Making Cents – HumbleDollar

Making Cents Richard Quinn  |  June 24, 2020

IT ISN’T HARD these days to find media stories about family financial troubles—living paycheck to paycheck, no retirement savings, no emergency money and so on. These news reports often include complaints about the limited opportunities to get ahead financially. That got me thinking about my own work history.

My memory of earning money goes back to 1953, when I was age 10. It was about then that I recall understanding that you needed money to get stuff, like a peashooter, caps for a cap gun and goldfish. An allowance was out of the question, because my parents were focused on paying the rent. My father was a salesman at an auto dealership. He didn’t get paid unless he sold a car. We lived under the 1930s motto, “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.” I had to be creative to raise cash.

There were many ways to make money in my youth, some of which may be considered demeaning today:

1. In the 1950s, a soda bottle had a two-cent deposit. Convincing neighbors to give you their empties was a skill. Rummaging through the local park’s trash cans yielded more empties and, on occasion, the prized large bottle worth a nickel deposit. Two of those big boys got me an ice cream cone and three, believe it or not, a slice of pizza.

2. As I grew older, I needed more cash for the movies, buying presents and more expensive stuff, like model airplane and car kits. I expanded my work repertoire to include raking leaves and shoveling snow. Today, that seems to be passé. In the 45 years I lived in my house, I can count on one hand the times a teenager asked to rake leaves or shovel snow.

3. I grew up in a building with 24 apartments. A giant coal-burning furnace presented income opportunities, by helping the building superintendent shovel coal and take out the ashes. That building also had dumbwaiters. Pulling them up to each apartment to collect garbage every evening meant more cash.

4. The apartment building presented me and my sister with a captive customer base—for shoe shining. Also, our neighborhood version of Our Gang put on plays and carnivals, charging parents a dime for the privilege of attending. Throwing a wet sponge at my face was popular at our carnivals, though I’m not sure why I was selected for that role.

5. We tried our hand at a lemonade stand, too—with the juice freshly made. It was my first lesson in business failure. Nobody wanted to pay for quality. The next time it was Kool-Aid.

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Source: Making Cents – HumbleDollar


  1. Great reminder of how things have changed. We had chores to do around the house for our allowance. The allowance ended the summer I turned 12 and my father got me a job sweeping floors and helping out in a friend’s auto body shop– 25 cents an hour. Dad had his own used car lot and I’d work there on Saturday washing cars and helping out.


  2. Dick,

    Enjoyed reading the ‘opportunities’ on making money. I am just two years younger so like you I embarked on many of the same exploits especially the bottle rummaging so I could go the movies on Saturday afternoons for two feature films plus newsreeel and a number of cartoons all for $0.20 along with a box of jujubees for a nickel what a pleasure although I probably had more cavities than a lot of my friends. Shoveling snow was available but where I grew up there were no leaves to be raked. By the time I was 10.5 I got a morning paper route 5:30 to rise deliver my route go home wash up and be at church to be an altar boy for the 6:30 AM mass. Great training for being disciplined about earning money.


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