I started working when I was twelve. It was just a weekly lawn/garden job for Mrs. Beaty, the elderly lady who lived next door, but she paid cash each week. Sometimes I got as much as four dollars for a summer afternoon’s work. In 1972 that made me the richest kid on the street.
Or so it felt. My parents didn’t really have many requirements on what I did with the money. They encouraged me to save some and my mother opened a savings account for me at the bank. It was quite a thrill at 12 to walk in the bank with five dollars and make a deposit. Other than doing some savings, my parents attitude was, “You earned it, you spend it.” I did start to notice them offering to buy me things less – things like tickets to the movies or the plastic car models I liked to build or even candy. If I said I wanted something, say a new bike, the most common answer I got from Father would be something like, “With your job you could save up for that and get a real fancy one, but you do have a working one in the garage.” But they stopped objecting to me buying Mad Magazine because, “It’s your money.”
I do recall a few lessons in budgeting from my mother. My father was an accountant and a bit of a wise guy and he’d do things like explain compound interest equations and how in just 50 years my four dollars a week could be millions. Thanks Dad.
There were things I saved up for. I bought a clock radio with a cassette player, magazines, movie tickets, car models, and even a few parts for my bicycle.
I did learn a lot from Mrs. Beaty. One of her favorite sayings was, “let your head save your heals.” She loved roses and each year wanted one or two new ones planted. She’d shuffle out with her walker, sit on the walker’s seat and guide me through planting it. If I’d forgotten a tool or one of the many soil amendments she used, I’d get the, “Always bring everything needed for the job – let your head save your heals.”
In time I moved on from there to working part time as a dishwasher in a nursing home, then a couple of years as a security guard while I went to school learning electronics and computers.
Now, some 48 years after that first paying job, I find myself retired from a long high tech career and not having to work for money. It’s a strange concept to me – not working. I’ve always had some source of income – even if it was very small. It was something that gave me not only independence, but as a sense of self esteem. I could take the money out of my pocket and proudly say, “I earned this, I get to choose what to do with it.”
Oh sure, I have my retirement savings and investments and more than enough money to meet my needs, but not working just feels strange. Sure, I keep busy. The move to a new city and a new home has been a lot of work. Honestly, I don’t see how I could have done it if I’d been working at a job. I do have my hobbies and am looking forward to doing more there.
Still, I do sometimes miss the simple pleasure of finishing an afternoon work in Mrs. Beaty’s garden, collecting my four dollars and riding off on my old bike to the the drug store to buy the latest copy of Mad Magazine and a candy bar.
I don’t know where I am going with all this, but maybe Father would agree, I think I’ve finally saved up for that fancy new bike.