What a Target Cashier Taught Me About Life

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I was reading a great article the other day on Daily Finance about a Walmart greeter and retirement. Well, lo and behold, it was written by John! The article was mainly showing how seeing an older gentleman greet people at Walmart was John’s wake up call to get serious about saving for retirement. I am also currently on a serious retirement saving kick, so I enjoyed his piece. To my surprise, I came into a similar situation just yesterday, but with a Target cashier.

I was picking up some milk for my son at Target over my lunch break when I headed toward the checkout lanes. To my surprise, most of the cashiers working during the day were much older than I expected. There is nothing wrong with this situation, but it just stood out to me.

I picked a lane and watched the cashier work through people’s items. He was very cordial and respectful. He engaged in conversation and seemed cheery. It was a good sight as you normally don’t see that many happy people checking out shoppers. As it was my turn to checkout, he engaged in light conversation. I had John’s article in the back of my mind, so I decided to be a little nosy. There was no one else in the lane, so I thought this would be my opportunity to ask him a few questions.

Life Throws Wrenches


My first question was along the lines of “do you like working at Target?” He simply responded: “It’s a job!” I thought that was an interesting response. Without trying to be an ass, I asked another question to see if he was working there for some extra income or if this was his job.

I was hoping for the first answer. I was hoping it was just something to give him some extra money and take up some of his time in retirement. He was definitely of retirement age. He lifted up his head from the cash register and told me he works there because he needs the money. That is when he opened up to me. We had a five minute conversation and he was really nice about it.

Come to find out, he has been working for most of his life. He didn’t have a job with a pension and never had enough money to save for retirement, though he tried. Whenever he would get some extra money, something would come up. Life would throw a wrench at him anytime he tried to get ahead.

The man also had some medical issues his insurance wouldn’t cover fully. This kept him down even more. He seemed like an honest and hard-working gentleman and I felt bad for his situation. This interaction allowed me to look deeply into my life and evaluate how I am trying to protect myself.

I’m in a different situation than this man. I have a job with a 401(k), plus I have a Roth IRA, emergency fund, and other investments. I also run a business on the side. My financial picture didn’t always look like this. I was deep in debt, overwhelmed by money, and no idea what I was going to do with my situation. My circumstances changed only when I realized I had to take control of my life and money. I had to pull myself up from my bootstraps and get moving.

Can We Be Fully Prepared?


Even though I feel much better about where I am at, this man and his story has made me do a double take. How can I be fully prepared for life’s wrenches? Yes, you can have insurance out of the wazoo, you can fund your savings account with enough liquid assets to buy a Ferrari, and you can invest until your brain explodes. All of these things are great and necessary.

As I thought about it more, I concluded that the only way we can really be prepared is by understanding how we react to life’s little wrenches. How do you deal with emergencies? Do you freak out, grab your bean cans, and hide in your bunker? Do you stand up, look the emergency in the face, and push forward?

Myself, I like to push forward. I like to face my issues and kick them to the curb as I work toward my goals. I know I will face obstacles and might even fall off the horse once or twice. That being said, I will never stay down.

The cashier from Target might not have handled his money in the best way or just never made enough. I can’t make the call since I only spoke with him for five minutes. What I do know is he is doing what he has to in order to make ends meet. He isn’t giving up, he isn’t crying about it. He is greeting each customer with a smile and treating them with respect. He respected me and I have respect for him. He showed me that no matter how hard life gets, you still have to get up and move forward.


What would you do to push forward when life is keeping you down? Would you give up when things got too bad? In what unexpected places have you encountered life lessons? What’s one of the best checkout line experiences you’ve had?


Photo courtesy of: Joris_Louwes

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Grayson is the owner of Debt Roundup and Empowered Shopper. He also co-owns Sprout Wealth and Eyes on the Dollar. After going to battle and winning against consumer debt, he decided it was time to learn how to use credit wisely and grow his wealth. He discusses all things personal finance and is not afraid of being controversial. He also is a freelance writer and blog manager.

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  • Poor guy. If his story isn’t motivation to save as much as possible for retirement, then I don’t know what is!

    In answer to your question about best checkout line experience- Black Friday 2010. I was at Target with my mother (who apparently doesn’t get out much on Black Friday) and she managed to cut in front of about 200 people without realizing it until her items were rung up and the people behind us wanted to murder her. Scary at the time, but great story now!

  • Thank you for being “nosy.” I always wonder about the situations of the obvious retired aged cashiers. My grandmother was a cashier for several years at Walmart in her late 60’s to make ends meet. Unfortunately, I think this is usually the case.

    My best check-out experience: A couple years back, I was in line buying groceries. There were 2 or 3 people in front of me and the man in front, who appeared to live in poverty if not homeless, was only buying a gallon of milk. When the cashier told him his total he placed a bunch of coins on the counter. He was a little short on change. Fortunately, we use the cash envelope system for our groceries and I knew I had plenty to cover the groceries in my cart. I passed up a 5 dollar bill and told the gentleman to keep the change. He waited for the other customers to go through the line until I was in front buying my groceries. He thanked me profusely and kept saying “God bless you.” After he left, the cashier told me that he lives near by and he comes into the store often. He had taken care of his ailing wife for many years and his wife had just passed away this year. This experience was a big blessing to my life. Goes to show that no gift or act of kindness is too small.

  • That’s depressing. I wonder if he somehow didn’t qualify for social security? In a low cost of living area it seems like that should keep most older folks from _needing_ to cashier.

    My best checkout experience bar-none is at Market Basket. It’s a New England chain of grocery stores where they have maintained the tradition of professional checkout people. They are experts! I’ve never seen a checkout line move so fast! It’s honestly amazing. Some of the cashiers have been working their for 25 years! They get paid way more than at other stores and the store gets much more efficient lines and happy customers. Win/Win!

  • I wonder that about old people who are working all the time. Are they working because they want to? Or, are they working because they have to?

    It’s sad to see someone working because they have to when they are over 70. It definitely makes me think about how I am planning for the future.

  • Myles Money says:

    No matter how prepared we try to be, you can never be sure when life is going to throw you a curve-ball. It sounds like this guy has had more than his fair share of bad luck, but he is also one of the lucky ones: he has a job and he is working to make ends meet. I hope I am more fortunate when I reach retirement — I hope we all are — but if not, I hope at least I have his attitude.

  • Money Beagle says:

    His situation isn’t ideal but the fact that he keeps a positive attitude and doesn’t spend his time with a negative outlook means that although he has to work, he probably has a good quality of life simply because of how he views the world. I’d rather live my life like that with a positive attitude than have money but somehow be bitter…which is sadly the case for many people.

  • I know people jokingly talk about become a Wal-Mart greeter when they retire, but I don’t think anyone really wants that to be their future. It’s one thing if you are doing it to get out of the house, it’s an entirely different scenario when you HAVE to. I see this all of the time with my older clients who would love to retire but can’t. They are my motivator to reach financial freedom sooner than later. I would much rather greet people at Wal-Mart because it’s fun rather than to pay the bills.

  • Kim says:

    That makes me really sad and is a huge motivation to kick it into gear while I’m health and can. This reminds me a lot of my inlaws. My father in law should be working at Target but he’d rather sit around and be grumpy.

  • Jessica says:

    This is a sad truth for much of the older generation. I see far too many people who have reached retirement yet still need to continue to work. It’s great that the cashier has adopted an optimistic perspective versus a sulking attitude. I encountered a life lesson my freshmen year of college. My professor had been homeless at one point in his life yet there he was teaching an entire class of students. It showed me that no matter what happens you can always pull yourself out if you choose to push forward.

  • I have to say that one of the things I like most about myself (and I can’t always say that) is my resilience. I’ve faced many obstacles both personally and financially (but thank god not regarding health) and I have bounced back vowing to fight stronger. LIfe throws everyone curveballs and it’s how fast you can get up and fight which shows your character. Too often people become victims to their circumstance and end up bitter and blaming everyone else for their problems. Sounds like this guy did what he needed to do and proudly accepted the challenge.

  • Great post, Grayson. I always wonder when I see people who are definitely retirement age still working if it is by choice or need. You don’t know what life will throw at you and how you respond to life’s curveballs makes a huge difference. I see lots of people play victim and cry it’s not fair. And it’s not. But that doesn’t change the fact it happen. Like you said, those that face their problems square on and take action are the ones who don’t fall behind. I find a lot of people underestimate the cost of retirement and how long they will live, especially those currently in retirement. They didn’t really plan for retirement the way you and I are. They followed their parents model who likely had a pension plan and only lived a handful of years after retirement. These days it’s not uncommon for someone even retiring in their late 60’s or early 70’s to live another 20-25 years.

  • Jenna says:

    Hearing about older individuals that still feel like they have to work makes my heart strings pull a little.

    My grandmother still works for pocket money in addition to her social security. I sincerely hope I can do better than that by the time I’m her age. She’s one fierce and awesome woman though!

  • What a life lesson! If we keep our eyes open, we can learn them everywhere we go. Good reminder and I’m glad you took the time to talk to the cashier about his life. I bet he remembers the conversation you two had too.

  • Michelle says:

    I’m not sure you can fully be prepared. Watching what happened to my mom’s retirement egg when the stock market fell apart and the housing bubble burst, the best you can do is prepare.

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