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Stop Gap Jobs: Your Defense Against Petty Debt

Stop Gap Jobs: Your Defense Against Petty Debt

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Photo by Rozzyraspberry

Let’s face it: I’ve been writing this damn blog long enough to start inventing financial terms. I mean, really, what kind of qualifications does one have to have to be a personal finance guru? If Suze Orman is any measure, you apparently don’t need good taste in jackets. Or any consistency in your recommendations for paying off debt. And if Dave Ramsey is any measure, you don’t have to have any advanced education. And if that crazy dude from Mad Money is right, you don’t even have to make legitimate stock picks. So I feel like these are low enough standards for me to meet. And inventing trademark clichés is next on my list of things to do in order to fortify my personal financial advice empire.

First, a recycled term: The Stop-Gap Job. I picked up this concept back in the nineties, when I was just out of college and not sure what to do with my life (as opposed to now, where I know exactly what I am doing and where I’m headed at all times . . . [cough]. I was working in a bookstore in a small town in Southern California. That’s right, with a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the country, I was working for slightly over minimum wage at Barnes & Noble in an off-market. ‘Cause, people, that’s how I roll. I roll into whatever employment comes up, in other words. And let me tell you, at the risk of attracting the attention of the book selling industrial complex, Barnes & Noble is one of the most craptastic of places to work in my opinion. Not only DO they expect booksellers to clean their public bathrooms, they DO NOT expect that their booksellers will have read, be in the practice of reading, or even ever have read a book in their lives. I digress.

While I was working at Barnes & Noble, I had a lot of time and psychic space to wax philosophical on life and myself. And I also had access to a bunch of free books. So I’d often crack open a few of them and check out advice. This is the only way that I can explain how it was that I was to read the book entitled, What Color Is Your Parachute? 1996 Edition. Because otherwise, it just doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, the dude who wrote the book is very touchy feely and everything, and I really got nothing out of the whole thing EXCEPT the concept of Stop-Gap Jobs.

A stop-gap job is a job you take to make the rent or to buy groceries. You take it when you’re in the middle of a job search that’s stretching a little bit too long, or when you have a length of time to work that disqualifies you from taking a traditional job. You take a stop-gap job, my friends to avoid [tagline alert] running up petty debt. For example, I worked at Barnes & Noble during the 9 months or so I had between undergraduate and graduate school. Had I been more enterprising and organized, I might have supplemented my stop-gap job with Seth Godin’s recommendations for unemployed college graduates, but this was neigh on 15 years ago and the internet was not yet even a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye. I wasn’t exactly tracking down viral market strategists at the time. But by taking the job I was able to put some money aside and avoid running up credit card debt on silly things that I should have worked to pay for.

Now, there are people who will tell you that a stop-gap job will do more harm than good. They will tell you that taking a job that is “beneath” you will ruin your ambition and keep you in a rut, distract you from the search for your real job. To those naysayers, I’d like to say this: first of all, there is no job that is legitimately “beneath” anyone, provided it is honest labor for a fair wage. One of the last vestiges of a traditional class system is this clinging to the idea that the worth of a person is tied to the color of their collar.

I despised working at that bookstore. But let me tell you what I learned when I worked in a bookstore: I learned about myself and where I could grow (humility), I learned how the book market works, what people buy when and why, and how different kinds of trends work in the publishing industry. I also caught up on a lot of the gaps in my reading history, and learned about various different kinds of scams that are regularly run at cash registers by grifters and check fraud perpetrators. In short, I learned what somebody wanting to start a business in the book business might need to know. Was it precisely suited to my talents? No, probably not. But it was time well-spent when considered in the grand trajectory of my life. Working stop gap jobs (there have been plenty for me) are several pieces of ephemera that combine to make me who I am today.

But all these philosophical reflections aside, the main point is this: if you take a stop-gap job when you’re out of work or not able to get your dream job right away, you will avoid a lot of debt issues later down the line. The point I want to make is that when you need money, you go out and work. If one job is not enough to meet your expenses, then you work two. This sounds like stupid advice, but I think that my generation may have missed this fundamental concept somewhere along the road. When out of work, it seems like many Gen Xers figure they will live on their savings and then, if that runs out, they’ll use their credit cards. But there is quite simply no faster way to amass a huge amount of debt than trying to meet your living expenses using credit cards. There is no reason why you cannot go out and get a job to keep money coming in during these kinds of times, you need only adjust your point of view about what it “means” to take a job mowing lawns, delivering pizza, working part-time in a bookstore, etc.

All it means is that you need money.

Comments (2)

  1. weezy
    Jun 12, 2009

    I’m all for the stop-gap job. I would have had a financially very difficult year last year without my second job to fill in the wallet gaps.

  2. Jun 14, 2009

    Aside from that, stop-gap jobs can lead to something unexpectedly good.

    Like, when I graduated with a political science degree and moved to DC with no job lined up, I took a temp job at the phone company while I looked for a job in politics. I figured out pretty quick that I couldn’t afford a job in politics, and the temp job turned into a permanent job offer. I took it, and a couple of weeks later I overheard some managers whining about having to go to a college downstate to conduct job interviews. I offered to help, and that eventually led to a long and pretty successful career in human resources.

    Not what I expected, but it worked for me. I am hoping for the same luck in my next career.

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