Don't forget employee benefits

My "Dumb Little $9-an-hour Job" Story

contributed by Jen

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Reading about employee benefits in a recent reader's tip gave me pause to recall a job I had a couple of years ago. I wanted to pass along some important things to consider. We lived in expensive southern California, and on a whim, I applied online for a job with Southwest Airlines. About eight weeks later, I was called for a group interview. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was off to Dallas for two weeks of training. My second day was September 11, 2001. Also, of note (especially for me), this same day was "Benefits Day," where we were informed about the benefits our company would be extending to us.

My job as a Customer Service Agent paid only $9.35 an hour to start. After six months, I received a small raise of about 25 cents per hour, and each year, I would increase in pay, always about 50 to 60 cents per hour. My husband and my dad were fond of turning their noses up at my job, stating that I couldn't make a good living at it, and it would never support our family of 7. They made the comparison to the earning power of my husband, a professional, whose potential was three to four times the amount I would make in a year.

We have since moved back east, where costs are far lower, and I left the job at the airline to return to being a stay-at-home mom. But I had cause recently to reconsider that job when I realized how much we had paid in dental costs for this past year. While my husband currently has a great job, our benefits leave much to be desired.

At the time I worked for Southwest, my husband had lost his job and was out of work for roughly 18 months. During that time, my "dumb job" bought groceries and paid the basic bills. Moreover, we had excellent health insurance that included prescription drug coverage, dental insurance, vision, life insurance (not just for me, but for every member of my family), a 401k, the option to purchase stock each month, and the privilege of a free seat on Southwest anytime there was room. Since we lived in California and all our family was in Ohio, we were able to get home, for free, for holidays and vacations.

I make this point simply to illustrate that while a job may appear initially to not be much, it can add up in terms of benefits to a family. I worked for this company for a short two-and-a-half years, and then decided to go back home and be a stay-at-home mom again. About the same time, we decided to move back east. Since costs are lower here, it is not financially necessary for me to work any longer. But we are definitely noticing now how great those benefits were, since we're paying for them all out of pocket now. My husband now makes about the same amount he did when we moved to California, but we're paying for all our dental and vision coverage. When four out of five kids need orthodontia, plus the semi-annual cleanings for 7 people, it adds up. We're also paying for our own life insurance, and the retirement package is nothing even close to what we had through my job.

So when considering an additional income from a spouse, it's critical to consider the entire package and not just the salary. It could make the difference between just a little available cash to pay bills, and a lot more available income from what is saved from the benefits that are covered. It's easy to say that $9 or $10 an hour won't make much of a difference, but when that includes all the benefits I had, it adds up to much, much more.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money please send it to

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