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Real People Money Diaries: Making Ends Meet as a Seasonal Delivery Driver

The holiday work hours are long and the money is good! Until January 1st.

In this series, we explore how different people make ends meet in an age of increasing inequality and job instability, by looking at what they do, how much they make, what the job is like and what their hopes are for the future.

Name: Ian Kitterman
City: Scottsdale, Arizona
Occupation: Seasonal UPS driver
How long: One season
Goal: Full-time work 

Hired in a Week

I’d always wanted to work for UPS. The thing that pushed me over the line was actually a ride in an Uber: I’d just moved to Arizona from New Mexico, where I’d been working at Domino’s for about seven years as a delivery driver. Talking with my Uber driver, he mentioned that UPS was hiring for seasonal drivers and gave me the website to apply, so I did the next day. I had a job interview the same week. I work in the Tempe center that serves Tempe, as well as Scottsdale and some of Phoenix.

Mental and Physical Toughness

I can sum up being a UPS driver during the holiday season in one word: tough! They give you about a week of training and then basically throw you out there on your own. You’re your own boss from the get-go, in a sense. The first few weeks are more draining mentally than anything. Just remembering your training and using the DIAD (the handheld computer that all the drivers use) is a lot to take in.

After you get the hang of that is when the physical demands kick in: You’re basically running all day and lifting heavy packages. It gets so busy that the particular hub that I’m based out of actually runs out of package cars during peak season and rent about 40 Budget and Penske moving trucks! Those things suck, because for every stop, you have to get out of the vehicle, run to the back, open up the large rear door, get the package and then close it again.

The Revenue

I’m starting at $22 per hour. Right now I’m working about 50 hours per week, but that will go up to about 65 to 70 hours during peak holiday season. I believe anything over 40 is time-and-a-half pay, so the money is great. I always tell my friends that being a UPS driver is kind of like the holy grail for people without a college degree. You can definitely earn enough as a UPS driver to live on, especially if you’re single like me.

Last year after peak season, which ended on January 1st, I took the year off to care for my sick grandmother full-time. I just lived off of my savings. Back in April I got an offer to work full-time, but turned it down because I couldn’t do it. She passed in August, and that’s around the time I got an offer to come back for this season.

During the holidays last year, I made around $8,000 to $9,000 for about two months of work. I was also paid for the week of training I received. New hires get $21 per hour, but after being hired on full-time I believe it’s about $30 an hour for guys who have been there a few years. Plus UPS offers amazing benefits, and you get time and a half for anything over 40 hours, so you could be making almost $50 an hour. If you’re full-time, annually, you’re pushing almost $100,000 depending on how much you work.

The Expenses

Rent in Scottsdale is high: I have a two-bed, two-bath apartment and pay around $1,600 per month. I just bought a new truck outright. I have no loans or debt — the seasonal work covers all my expenses.

In a way, working so much is nice because you don’t really have time to go out and spend the money you make. I wake up at 7, get to work at 8:15, leave the center around 9 a.m. and am out until 7 or 8 p.m. I come home and unwind for two or three hours, then go to bed at 11 p.m. and do it again. I even work on Saturdays, doing UPS store pick-ups. Luckily I didn’t have to work on Christmas Day.

The Driving Life

I’ve always loved driving. I’ve tried office jobs and other types of work, but driving has always been my favorite. The job keeps me busy, so the days go fast. It’s honestly the best job I’ve ever had, and I hope to get hired on full-time. I could definitely see it taking a toll on my body a few years down the line, though, so I need to be more focused on taking care of myself. 

I don’t have a plan for when this season ends on January 1st, but I’m very confident about getting hired on full-time this year. Like I said, I was called back to be full-time last year but couldn’t do it. It shouldn’t be an issue getting hired on full-time this year. A few factors help this, too: Amazon dropped FedEx and is now using UPS for a lot of its orders. UPS is in desperate need of semi-truck drivers and the company is pulling package car drivers up to drive those, so a lot of positions are opening. And in general, the volume is getting bigger and bigger — the company seems to really be expanding.

Overall, driving for UPS during the holiday season has definitely given me an appreciation for how much work goes into having your Christmas packages delivered to your door. I can honestly say it’s a modern marvel.