LOOKING BACK on my 75 years or, at least, those after age 10, I realize I have always managed to make money. I never received an allowance or lavish gifts as a child, but it never mattered. I always earned what I needed.
Let me count the ways: raking leaves, shoveling snow, lemonade stands and—my favorite—rummaging through the trash cans in a local park for soda bottles. We got 2¢ for regular size and, if lucky, 5¢ for large bottles. This was the 1950s version of recycling. I’m betting such activity would be frowned upon today by both parents and kids.
As children, we made money putting on plays and running our own carnivals with the neighborhood gang. Think The Little Rascals. We’d even allow our parents to throw a wet sponge at us for a nickel. Shining shoes with my sister was another venture. Since we lived in an apartment building, I also helped collect the garbage via a dumbwaiter each evening, shoveled coal into the furnace and carried out the ashes. Man, were those cans heavy.
When I was 13, I talked my way into a job at a local pet shop for $5 a week, plus a free tropical fish now and then. I even tried raising tropical fish to sell, but they ate their own. When I was 15, I got an afterschool job at the local library running a mimeograph machine and shelving books for 75¢ an hour. At the time, the minimum wage was $1, but I didn’t complain. I just looked for more hours to work. In between, there was selling greeting cards door to door. I still have the .22 rifle I bought with money earned from that venture.
Earning our own money seemed the right thing to do and it was mostly fun. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, there was a bit of satisfaction in what we did.
How are things different today? In 2017, children age 4 to 14 received an average $454 in allowance over the course of the year, in addition to cash gifts for birthdays and holidays. That works out to an average $8.74 a week, with 14-year-olds at an average $12.26. Meanwhile, a 2016 MarketWatch article notes that, “roughly seven in 10 parents give their children an allowance… and roughly one in four kids gets $100 or more per month.”
While some parents dole out cash for chores like taking care of a pet, doing dishes or making a bed, I see these things as a family obligation. They aren’t true work. They don’t instill a sense of entrepreneurship, independence and responsibility. There’s no success or failure involved and no dealing with a boss. You are getting paid for things you should be doing.
I have lived in my current house for 43 years. Never has a child knocked on the door and asked to rake my lawn. Only once was I asked about shoveling snow and that was more than 30 years ago.
I’m not lobbying for a return to the days of the Industrial Revolution and child labor. But I do think learning to handle money starts with learning what it takes to earn it. And when you spend the money you’ve earned, you should have to keep working to replace what you spent.
Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.com. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous blogs include Time to Choose, Reality Check, Under Construction and Mini-Golf, Anyone. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.