Hard Earned

Richard Quinn

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 Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous articles include Time to ChooseReality CheckUnder Construction and Mini-Golf, Anyone. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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4 years ago

“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.”

Indeed. That being said, today (that’s starting about 50 years ago now) if you as a kid do paid work outside your parents home property, then you parents have either to declare this income to the IRS (and thus probably pay taxes on them if they are over a certain threshold), or your kids must have their own self-employed system set-up, so that they can pay taxes and social security on their own. Otherwise, they are considered doing tax evasion, and their parents can go to jail for that.

If you want today to run a lemonade stand on the front lawn of your parents home, to earn some cents or a few dollars, you first must get a city permit for that, since it is considered a food distribution venture. And to get that permit, you must submit the proper certifications that covers all bases (FDA, HACCP, etc, etc). Just to be able to sell some squeezed orange juice that has some added sugar and has been diluted with some water, to be poured in a plastic container, then sold for a few cents or dollar.

Today, If you want to pile coal into the building furnace to earn a bit of money, you must be of working age (minimum 16 years old), syndicated into some union, have the proper permits and safety certificates, and of course being paid legally and forking over some of the earnings into some social security entity run by the State.

Today, If you go through waste bins to scoop up empty soda bottles, you are trespassing on someone else’s property, and thus stealing from that outfit. The cops can put you in jail for that, since you aren’t allowed anymore by city laws to rummage through dumpster bins. Only cats and rats and cockroaches may do that, but no human kids.

And I could go on and on.

Bottom line, “Uncle Sam” and it’s ilks certainly doesn’t want his kids to be self-employed and independent money makers anymore, unless it can get it’s share of the booty, by forcing the kids to go through a lot of his hoops to get there, through a maze of paperwork. No wonder no sane kid doesn’t want to do anything as such anymore, not worth the effort. Better to be on Facebook, while daddy and mommy hands over some dough each month.

4 years ago
Reply to  alain

I am able to price everything I want to buy by the number of work hours it would take me to earn it. I tried to pass that onto my son. For example: if you wanted something for $100, that is going to take you 12.5 hours of work (making $10/hr and you have to earn the payroll taxes too). Some things very quickly become not worth it.

Phil M
Phil M
4 years ago

I agree that the value of something is often proportional to the work you put in to get it. But one big change these days is that colleges and universities put zero value on someone working a job while in high school, and a huge amount of value on sports and volunteer work. It is far more valuable to me for my kids to volunteer and enjoy sports and get into a better college or secure a scholarship, than for them to make a few extra dollars that I could provide as allowance.

4 years ago

I had my first paper route at age 11. Legal age was 12. I worked non-stop for 44 years and now I do not have to work. I learned the value of money.

When my son was growing up, there were no paper routes, the two remaining papers were delivered by cars. I heard parents complain that their kids were so busy. The parents had scheduled them for travelling sports teams or swim and dances lessons for all their free time. I do not know when the kids got to study for school. When the kids got time off, they only played video games.

During the great recession, I think that there were fewer kid friendly jobs. There are so many lawn care services now, I think they could undercut a teenager’s rate.

Most kids, due to the various #movements, it just seem like they rather sit in their rooms texting and playing video games and avoiding any personal interaction. Their parent like it that way since the news make it seem like that it is not safe out in the world. Kids can’t even play out in their own yards alone without someone calling the police these days.

If they can’t play in their own yard at 9, how are they going to do a job for money at 15?

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