Part 1 of Your Financial Story Arc: Earning Money
Your finances mimic the rise and fall of a story arc – exposition becomes earning money, rising action becomes building net-worth, the climax is your retirement, the falling action is retirement withdrawals, and the conclusion, is, well, death.
Since the initial post on this didn’t really delve into the topics in detail, I’m publishing a four-part series to tackle the concepts in greater depth.
Earning money – how do you start?
I got my first ‘real’ job when I was 14, and it was a fairly terrible job all things told, but it got me started on saving and learning the ropes of this whole making money thing. I need to get a SIN (Social Insurance Number) from the government, and then I started working. According to the Canadian Government Website, children who are aged 12 or older can apply for their SIN. Children in Canada can normally start working without much hassle or paperwork around age 14 or 15, and in some cases, even younger. Each province has its own laws governing the employment of minors, and they can vary a bit, so make sure to research what the requirements are in your specific area. Children who are 12 and younger can get special work permits as well, depending on the circumstances of their employment.
Most people don’t stay in the first job they get.
I bounced from a movie theatre, to a grocery store, to an entertainment store, to a sporting goods store, to finally a festival and my first arts contracts. I’ve worked every summer and sometimes during the school years since I was 14, and the hours I put into my jobs account for a huge part of why my savings are at the place they are.
Now I work the bulk of my time on contracts and fill the in-between with a retail job. I’m hoping to get more freelancing income flowing in the next year.
When you earning money, it’s important to stay cognizant of potential career advancement (and wage increases).
It might be as simple as being the bag-person, and being promoted to a cashier. Or it might be starting out as a concession working, and being promoted to assistant manager, then manager – etc.. More responsibility means a higher wage, and depending on the structure of the company, you might even be able to work your way up to the manager of the store, and beyond. Check the company’s policies on educational benefits – the Canadian Armed Forces, for example, has paid education programs where they’ll pay for your post-secondary education in exchange for time served, following your graduation. This might not work for everyone (I know it wouldn’t for me), but it never hurts to ask what kind of opportunities there are available at the places your applying to.
Most people have part-time jobs through their post-secondary education anyways, and while I sort-of did, I wouldn’t call my work consistent enough to have been part-time. Due to the nature of my undergrad degree, holding down a part-time job was extremely difficult for my peers, and sometimes near-impossible. There were times where I was at the University 7 days a week, 10-14 hours each day, completing extensive course work and fitting in extracurricular show-related activities to broaden my experience. I was also in a place financially where I could afford to work mostly in the summers, and that helped my situation a great deal as well.
So what do you do when you’re ready to start looking for work?
Apply, apply, apply.
If you’re looking for anything, apply to everything. Don’t be worried if your qualifications aren’t quite in line with what potential employers are looking for. Be upfront and honest about your shortcomings, but be confident as well. Sell your lack of experience as the benefit of a blank slate, and come prepared with examples of how you’ve adapted and risen to the occasion. Most people understand that there’s a certain catch-22 going on, and that sometimes it’s hard to gain experience without having experience. Good employers will be looking for a personality and attitude they can work with; you can always teach, but you can’t change a persons foundation. (the obvious exception being highly skilled jobs you’re truly unqualified for, like being a HTML Coder Project Lead and not being able to code HTML)
It also helps to have a connection to the place you’re applying too – but using those connections can be a slippery slope as well.
Remember that you’ll be reflecting the person who vouched for you, and their reputation might be associated with you. If you find someone to vouch for you, they should be doing it because they believe that you’re a good fit for the company, and will be able to find success – but don’t accept a referral with the intention of blowing off work and being a clown. Be serious about what you want, and do your best to be a good employee. In my industry, there’s a saying that goes, ‘You’re only as good as your last show’. My experience is that people will always prefer to work with someone they already know, or have good things about.
In today’s job market, jobs can be hard to come by. You might send out 100 resumes and only get a handful of callbacks. Preparing for interviews can be overwhelming, but there’s a few things you can remember to ease the pressure:
- Be yourself, but try to be confident. Dress well, make a good first impression, and make sure you know what the company’s about.
- Have a friend ask you some ‘test’ interview questions. Think of what an employer might ask, and rehearse the answers to these questions. You might not remember exactly what you’d said when you were practising, but the general frame will be embedded in your mind and hopefully, you won’t be caught off guard. A good one to prepare for is any variation of: Tell me of a time you had difficulty in your work, and how you reacted / overcame that.
- Bring some questions of your own. This depends on the kind of job, but you want to show employers that you’re engaged, proactive, and understand the position you’re applying for – or want to learn more about it!
After you’re hired, there’ll likely be a probationary period. Typically 3 months, after which your benefits kick in. These three months are like a ‘testing out’ period for both you and your employer. I’ve known people who have applied for jobs without the technical knowledge required for the job, and this probationary period is good for the employee and the employer to figure out if it’s a good fit or not. Your job shouldn’t leave you constantly stressed, and hating your life. And it definitely shouldn’t be bleeding into your personal life. There are some people who are able to work at jobs they hate, and I can see the appeal if there’s a juicy paycheque at the end of it. Unfortunately, I’ve never been one of those people, and I’m preparing myself to settle for the most average of projected earnings in order to love whole-heartedly what I do. There’re always be quirks and aspects to dislike in your chosen career, but for now I’m at the stage in my life where I can follow my passion, and I’m going to take advantage of that as long as I can.
Don’t forget to use your employment as leverage for better offers in thep market, and see if you can’t use those offers as incentive for your company to increase your wage or add some benefits. Always keep an eye open for jobs that fit where you want to go with your career, and don’t be afraid of inquiring about them. I know plenty of people who have done this, or been headhunted, and have been able to increase their wage and gain promotions with their current company.
And once you start earning an income – start saving your money! There’s a lot of numbers floating around out there, and it truly depends on what your entire financial situation looks like. The next phase of your financial story arc is to build net-worth, and there’s plenty of ways to do so. But the end goal is to reach a point where retirement is the climactic peak of your financial arc, and that needs a solid foundation in earning money to work out nicely.