money management for beginners

As a 16 year old schoolgirl, I decided that £1.50 per week pocket money from my parents just wasn’t going to cut it.

So, I headed to the local ice cream shop, armed with nothing but the confidence of youth – plus some inside information that the owner paid a better hourly rate than the local supermarket.

After a brief chat with the owner, I was taken on for a trial.

I passed with flying colours. To be fair, it wasn’t too taxing.

And that was that. I was the new Saturday girl. (Technically, I was the Friday night/all day Saturday girl, but that’s not as catchy).

Over the next 3 years, I perfected gift wrapping, complete with bow ties and curled ribbons.

I flirted with the boys in the factory (hey, I was a teenager – don’t judge me!).

And I probably ate more ice cream than is deemed healthy in a balanced diet.

While my little ice cream job was a way for me to earn a bit more cash than my measly pocket money allowance had given me, looking back on it, I did learn a few financial lessons along the way that I still use today.


Pay Yourself First

My entire motivation for getting a job in the first place was money.

I didn’t have a deep desire to gain ‘work experience’ for my CV.

Come on. I was 16. I barely thought beyond the end of the week, never mind ‘what I was going to DO with my life’. (This may explain a great deal about my career path).


I didn’t have an overwhelming love of ice cream. Perhaps a slight crush but not a full blown passion (honest).

All I wanted to do was earn some cash.

When I started, I was earning the princely sum of £12.50 a week. Not much but, with no dependents or bills to pay, I managed to put £8 in savings and the rest was mine to spend.

Now, £4.50 might not be all that much, but if you remember, it was three times the amount I’d been getting in pocket money.

It was also the late ’80s, and bought a surprising amount of ear-rings, Depeche Mode CDs, clothes from Top Shop and, in the later years of my wee job, rounds of drinks in the pub.

I was rich.

Not only that, but I managed to save up enough to pay for a full set of driving lessons by the time I was 17 (and I passed first time. Woo hoo!)

I also saved up and paid for my first holiday abroad (sans parentals) when I was 18. I went with a friend, her boyfriend and my first serious boyfriend – who just happened to be one of the boys from the ice cream factory 😉

I would have had zero chance of doing either of these things without having saved up for them myself.

My folks had made it perfectly clear that they weren’t going to pay for me to learn to drive (which is fair enough) – or to go on trips to Europe with a young man. My Dad was particularly clear on the latter I seem to remember!

But it was the first time in my life that I actually felt independent and had some control over my life thanks to my own efforts.

And there’s nothing quite as liberating as knowing you’ve done it yourself.

I think the girl who is able to earn her own living and pay her own way should be as happy as anybody on earth. The sense of independence and security is very sweet.

Susan B. Anthony


Profit Margins are King

Working in an ice cream shop, I discovered that there’s a 200% markup on the ice cream itself (yes, really, 200%).

I also learned that there’s very little profit in tobacco sales.

Because of this, I couldn’t understand why we bothered with cigarettes until the boss pointed out that some people only come in to the shop to buy them.

And of course, not only were the ice cream (200% mark up remember) and the chocolate counters directly in front of the tobacco shelves, but we also made them both look SO enticing that the customers just couldn’t resist something sweet to take with them.

(And quite possibly to stop their breath smelling quite so bad).


Despite What They Say in the Ad, Tax is Actually Quite Taxing

A Saturday job is unlikely to see you bringing home big bucks.

However, during one of the summers – possibly the one between school and university, I managed to work pretty much full time between the ice cream shop plus some additional bar work that I’d landed.

And that’s when I somehow pushed myself over the minimum tax threshold.

I went from pocketing everything I earned up to having to hand the tax man 25% of my earnings from all of the extra work that I’d taken on.

And worse, I then had to keep paying him for the rest of the year!

I’d never had to pay tax before. It wasn’t a happy moment.


Mental Maths

You’re probably thinking that most ice cream shop customers are kids, but you’d be wrong.

They are pensioners.

Lots of grandparents treating their grandchildren or older people just treating themselves (and why not).

This fact led me to discover 2 facts about old people.

1. They appear to have more of a craving for sweet things than the rest of the population (apart from my husband).

2. They have a skill at doing mental maths – a fact of which they are inordinately proud (and, frankly, a little bit show offy about).

On Friday evenings during the break at the neighbouring bingo hall, old men and women would square up to me across the counter,

‘So how much do you reckon 2 cones, a 99 tub, 10 B&H and a packet of bon bons cost then, love?’ they’d ask menacingly.

(Actually, it wasn’t remotely menacing, I just said that for dramatic effect. They were really quite friendly. By which I mean, they were laughing at me because they knew I needed 5 minutes and a calculator. While I’m ‘fessing up, they also said ‘hen’ instead of ‘love’ because that’s what they say in the part of Scotland that I live in, but I’m writing for an international audience here so…)

Like lightning, they’d have calculated the answer in their heads before I’d even added the first two.

I quickly learned that I’d need to be as quick off the draw as my elderly customers.

3 years and lots of practice later, I reckon I won as many of these challenges as I lost. An improvement on the total wipeout of my early days.

Despite scoffing at the lack of need for mental arithmetic when I was a teenager, it comes in very handy these days when quickly figuring out requests by the kids for treats or calculating the tip on a café bill.

And all of these financial lessons have stood me in good stead over the rest of my life.


I always pay myself first, and have managed to build up a nice little savings buffer with enough cash for emergencies and retirement. I’ve pretty much avoided debt too, and paid off my student loan in less than 4 years.

I always calculate my tax return MONTHS before it’s due so I know exactly how much money I can spend or save without eating into the tax man’s money.

I have short and long term savings goals for treats like holidays, and essentials like my pension.

I can quickly and confidently negotiate rates with clients, working out whether the extra hours or the discount they’ve asked for is worth me doing the job without having to resort to a calculator or putting them on hold while I figure it out.


Perhaps most importantly though, I learned that ice cream is not a food group. Even if you really want it to be.

The raisins in rum & raisin ice cream do NOT count as one of your five a day.

And sorbet, while extremely low fat, is in fact, full of sugar.


What did your first job teach you about money management that has stuck with you since then?


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