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Why Laila Ali worked a minimum wage job and drove a $400 car as a teen, despite her father’s success

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Growing up, Laila Ali, daughter of late boxing legend Muhammad Ali, knew she was financially privileged because of her father’s success.

“We were aware that we were in a great situation,” she told former NFL player Andrew Hawkins in a recent podcast interview for “Kneading Dough.” “We lived in a private gated neighborhood. I grew up in a mansion. We flew on private jets a lot of the time, and so it was very clear to me that my father was making a lot of money.”

But despite the millions her father made throughout his boxing career, Ali said she always knew that she wanted to be financially independent. At 12, she started a neighborhood cleaning business to make some side money. Then, at 15, she landed her first real summer job at a local burger spot when she was visiting her dad in Michigan.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 18: Former professional boxer Laila Ali attends The 2018 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 18: Former professional boxer Laila Ali attends The 2018 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin | FilmMagic | Getty Images

“Everyone else was enjoying their summer, and I said, ‘You know what? I want to make a check,’” she said. “So I signed myself up for this job.”

That same year, Ali used her money to buy her first car. “I went through The Recycler magazine and brought this ’77 Toyota Celica,” she said. “I can remember it was this brown rusty color, and it only cost me $400.”

Though the car only lasted for two weeks before it broke down, Ali was proud to have purchased the car on her own and said, “I thought I was living the high life when I was riding in [it].”

When looking back on her experience of working her first minimum wage job and earning her own money, Ali said she learned a lot about “independence, responsibility and pride.”

“Pride for myself because, you know, when you’re getting up, clocking in and doing honest work, something that you can feel good about, that is a good feeling to have,” she said. “And for me, obviously being so young, that was perfect at the time.”

Ali, who also ran her own nail salon for two years before her boxing career picked up, is continuing to add to her business portfolio today.

After retiring from boxing in 2007 with a professional record of 24-0, the wife and mom of two wrote a cookbook, “Food For Life,” launched her own line of organic seasonings called Laila Ali Spice Blends and her own line of nutrition supplements called YouPlenish.

Though Ali has made millions over the course of her career, she told CNBC in 2018 that she’s really proud of herself for continuing her father’s legacy of giving back. In addition to being the former president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, Ali is also a long-time supporter of charitable organizations like Feed America and Peace 4 Kids.

“Philanthropy is at my core,” she said, while adding that she wants to show her kids that “it’s not about how much money you have, it’s thinking about how we can make this world a better place.”

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