My First Paycheck, and the Extra Value of a Dollar

Problem #43: I want to explain to my kids the value of a dollar, but I don’t know where to start.

How much is a dollar worth to you? No, I mean, how much is it actually worth to you – personally? Not the intrinsic value of it, but it’s worth. Do you remember that first paycheck you received? I sure do. I remember the feeling of accomplishment when I earned that first paycheck. It’s something I want to pass on to my children. So I’ve been trying to explain to my boys the value of a dollar. I have a daughter too, but she thinks anything you can put in your hand should also go in your mouth (she’s 1-year-old).

Before we go too far, I want to recount a conversation I overheard between my two boys a few years ago. This is when I knew I had a PROBLEM.

Older Brother Attempts A Convalue of a dollar

Older brother: “Hey, is that money you have? – Let me see.”

Younger brother was admiring a bill in his hand – not too sure what to do with it yet.

Younger brother: “It’s mine! NOT yours!” Younger brother was suspicious, and rightly so.

Older brother: “I knoooww-oh, I’m not going to take it. How about we just trade?” He offered as an olive branch.

Younger brother: “Ummmm . . . “ He still wasn’t sure.

Older brother: “Look, I’ll trade you these 4 shiny monies (nickels) for that one piece of paper you have ( 5 dollar bill), ’cause four is more than one, and you can’t use that paper anyways.” It was obvious to me that he was well aware of what you could and couldn’t do with that “paper”.

Younger brother: “Ok.” He seemed nonchalant, as if he trusted his brother completely. Because why wouldn’t he?

They made the trade, and both went away satisfied.

Of course I, as the ‘Dad’, had to step in and explain the value of a dollar, and why trading 20 cents for 5 dollars was a bad idea. I’m sure the older brother was not as enthusiastic about my explanation, considering that he had to produce the bill and give it back.

That got me to thinking, why is it so hard for a child to grasp the value of a dollar? I wanted to make them understand that feeling of accomplishment that I got from collecting my first paycheck many years ago. And how much I valued the money I received.

Before you go thinking how old I am, just remember I’m still a “millennial”, albeit an older one.

My First Real Paying Job and My First Paycheck

My first real job was as a paperboy. Initially I wasn’t sure what I had signed up for, but I was handed a route of around 80 subscribers that paid $120/month. I was stoked. But what I didn’t realize at first was that I had to get up early in the morning to deliver those newspapers. newspaper in the morningI mean early. The papers had to be delivered before 6 AM.

Because everyone wants to read the paper with their morning coffee, or so I was told. So I had to wake up at 4:30 AM every day. This was going to be tough. But . . . money.

My Dad graciously offered to help me out – for a portion of the monthly wages. So we ended up doing it together. He and I rode our bikes about 3 miles to deliver the papers, and then 3 miles home – 6 days a week.

Saturdays weren’t any easier. Because although the papers didn’t have to be delivered until 8 AM, they were at least 3 times as big as the weekday papers. That was work.

After the first month of delivering papers 6 days a week, it came time for the first paycheck. What I didn’t realize was that even though most of the subscribers paid through the mail, there were enough of them that didn’t. These folks made up my pay. But I had to “collect” it from them. So the Newspaper got their money in the mail, while I had to go door to door for mine. Which meant more bike riding and more work.

I remember those first few months of delivering and collecting. Some months I was able to collect my entire paycheck, while other months I came up short. A newspaper subscription at the time was only $8.75/month. But some people just couldn’t come up with the cash consistently.

I remember hearing people’s excuses for why they couldn’t pay yet. “Come back on Saturday, ’cause I get paid on Friday.” they would say. Others complained that they couldn’t find their wallet, or that “she” took all the money, and went shopping. I knew when I came back later that they probably wouldn’t have it then either. But what’s a 15-year-old kid supposed to do?

Then there were the nice ones that always seemed to be ready for me. They would have the money stashed away in an envelope for when I arrived. It was earmarked for “the paperboy”. Those folks were always pleasant to talk to, and usually had a tip for me as well.

I learned that I didn’t want to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to come up with $9. And I learned how to work hard. Because of that hard work, I appreciated the money I earned. It meant something to me, because I earned it.

Related: Hard Work and Practical Choices are the key to Financial Success.

Teaching Your Kids About Work and Money

Some of those lessons I learned from that first job could have only been learned that way. But how do you explain to your kids what living paycheck to paycheck means? It’s easier and it sinks in more if they see with their own eyes, and experience it. But I don’t want them to actually experience that kind of life.dollar bills

My boys are 9 and 7. They’re way too young to get up at 4:30 in the morning to deliver papers. So we are trying other things. They are learning about money. How it has value, and how you have to work for it. They already do chores around the house. They receive money from family for birthdays and other holidays.

A few weeks ago, they earned their first “paycheck” for helping my Dad spread mulch around his house. They were beaming with pride as they showed me their earnings – $5 for each of them. It’s a great start. One day they’ll get “real” jobs.

But for now, we’ll just throw the football around in the yard. It’s not always about money.

I think they’ll understand . . . eventually.

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  1. Hi Chris,

    Great post here. Love the brother con story.

    FYI – on an iPhone when I click on any of your social share buttons to share this post all I get is Pinterest pop up meant for sharing images on their platform – I can’t actually share as intended.

    Sincerely Brent

  2. And you saved most all of your money for college tuition and a car to drive there! If I remember you paid for your first year of college from your savings. Then you worked while you were in college graduating with very little debt. Proud of you!

  3. I am thankful that you are a hard worker and a great example of what that looks like for our children!
    Thanks for going out to work everyday so I can stay home, watch soaps and eat bon bons. 😉 I love you!

  4. Very cute write up! But wow you had to act as a collector for payments? That would never happen now. It seems dangerous for a kid to ask money door to door from people who can’t come up with less than $9! Its a great lesson to be had! 👏

    • Most of the newspaper routes around here today are done by car, and probably all by mail too. But it certainly was a valuable experience. Thanks for commenting.😁

  5. Looking back on my own childhood, I appreciate it so much that my parents thought me about the value of money, working for it and even saving. One day I know for sure that your kids will have the same feeling. Great story!

    • Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate the comment.
      Teaching our kids about money is the least we as parents should do. Thanks again.

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