Monday, December 18, 2023

Cashflow Diaries Part One: Things I Did to Make Money (Wiith Lessons Learned along the Way)

The other evening I was lying awake thinking about the various ways I put money in my pocket as I was growing up. As I wrote the list I saw a number of interesting lessons I'd learned. Special recognition (and thanks) goes to my parents who were involved with our lives and not absentee landlords. 

My grandson Wally's plant sale, 2023
1. Popsicle stand. Age 6 or 7 
We were living in a relatively new suburban development in Maple Heights. I have no idea whose idea the popsicle stand was, but it was most likely my mom's, New neighborhoods generally have new families and lots of kids. The Popsicle Truck was a regularly feature on our street and I'm sure he made a killing. 

As for me, I would set up a little table at the end of the driveway along with a little sign, and Mom would bring out an ice cube tray that had been converted to popsicle making. It was one of those metal kinds. She would use Kool-Aid (double strength if I recall correctly) and place popsicle sticks in each slot. I must have had some reasonable price because on those hot summer days we always sold out.  

(EdNote: It was so much fun being with my five year old grandson Wally as he set up a "plant sale" at the front of his yard this fall. It's that same adventurous spirit. He even had a little cash register as well as marketing support!)

2. Good Grades On Report Card and an Allowance.
Our parents rewarded us when we got an A on our report card. At that time we'd get a dime for each A. (I'm not the dimes were what motivated me to do well in school. It was my nature to please, and the monetary reward was just a bonus.) We also got a quarter each week for taking out the garbage or whatever other chores we were assigned. 

Around this period I opened a bank account and began saving, though not big time because once a month I would buy a Mad magazine, which was a quarter, and by saving two quarters I could buy a Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Dad would drive us to Lawson's to pick up milk and I'm sure, in part, it was to watch our excitement over buying a magazine.

Before long I discovered that by saving four weeks of allowance I could buy a model airplane or some kind of navy vessel. At a very early age I was learning about deferred gratification.

3. Grotto Circus Contest (1960)
In 1960, when the Grotto Circus was coming to town, they had a contest as a means of publicizing the event. The contest involved guessing how many people and animals were in the circus that was coming to Cleveland. The winner would win $250 and 8 tickets to the circus, which was quite a big deal for an 8 year old. As soon as I heard  I entered the contest. I remember lying on the living room carpet with a pad of paper trying to guess how many of each kind of animals there might be. And of course how many clowns and workers behind the scenes.

As I added up my numbers, I asked my mom what other animals might be there and she suggested pigs. I asked how many pigs would be in a circus and she guessed 32. So I had 32 pigs and every other kind of animal that I thought might be in a circus, including lions and tigers, of course.

To my amazement, our family was contacted by the newspaper to say that I won the contest. Or rather, I and three others tied with the exact match. They would be sending a journalist to do a story on me and within the week I was front page news.

There were two big headscratchers for me, though. First, when we went to the circus there were no pigs. In retrospect, I think my mother must have been thinking of 4-H and the County Fair. The second mystery was the way they divided the money. $250 divided by four would be $62.50. I would not have complained about that. But to my surprise the check I receive was for $87.50. Either they were not that competent at math, or they felt a little bonus was in order lest they look like cheapskates. I will never know.

4. My Paper Route
In 1964 our family moved to New Jersey. Once more our family was in a new development, this time on much larger lots. As before, the neighborhood was primarily populated with lots of new kids. With the move there was also a new opportunity: I could start a paper route and make money.

There were two main papers, the Courier-News and the Newark News. The kid up the street--Mike Martin--had already begun hitting up the neighborhood for the Courier-News, so I nook up the slack with the Newark News. I learned about responsibility, having to get up early and do my route before school. I also learned a little about dealing with money. When I moved on to the next phase of my career, the person who took my route lost quite a few of the customers I'd accumulated by being pushy about getting tipped. I was saddened to hear that. 

5. Shoveling Snow. 
We didn't get half as much snow in New Jersey as we see here in Minnesota, but we did get enough to make extra money if you took the initiative. The driveways weren't that long so most folks didn't have snowblowers. A couple kids with shovels could tack up some bucks if they took the initiative. It didn't take long to know who did and din't need the driveways cleared, and who gave the best tips, too.

* * * 

The key lesson in four of these early experiences was initiative. There were opportunities there. Being motivated, I pursued opportunities that provided instructive experiences that became lessons for life. I didn't make a lot of money, but learned responsibility as well as dealing with the public. 

* * * 

6. Caddy at the Green Knoll Country Club
Mr. McAvoy, who lived down the street and had been my Little League coach, asked if I would be interested in being a caddy at the Green Knoll Country Club. He explained what's involved and we--my friend and next-door-neighbor Tom Browne--we soon carrying golf clubs around and learning some new skills with regards to dealing with the public. The other caddies were an interesting cross-section of humanity. We were clean cut kids and once we were "broken in" we did pretty well for ourselves. Fave perk for me: Free golf on Mondays for caddies. 

There's another lesson here. After lugging golf bags around all day we would walk over to the strip mall to call mom and eat a slice of Dominick's pizza while waiting to be picked up. Dominick was an import from Italy and his thin crust pizzas were super tasty. The pizza joint was a small place at the strip mall nearby and though Dominick spoke little to no English, he managed to do a brisk business, so much so that by the time I graduated college I believe he owned 8 pizza places and was a millionaire. 

A key lesson here is that we were noticed by an adult who had the connections to open a door for us. His reputation was on the line since he was the one vouching for us to the golf pro. We didn't disappoint and were welcomed back the following year, as veterans.

* * * 

7. Bus Boy at Fiddler's Elbow
Fiddler's Elbow was an elite country club in the rolling hills of Bedminster, NJ, where the upper crust were encamped. Bernardsville, Peapack-Glladstone, Basking Ridge, Far Hills. When I was in Little League with the ragtag Pluckemin team, these were the communities we played against.  Malcolm Forbes, John DeLorean, and Jackie O lived there, among countless others with the same clout.

I started on Mother's Day weekend 1969 and left after Mother's Day weekend 1970 at the end of my senior year. Many, many lessons from that year. And stories.


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