Seeing A Minimum Wage Job As An Opportunity

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Kitty PoP is ready for business!!

Looking at our recent income statement, you can see that Mr. PoP and I make pretty good money. Yes, August was a little higher than usual so it’s a bit skewed – but our year end gross pay is in the range of $70-80K for each of us, so we’re not on minimum wage. But it wasn’t so long ago that Mr. PoP was working a minimum wage job… AND we viewed that job as having the most “upside potential” in our finances at the time.

A Little Backstory

In 2008, Mr. PoP very much wanted to buy a local small business that he had known and been a customer of for years. It has been a family run business in the same location for more than 20 years with a loyal customer base. But the owners were nearing traditional retirement age and were interested in slowing down a bit.

The couple that owned the business were interested in selling the business to Mr. PoP with owner financing – something that was definitely needed as this would have been a HUGE purchase for him. [On a side note – even though we weren’t yet married or engaged, I was very involved with the negotiations of this purchase, too. So even though it wasn’t official, we were getting into combined finances mode well before we signed that marriage license.]

After a lot of Excel spreadsheet work with cash flow models, thinking through business plans, and really getting into the nitty gritty of the business history with the owners of this business, Mr. PoP negotiated a price that he felt accurately valued the business and that we were quite sure he could pay back safely using the income that the business would generate.

 

Then Lehman Brothers went broke and the stock market crashed 9% in a day. And then fell some more the next day. And the next. At least that’s what it felt like.

The owners freaked out and called the deal off. They (quite correctly) viewed an owner financed sale of their business as a retirement annuity and they just weren’t confident that Mr. PoP had the wherewithal the weather the fiscal storm that they were afraid was coming. And if he couldn’t, the value of their annuity could shrink dramatically – not something they wanted to risk.

Fast forward about a year. Mr. PoP and I have eloped and Mr. PoP is again talking with the owners of this small business. They have weathered a year with a sales drop off, but too horrible, and are still interested in selling to Mr. PoP.  But there’s a catch – they are still pretty nervous. Mr. PoP understands that they seem to need some sort of assurance as to his dedication as well as an understanding that he is fully capable of running the business. With those assurances, they would have greater confidence in an owner financed deal. So Mr. PoP makes a proposal…

“I’ll Work For Minimum Wage To Learn The Business”

The owners of this business knew that Mr. PoP was able to earn more than minimum wage working elsewhere. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to be a customer of theirs for so many years! So this offer definitely proved that he was serious in wanting to learn the business and still very interested in purchasing it. They were intrigued enough by his offer that they took him up on it. “Work for minimum wage for 6 months, and we’ll evaluate the state of the business and confidence levels and see if we can come to a deal at the end of that period.”

So Mr. PoP took a pay cut. But he loved going to work every day. When I say he skipped off to work, that is barely an exaggeration. While we were in the midst of doing manual labor on our house every night because we bought it through a foreclosure, we would talk about how much he was learning about the business and about his plans for after *we* bought it.

This minimum wage arrangement worked really well for about 4 or 5 months until it became clear to Mr. PoP (who was there on a daily basis) that even though the couple that owned this business swore left and right that they wanted to sell the business, one half of the couple really wasn’t interesting in leaving this part of their life behind. Mr. PoP had a hard time hiding his disappointment when he told this news, and I was disappointed, too.

Buying that business would have changed our finances dramatically with massive amounts of debt in the short term, but the opportunity for growth and equity in a successful small business like that is something that Mr. PoP and I still aim for someday.

At the end of the six months, Mr. PoP and the business owners mutually agreed to go their separate ways, and though he says there are no hard feelings, Mr. PoP isn’t even a customer of the business anymore. Plus – according to local small business brokers, the business is still technically “for sale” over 2 years later, though I wonder if the conflicting desires of the couple that owns it have disappointed any other buyers besides us.

So while a lot of minimum wage jobs might be “dead end” – for Mr. PoP and I at the time, we viewed his working for minimum wage as one of the biggest opportunities that we had in our lives to that point.

We don’t really have any regrets on this period in our history. Mr. PoP learned a lot, and after it went on to get the great job that he has now. There’s no doubt that our path would have been very different if that sale had gone through – probably no $50K duplex or the rest of our real estate “portfolio”, but we would be growing a business and building equity there – how can we really say which end result would have been better for us without having lived them both?

 

Have you ever taken a big pay or benefits cut to pursue an opportunity? What was the opportunity? Do you think it worked out for you?

 

24 comments to Seeing A Minimum Wage Job As An Opportunity

  • I have had some lower paying jobs in the past but I have never really taken one as an opportunity though. Honestly, hey all sucked =) My husband has worked for free though- as an intern and it definitely led him to where he wanted to be!

    • Unpaid internships can absolutely be big opportunities. I’m glad your husband was able to complete one since they can be a huge sacrifice in the short term.

  • I’ve never done so, but the boy recently quit his job and was about to do the same thing. But thankfully he got something better and it paid better also.

  • I’ve never took a job that was lower paying to have a better opportunity down the road. I do see the point though, and from the sounds of it you made a good decision to pursue it. In the long run, if for nothing else, it can be a learning experience that you can apply in future dealings.

  • Kitty PoP is so cute! I’ve offered a couple of companies to work for free just to learn the trade. They never responded,not sure if that’s because they thought I was a scammer, or insane. This was a time when money wasn’t a big issue for me, boy have times changed!

    • Aww thanks for the Kitty PoP compliments. We think he’s pretty awesome!
      I don’t know the details, but I had heard that a business can actually violate the law accepting free work without it being a formal internship. Something about labor rights I think? Or maybe I’m imagining this…

  • The only time I worked minimum wage I sure didn’t see it as an opportunity. It did light a fire under me to find something better though. I’ve always been rather negative about internships too. While it might open a lot of doors, it always seemed to just be a way for a company to get cheap labor. Maybe I’m just a cynic. By the way, your cat photos are awesome. I’d love to see my cats with a little tie like that, especially the one with a tuxedo print.

    • I think internships can depend a lot on the field and the company they are at. All the internships I had, the companies paid a lot in intern recruitment and training for the time we were there. They were really trying to get us to come back as full time after graduation.

      Kitty PoP is such a good sport with his ridiculous little accessories. He doesn’t even really notice he’s wearing them after a few minutes. If I ever see a tuxedo tie in the clearance section of Target like this one, I’ll pick it up for you! =)

  • That worked out well for you! I didn’t take a pay cut recently, but I did leave my full-time job to stay home with the kids when baby number 3 was on the way! Right now, we are working the side hustles and online income. I’ll let you know how it goes. :)

  • […] an interesting personal story from Planting Our Pennies, about the time Mr. PoP took a minimum-wage job and viewed it as a great […]

  • I haven’t had the opportunity, but if the right one came a long I would definitely consider it. It would be a really tough decision though.

    • Yeah, you definitely have to weigh the opportunity costs of leaving whatever gig you’re currently at – and sometimes those can be pretty big!

  • That was definitely an investment – I’ve heard of other people making similar offers to bosses or prospective employers, and it always seemed to work out in their favor!

  • That is really great that you can view that period as a learning experience and take the positives out of it. So many people would complaing about getting paid so little for nothing. I believe people who can take something from any situation and use it to grow are the ones who truly make their own “luck” and happiness in this world.

  • What at great post – it’s unfortunate that it didn’t work out, but at least it wasn’t a backwards step. The fact that he got a much better job right after shows his drive.

  • […] we'll keep it coming!  Thanks for visiting =) 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 […]

  • […] catch Mr. PoP’s first post, this is the last post in a series on how he went from a minimum wage job to making $80K in a year through commission sales positions.  Here are the links to the all […]

  • I worked for a start up while in school. The exchange of my work was equity in the company. Very small equity, but it was definitely super motivating and fun to know you owned a part of the company.

    After two years of sweat and blood, we didn’t get VC funding, but I had a great experience.
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted..Money Should Make Money Right?My Profile

    • Working for equity can definitely be a gamble – but it sounds like it was a good time for you to do it (while in school…) and that you learned a ton, too!