"We didn't have a lot of expendable income" the Superstore actress, 31, says in the current issue of PEOPLE of growing up in Los Angeles as the youngest of six kids born to Honduran immigrants. "If I wanted money to do anything, I had to earn it."
So by the time she was a tween, Ferrera already had her first job.
"I first got paid to clean up after my neighbor's pet pig," she says. "And it wasn't the cutest or friendliest pig. It was big and had wiry hair. It wasn't Babe."
Ferrera didn't love the job, but "I'll get down on my knees and scrub your pig's poop if it means not having to beg my brother for $2 so I can get an ice cream," she says. "I was never too proud to make a buck."
For more from Ferrera – including why she is weirded out on girls' nights with her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants costars – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now
By high school, Ferrera was working the early-morning breakfast shift at the restaurant in the hotel where her mother worked.
"I was a horrible waitress," she admits. "I am just not a morning person so my brain just wasn't working that early. I've always been a big sleeper. I love my sleep. So I'm glad my waitressing days are behind me."
Watch Ferrera on Superstore, airing Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on NBC.