As a child I had quite the entrepreneurial spirit. I set up many lemonade stands, a time-honored classic, but when one’s mind is firmly set on a $19 stuffed Troll doll (seriously, it was the rage!), one’s mind can come up with a multitude of other earning possibilities. I didn’t have an allowance as a child and neither did anyone else I knew until I was much older – so if I wanted it, either I had to wait for my birthday to roll around (which was in December, so it always seemed to takeits time) or make the money myself. Usually I chose the latter, and it got me into a habit of looking out for money making opportunities that are still available to me today.
Age 4 – Drew faces on leaves I pulled off a rhododendron plant. I sold these door to door, for a dime apiece. Unfortunately, most of my business plan was “I’m super cute,” and this was not sustainable. However, this was my first lesson learned in business – people do buy things for reasons other than need.
I have no memory of this, but my parents say that at about this age, I also sold pretty fall leaves door to door, frequently to the neighbors whose yards produced the leaves. And I also set up a small store in the hallway outside my bedroom, with a step-stool full of items for sale. I don’t think I quite understood that normally you try to sell your junk to strangers, and not to the people who bought it for you in the first place!
Age 6 – Created clothes out of paper for a toy rabbit that I owned at the time. The clothes were made out of paper from notepads that my grandfather (a traveling salesman himself) had given me. The clothes were decorated with Steelers stickers and was able to sell some of these “clothes.” Again, I don’t know why I thought people would buy them, but they did, probably because of the aforementioned cuteness.
I also had a lemonade selling experience that will always stand apart in my memory – a neighbor with an astonishingly lovely house put it up for sale, and I had the good fortune to have set up my stand on the very day of the open house. I made about $40 in one day – keep in mind that I was selling the lemonade itself for ten cents a cup. My parents had to come help me keep up with the flow. I think many adults just gave me a quarter or a dollar and told me to keep the change. (Which to me at the time seemed like saying, “Here, this gold bar is making my pants too heavy, you take it.”)
Age 7 – Put up signs all over the neighborhood advertising chives for 25 cents an ounce. I had been given one-fourth of the family garden plot in the backyard (my space was about 3 by 3 feet) and my chive plant was enormous. I knew this was something you could buy at the store for a couple bucks a bottle, so I figured my humongous plant had to be worth quite a bit. Evidently I did not know both a) how much an ounce actually was and b) that the leaves of chive plants are hollow, because one neighbor did actually take me up on the offer and one ounce about decimated the plant.
Age 8 – My father and I took part in a “children’s yard sale” at the local children’s museum, where you would bring your toys and other items to sell. The museum seems to have only advertised for sellers and not for customers, however, since no one else showed up and it turned into a barter economy, with all the kid sellers just buying each other’s toys. There were some tearful moments when I tried to purchase someone’s beloved stuffed dog that she was not quite ready to part with. I accepted a bear and some Legos instead.
Age 9 – Devised elaborate engineering plans for a very fancy plywood lemonade stand with a real sign, a counter, and sides, but was foiled when it was explained to me that the thing would weigh twice as much as I did (in addition to being a plentiful source of splinters). I settled on a sign made of leftover playhouse wood on which I wrote “Lemonade – 25 Cents” with house paint. My father still has this – I think it’s now become folk art.
Age 11 – Became old enough to be a mother’s helper. I was paid about $2 an hour, I think, which was a bit frustrating, since you can always make more lemonade but you cannot make more hours in the day. Another lesson in business – a business which depends entirely on the number of hours you put into it is not a business, it is a job.
Age 13 – Started babysitting. My first babysitting job began when a neighbor mom down the street went into labor during the night and called our house to ask for my parents to watch the kids. My dad went, and then called home in the morning to rouse me as a replacement. From then on, I regularly babysat for this family and another next door. One family’s kids were more fun, while the other family paid more. Third lesson in business – more money doesn’t make the hours go faster. I always accepted the fun kids if both families needed me on the same evening.
My sister would sometimes ask to take over a couple evenings of babysitting for me that I’d already scheduled when she was home from college to make some extra money – I still regret not charging her some portion of the babysitting money she earned from this, like a babysitting broker!
Age 14 – Started attempting to sell my services as a website developer. The internet was a new and scary concept and I thought I could convince local plumbers, pet stores, and other local businesses to pay me to create a nice-looking static webpage for them. I even created a whole fictional website (for the made-up client Crayons Unlimited) to demonstrate my superior skills. I didn’t land any clients, and I got discouraged. In retrospect, I wish I would have been much more motivated and continued to pursue clients; I probably could have made a FORTUNE (at least by 14 year old standards).
Age 15 – However, my internet knowledge attracted the attention of a family friend who ran an antiques business. I would go to her house on the school bus once or twice a week to take pictures, write descriptions, and list things on eBay. I enjoyed all the odd things she’d find and sometimes she’d send me home with unsellable items, which is how I ended up with a bright blue fake-leather executive chair.
Age 16 – Paypal was becoming more and more popular on eBay and online, and as an early adopter of eBay I also had a Paypal account.
eBay and its sellers were very excited to accept Paypal and many people encouraged potential buyers to adopt it, mostly because you would get $10 for every new signup, and everybody was new. I made quite a bit of money this way by getting others I knew online to sign up – all, of course, promptly blown on eBay on crazy hats. (A phase.)
Age 17 – Became quite proficient at online blackjack. Online casinos were becoming easy to open and very profitable, so there was a veritable explosion of new casinos. Most of them offered bonuses, and many were free – meaning you didn’t have to put in any money of your own to get their money. There were restrictions on withdrawing anything won with bonus money, mostly in the form of total amounts wagered, or a very high minimum withdrawal amount. I once parlayed a $20 bonus into a $250 withdrawal to meet the minimum. Beat that, Vegas! Most of the time I lost, but since it was free money and I was bored anyway, I didn’t care. Ten years later I am still receiving mail from some of these places.
Age 18 – I was in my second year of college by this point and old enough to open regular bank accounts. I started opening them online for the money bonus pre-PATRIOT Act, so they didn’t require as much information or any physical presence in a bank. I probably opened an account with at least a dozen banks, most of which are probably closed from inactivity!
I also had a regular campus job – well, three to be precise. Over the course of four years of college I held eleven different jobs, and after my freshman year I never held just one at a time. I worked as a tutor, an office attendant for the housing department, in the law school’s law clinic, as a transcriptionist, a resident assistant for a high school summer program, a phone survey-taker, wrote flashcard questions, washed laboratory equipment (in two different labs), spun jars of bacteria in enormous centrifuges, created department webpages, moved books around the library, and photocopied and mailed interlibrary articles. And that’s just what I can remember. Lesson I learned here: Better to have flexibility and two jobs, than inflexibility and one. I was able to work around my classes and still go to all the things I wanted to attend. I also lived on campus every summer. By working my keister off the summer after graduation, I had enough to get the first apartment and buy a passel of new furniture once I landed a real job. (Hello, $1500 Ikea trip.)
Now of course I’m hardly a 40-hours girl – I do have a regular job, but I’m also a veteran mystery shopper and previously owned a small business I ran from home. I’m always on the lookout for great new business ideas and have never lost my entrepreneurial spirit. Fortune does not come to those who don’t chase it!
Readers, what did you do as children to earn money? Did you have a lemonade stand? Do your kids have money making schemes today?