We all remember the first time we got paid for doing a job – oh the money! the independence! that grown-up feeling! the candy! (Candy? Really? That’s what you bought with it??) For me, it happened when I was 11, and the the parents of a 3-year-old girl thought I’d make a great babysitter. I overheard my mother’s side of the conversation with them and got so excited to hear her say “$2 an hour is fair” (it was 1981, minimum wage that decade was $3.35). The parents went to a christening and brunch event for 4 hours and I earned $10!! I tried not to look excited as I tucked that bill in my small corduroy-covered Bermuda bag…I mentioned this was 1981, right? I had planned to keep that $10 bill forever, but it was ratty and begged to be deposited in the bank.
What, you deposited your first real money in the BANK? What kind of weirdo are you??
Well I already had a Rubik’s Cube to torture my brain, a Sony Walkman to torture my ears, and plenty of Pop Rocks to torture my mouth — I mean, what else did an 80s tween need? And a savings account back then earned a bomb in interest – rates hit an all time high of 13.4% that year. I was in 6th grade, and I’d just completed a social studies assignment on European geography that instilled a desire to backpack around Europe after college. And so began my first ever goal-focused savings plan and the desire to pick up gig work.
It so happens that when I put my mind about something, I am all in. I babysat prolifically. I mowed lawns. I modeled (clothes on – I was 15!) for a watercolor workshop. I stuffed envelopes every other week for a year. I got poison ivy cleaning out a senior citizen’s backyard. I did Girl Friday work at the offices of some of the babysitting-dads. I temped doing warehouse inventory for a cadaver bone retrieval lab…all before college.
In my youth, the popular jobs for the under-16 crowd were babysitting and mowing lawns. The 16-18 crowd qualified for ‘real’ jobs, and most did cashier work, retail and food prep. Please leave a comment below – I love hearing where everyone got their start hustling for an honest buck, and the generational differences are particularly interesting to me. Go on, give me a little peek at how you earned your first dollar, and what you did with it!
I chose to continue babysitting because I only made a little bit less than those jobs paid, and I could do my homework after the kids’ bedtime. And yes, I really did it, I was a pretty self-motivated kid, aka ‘weirdo’. When I see what babysitters make now, I would totally go this route again. I mean, $12-20/hr depending on where you live is nothing to sneeze at! Holy cow!
I actually tried to get an afternoon paper route for my local paper, but decided it was a lousy deal. My brother, however, did it for a couple of years and proved me right. Now I realize this is how the paper delivery biz has worked forever, but it astounds me that kids did this: s/he pays for the papers, makes literally a dime off each one, bags & delivers them in all weather, does weekly collections, and occasionally tries to sign up new customers for a $1-2 bonus. That’s too much to expect for $2.50 a day and an average tip of .35-.50/week per customer, even in the mid-80s. And do you know how many people would put off paying the paper to the point where the delivery person stops (4 weeks owed)? That kid paid for your paper, biked over to your house and delivered it, ya frikkin’ Grinch, pay up!
Okay, so we’ve established that I was a weirdo and saved everything I earned from Day One, but I know that’s not the norm. My brother spent it on candy and arcade games, my sister had to have Guess jeans…what about you? Did those dollars burn a hole in your pocket or were you a bit more deliberate with them, and why? It’s always interesting to understand your own history with money as you plan your future with it.
Hey, Gig Boss Katie, how did the European backpacking dream trip turn out?
Well, a few things happened. By the time I got to college, I decided I didn’t want to cram it all into one big blur of a trip and started traveling before that – single country trips to Italy and Denmark over Christmas breaks. And that morphed into a really strong desire to live in Europe after graduation and travel from there. I did that for eight years, temping and contracting the whole time. I’d say that 6th grade geography project had a much bigger impact on my life than even my master’s thesis!