When I was much younger, about 10-years-old, my younger sister and I created our own little business. We called it a Paper and Mail Service and had a little rhyme that we wrote on our fliers, “We get your paper and mail each day while you’re away.”
It wasn’t a huge source of income since we didn’t market it outside our little neighborhood. But it helped us save up for periodic purchases of fun stuff like walkie-talkies and used books and it made us feel useful.
Our business lasted a couple years and for the most part I’d consider it a success. There’s still one incident, however, which stands out in my mind in stark contrast to the warm fuzzies I feel about the whole endeavor.
It was a pretty easy job, but a drawn-out one. Our neighbors directly across the street were embarking on a long tour of the British Isles. I can’t remember now exactly how long they were away, but I know it was a minimum of two weeks. I also remember expecting that they would pay us $10 each. I’m pretty sure this is what we’d worked out ahead of time.
By the time they got back, we’d each made plans for how we’d spend the money. I believe mine involved the used book store–$10 would buy at least 3 new used books!
The neighbors arrived home and came to pick up their papers & mail the next day. They told us that they had a special surprise for us. Oh yay, payment and souvenirs!? More money? No wait what? Tartan beret coin purses?
Tartan beret coin purses?!!!!!
Tartan coin purses, round and flat like berets, little pompoms on top. That was it. I’d post you a picture if I could find mine–I’ve carried it everywhere I’ve lived but can’t find it now that I actually want it for something. My sister’s has disintegrated from getting more use than mine did.
So back to tartan beret coin purses. If you ever renege on giving a child money, for the love of all that is holy do not give them a purse, wallet, coin purse, or any other reminder that they don’t have money. It was a cute coin purse and I would have appreciated it, had it not symbolized the loss of books.
It was a huge disappointment and a blow to our entreprenerial spirit. I felt utterly betrayed in the way that only a 10-year-old can feel betrayed. I shed a few tears on my own, though I was composed enough to thank them for thinking of me. It made me feel bitter about the work we’d done and for a while I mistrusted adults & customers.
It’s been about 13 years since the incident. I got over it. It hasn’t eaten me up inside, it didn’t warp my view of adults or money or work. Every once in a while, I find myself thinking “Tartan beret coin purses? WTF?”
When I do think about it, it makes me resolve one thing. If I ever hire a child or teen to help me around the house, pick up my paper & mail, or do anything, I will not assume that I can replace their promised payment (be it money or something else) with something I think is better.
As an adult, I have enough self-confidence to assert my need for the agreed-upon amount. I’ve even had to do that with clients who don’t pay up–it’s not fun, but I know where I stand. A child or even a teen does not stand as your equal in terms of social or financial power. And, as the cliché teaches us, with power comes responsibility. Use yours right and help children have positive financial experiences.