Among my friends growing up, I was the only one who didn’t get an allowance. My friends would get some spending money weekly, sometimes in exchange for doing chores. I had to do tasks for free! Child abuse, right?
My parents weren’t too poor to give me an allowance; this was all part of their sinister plan. Looking back, I appreciate it a lot more than I did at the time!
Earn your damn allowance
They didn’t put it like that, but that was the basic concept. I had to earn money if I wanted to buy something non-essential. As a kid just starting school, I was too young for a proper job, but I had three older brothers who had already figured out ways to make money that I could learn from. Interestingly, my oldest brother is probably the most resourceful and handy person of all of us. He had to be a trailblazer.]
I should mention that my parents would sometimes match my funds for more expensive purchases, so it wasn’t like I was stuck at home if I couldn’t make enough money for myself. Most importantly, they never dictated how I spent my money. If I spent it on something stupid, hey, lesson learned.
I had to wait until I was 14 ½ before I could have a real job when I started working in a bike shop. So this is what I did for money in the meantime.
Postal mail pusher-iner
I was six years old when I landed my first sweet job. One of our neighbours was a retired couple that travelled often. Since they knew our family had hard-working kids, they approached me with an appointment. Their mail slot was in their front door, and when they were gone, mail could pile up on the doormat. My job was to run over there twice a day (remember when mail was twice daily?) and shove the mail in the slot so it would be safe inside the house. They paid me 25¢ a day ($1.30 today). Not bad for a very short workday!
My Mom was a compulsive weeder, so I apprenticed with her. I started looking at other people’s yards and noticing whether they had weeds or not. I approached some neighbours to hire me to do weeding for them and got one taker. I believe they paid me by the hour, but I got a 50¢ bonus ($2.60 today) if I extracted a dandelion with a complete intact root. This wasn’t easy! This job led to other random gardening and watering jobs.
Feeding cats and birds
There was no shortage of cats in the neighbourhood! A couple of people paid me $3 a day ($5.70 today) to feed multiple cats and spend time with them. I had a neighbour with multiple parrots, and she paid more: $3 a visit ($8.55 today). The birds needed special attention, and I had bird experience. They could never find anyone to care for their birds, so they could never take a vacation. This job taught me about how being more skilled pays off!
Once you get a reputation for doing good work for money, it was amazing what would pop up. One neighbour paid me to change a light bulb periodically over a frighteningly tall staircase. Another would call me on Christmas Day or other gift-giving occasions, and I would help them set up any of their new electronic gadgets (e.g. a VCR, camcorder, computer). I’d get hired to help someone with young kids or no kids when they needed assistance with a 2-person household project. I learned a lot of useful household skills that still come in handy today.
Working for Mom and Dad
My dad worked for a corporate travel agency, and they would do a lot of mailing brochures to their clients. My dad would pay me to lay out a bunch of brochures and stuff envelopes with them, then mark them with a postage meter and walk them to the post office. My Mom worked for a company that sold fresh food in schools and had complicated sales taxes to pay in multiple counties. Since I was good at math, I helped her out. Eventually, after I learned how to program and got my first home computer, I wrote a program to do it for her. Then one of her coworkers hired me to do theirs!
Lawn care was a tradition started by my older brothers. Earlier jobs had given my oldest brother money to buy a used lawn mower. As my other brothers became involved, they would sell mowers to the next in line and maybe buy a fancier one. We split gas costs, and we all learned how to do basic mower repairs. Growing up in the midwest, most people had extensive lawns, so this was the first significant money-making job. It also taught me the value of doing something I hated but had a good payoff. 🙂
Many of these later things were sort of entrepreneurial, but I got more into this as I got older. I did the cliché lemonade stand thing and sometimes just sold random things I made, like bird houses. When I was 12, our family inherited a parrot from my departed grandfather. I got more interested in birds and started a business breeding and selling them. It was a ludicrous amount of work, and I barely made any money. But it was an amazing experience, and I learned that you must value your time! It was practically a full-time job for a few months a year and definitely wasn’t a good payoff if you only look at money.
If I were to have kids, I’d probably pass along this tradition. At the risk of sounding like an annoying parent or uncle, I gained a ton of life experience from this. Even though I didn’t have to earn money to survive, I needed to work to make my disposable income. It was my entertainment budget, for one thing. My parents never directed how I spent my money and would sometimes match me for things that were out of my budget. I got a co-signed savings account when I was pretty young! By the time I went to college, I was far more prepared than any of my friends to deal with the world.
Speaking of college, when I did need money to survive, I already knew how to figure out how to make money, and I learned how to deal with working for someone. I learned how to do an excellent job so that people would hire me again. I learned how to network.
Many of these “jobs” are still relevant today, and there are many new possibilities that technology makes possible. If anything, there’s an unlimited supply of people that need help with technology, setting up their systems, navigating social media, and fixing problems. People may be unable to afford $15/hour, so that’s where child sweatshop labour comes in. 😉