rather than trying to dominate the conversation and tell them what they should want.

  • […] How Do You Go From Minimum Wage to $80k In a Year Part 1 | Mr. PoP […]

  • […] How Do You Go From Minimum Wage to $80K In A Year? Part 1 on Planting Our Pennies […]

  • […] How Do You Go From Minimum Wage to 80K in a Year? Part 1 at Planting Our Pennies. The PoPs are so good at series writing. Start here and read all 3. […]

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  • Sales is a very valuable soft skill. Sales experience translates to any industry, too. If you can sell phones then you can sell houses, or airplanes, or whatever other thing you think of! Congratulations on your success.
    Jamie recently posted..The Kindle Won’t Save You Money but it Saves SpaceMy Profile

    • We’re pretty glad that Mr. PoP has learned some great sales techniques from his employer (especially his current employer). And if we ever strike out on our own, those sales techniques can pay dividends for us directly!

  • […] PoP @ Planting Our Pennies writes How Do You Go From Minimum Wage To $80K In A Year – Mr. PoP started from a minimum wage job, and within a year of moving into commission sales […]

  • […] at 20′s Finances included Mr. PoP’s series on How Do You Go From Minimum Wage to $80K In A Year? in this week’s Financial Carnival for Young […]

  • […] How to go from minimum wage to 80K in one year- Mr. Pop went from earning $6 an hour to 80K a year; read about it in this series. […]

  • […] How to go From Minimum Wage to $80k in a Year – Who says philosophy majors never amount to anything? Mr PoP’s tale of taking control of his career and finding his inner salesman. […]

  • […] we’ve mentioned, this job was pretty crappy, but was helping us set extra cash aside each month and allowing us to make our first few […]

  • […] about this.  We set our $3K per month goal when Mr PoP was just starting out in his current sales job and we based that on what was quoted as his targeted pay (since his pay is largely commission […]

  • […] Mr – I train salespeople, after spending the last 4 years in B2B sales. […]

  • Kakkarrot

    Look in the comments. I’ll bet you any money that you won’t be able to find a comment hinting at duplicating this man’s success. The first few comments I read were all along the lines of: Great job! If only that could work for me. Those are people who half ass life. They will never get anywhere because when opportunity presents itself, they will back away, because they are afraid of change, afraid of failure. Well, if you’re here, what you’re doing obviously isn’t working. You aren’t living the life you want to and you’re doing nothing to change it. Why no get up and try something new? If it worked for someone else, it’ll work for you. Your comfort zone is obviously not making you any money so go out and get uncomfortable. Of course, I have no basis for criticizing everyone here. You are all more likely accomplished than I am. I’m only 17 and living with my parents. However, I choose not to look at what doesn’t work and instead focus on what’s working instead.

  • Hey Kakkarrot, we do get blog readers who email us about getting their financial lives on track-some through increasing their income through side hustles like tutoring or free lancing; both of which depend very heavily on sales ability. Don’t sweat living with your parents at 17; I remember vividly how frustrating that was.
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