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How I Got Money as a Kid
The following stories were submitted by readers in response to our "How I Got Money" contest.

Winner:

"A Cultural Exchange"
by Denise


During the Bo Derek days when everyone became afrocentric, wearing braids daishikis, 'fros... I was a 14 year old opportunist/entrepreneur. I grew up in Brooklyn where all the ethnic girls like myself learned how to cornrow and style from almost birth, learning on the front stoops of your brownstone, tenement, or project building. In the 'hood you did it for free, or you exchanged "Do's" with your girlfriends so that everyone's hair was looking tight.

The Bo Derek phenomenon for white America brought financial opportunity for me. I trained daily to NYC's Washington Square Park and braided the long hair of at least one to two gringas daily. It was a cultural exchange for us both. I told them the tricks of the trade and they in turn taught took me to their college dorms, homes, and I became friends with many.

Some were into things that I was too you to get into, but most were cool. For instance, a German female artist who lived in a beautiful terraced apt. across the street from Washington Square was a regular customer. Her hair was tired of being permed and colored and just fell out. I went to her beautiful home to wash condition and braid her hair over the course of two years, until it regained it's strength and beauty. In exchange she introduced me to the arts from her perspective. She told me of her favorite artists, and explained what was going through her head when she did her paintings. I lived in Paris many years later for four years, and I thought of her when walking through the Louvre, her passion for art moved me to check into it and take art appreciation in college.

In life even doing things for selfish reasons can open an opportunity to give of yourself.


Notable Mentions:

"Cushy Job"
by John
When I was a little kid growing up I had four older sisters. Being the runt of the family I got stuck helping them clean their room and helping them with other boring stuff. They did pay me not much I might add, but when their boy friends came over and visited that's when I hit the jack-pot. I'd get all the pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters that fell out of their pockets and into the couch. I remember running and flipping over the cushions after they left just to find my little pot of gold.

Well when I'm desperate for cash I still have that itch to see how much has piled up in the couch. That is how I survived being a kid making money. It never added up to much but when your a kid you think your the richest person in the world with only a handful of change.



"More than our Money's Worth"
by JK Sinrod

My pals and I were walking the boardwalk absolutely tapped out. I mean between the 4 of us we had zero money. We walk up to one of the telescopes that you have to pay 10 cents to see the boats on the ocean with, for about 10 minutes. This machine was obviously for the tourists, cause there was no way in hell one of us Coney Island boys would ever give up a whole dime to be a Peeping Tom. We could peek through the wall slats of one of the bathhouses for free to do that. We look into the lenses which were blackened and closed up. Finally we find one that is working! Someone must have just been there, and walked away before the 10 minutes were up. We fight to take turns looking at nothing at all. The thing keeps on going. I mean it won't stop. We think we have just discovered ice cream.

Boy are we getting away with murder or what! After what seems like 30 minutes we are getting bored, and are trying to figure out how to get it to stop. After all why should some other creep get to see the show for nothing? Strange logic, I know.... I rap the contraption on the side, and low and behold...... a dime comes out. A whole dime. We all grab for it, and in our haste it falls through the crack in the boardwalk planks and onto the beach below. 2 of the kids take off to find it under the boardwalk, (hence the title of the famous song is born). When they are gone, I rap it again on the side... this time 3 dimes come out into the little cup on the coin return. Well now we are laughing so damn hard it hurts. More raps.... more dimes.

Again and again till our little grubby hands are full of more coins than we've ever seen in our lives. Meantime the other 2 kids are directly below our feet still looking. We are helping direct them... "a little to the left", and "it fell right here". We are filling up our socks with the dimes all the while. Finally the flow of dimes stops. It never occurs to us to split it 4 ways. 2 is better. After all they left us. Th ey come back up without the dime, and shake the telescope in disgust. We walk the rest of the way home trying to hide our "dime" limp caused by the coins sliding in our socks underneath our feet. 2 of us are laughing like hell, the other 2 can't figure it out. The next day, we treat the whole gang to Mr. Softee... we paid in dimes.

There is more to the story about growing up in Coney Island at the author's website.



"Cold Cash"
by Ron

I just happened to come across your interesting contest this morning and was quite surprised to find it as for some time now I have been thinking of listing some of the more interesting "Kid Money Makers that I discovered as a young "business man".

Where to begin? Would you believe adults paying ten cents, three times a week during the heart of winter here in Canada for a pail of frozen ice for their wooden ice boxes in the mid 1940's?. I really did wonder about it myself but, mother nature helped me make it and all I had to do was deliver it and collect my dimes.

P.S. They even saved my empty containers for me to refill.



"Starting Early"
by Ted

Not very exciting, but interesting nonetheless. My dad was born in 1921, so I was raised by a man who had "depression values." Even growing up in Chicago, there were plenty of urban chores. Those were done for free as a member of the family.

My dad wanted to teach me responsibility at an early age. My first job was landed at age 7. I walked a neighbor girl home from local day camp. And because she was too short to ring her doorbell, I rang it and waited for her to be buzzed in.

Using hindsight, her mom could've been waiting downstairs just the same. But I can still remember the pride I took in doing my job. Twenty-five cents a week was enough to keep me in penny candy and BBQ Fritos for the whole summer.

So there you have it. I later moved on to removing trash every evening from the landings of the 4 flat and taking the 55 gallon drums to and from the curb once a week. But that was when I was the ripe old age of 9!



"Down and Dirty"
by Tony

In the late fifties I would get a can of grease or lard and walk from 110th street and 96th street first on one side than on the other and make between $5 and $10 bucks in pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters and on rare occasions a buck. You needed an eagle eye and accuracy....How, by fishing the subway sidewalk grills. Walking over them was truly a kick. We would find all kinds of stuff down there but we hunted for the change that people dropped. We used a long string or thin rope and a old fashion type can and bottle opener. We would put grease or lard on the rounded end and lowered it down hoping to fish out by sticking the coin.

After a run from 110th st to 96th and back to 107th we feasted on hostess twinkees that cost .10 cents and a yoo hoo that cost .15 cents, cracker jacks and baseball cards, Mantle, Maris, Berra, Pepitone, Howard,, Ford, Boyer, Richardson and the rest of those great Yankees....



"Good connections"
by Jeanne

As a youngster of 8 or 9 years old, I lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and my next door neighbor was a man who was 'connected'. If you lived in Manhattan, you know what I'm talking about. Every time he saw me, he gave me a quarter. At that time, this would have been in 1947, a quarter was a lot of money to a kid. Most of the kids ran from this man, but not me, since I knew that 25 cents would be just around the corner for me. I would run off and spend it immediately on candy or ice cream.

My mother would have made sure I returned it, if she found out. She never did.



"Garbage in, garbage out"
by Doug

When I was a kid, and we all once were, I used to take peoples garbage out of their bungalow to the dumpster for 10 cents a week. I had about 10 customers so a buck a week wasn`t a bad salary for a 6 year old in 1952. All my customers were very satisfied. Maybe it was my double your garbage back guarantee?



"Carnival"
by Gordon

When I was about 10 my friend and I decided to have a "carnival" in his backyard. We worked for a couple weeks putting together games of skill, like squirt guns and candles to shot out at a distance, a penny toss board with different amounts to win if you landed a coin within a square, peep shows-where a person could look into a box or something and see what "paradise on earth was"--and of course it was a pair of dice on a globe--we had maybe 10 different things to do. We had my older sister type up 50 or so invites that we put on doors around and for prizes we got stuff our moms and sisters and dads didn't want anymore and a few new items we bought at the dime store--well to make it short it turned out even better then we ever thought it would-we took in about $40 and spent maybe $5 on prizes.

We did this in about 1957 so we are talking big bucks for us. We tried again the next year and it flopped.



"Shoe Shines"
by Carmine

My parents could not afford a nickel. Times were bad.

Growing up in the Bronx, I used to walk a mile to shine shoes with a home made shoe box (could not afford a store bought one). My first day, I earned $0.95,very excited I run all the way home to my mother and proudly gave her all the money.

That was then, now it seems $50 bucks is a pittance! Hey thanks for listening, it was a long time ago.



"Car Wash"
by Vanessa

Me and my best friend, Kimberly, used to sit in the parks during the summertime. We had a neat park with a splash pad, so we'd run in the water, then lie on the grass to dry off and tan. A couple of times a week, we'd be lying on the grass and become convinced that we were wasting our time and talents; with a little effort, we could be millionaires before we were teenagers. So we'd think of ways to make our fortune. Lemonade stands were overused and practically everything else was out of reach. So we returned to the same idea as the last week - the infamous car wash.

We'd run over to one of our houses and announce the idea. Our enthused parents let us try, every single week. So we'd get out the chalk and write CAR WASH in big letters on the front of her driveway and a another CAR WASH with a big arrow on it on my driveway. This must not have helped many people as my house was a few blocks away and following the arrow led you to a dead end. Following the ritual setting up, consisting of mixing soap and water and getting drenched, we'd each go beg our parents to let us wash their cars, to 'prime the pump' for the rest of the neighborhood.

A few people would usually come by, and we'd charge them a dollar and a half for a wash. We inevitably ended up spraying each other and the dog, sometimes the customers themselves, and if we were really lucky, our little brothers. In the end, we normally had about eight dollars. We'd sit down and discuss the fact that this was not the way to become millionaires. If we couldn't achieve our goal - today - then what could we do? In a flash, we always came upon the same answer. Burger King. It was just around the corner, our parents surely wouldn't mind. We'd run to each of our houses and tell them our plans, then go to burger king and get our money's worth. We'd come back to eat, and wind up soaked munching on burgers and splitting fries on the mess of chalk that was slowly draining into the grate in front of the house.!

Tomorrow, we'd say, would be different.



"Making the Rounds"
by Cathy

When I was kid on Sunday mornings I'd drive with my dad back to the "Old Neighborhood" so he could attend the Holy Name Society's weekly mass/meeting at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral downtown New York with all my uncles and his friends.

Being the middle child--and a tomboy to boot--I was quite a little "showman" and always accompanied my dad. (I loved the "neighborhood" and still do.) All my cousins and relatives lived down there still and it would give me extra time on the "street" with them. I was an adorable kid, my dad would call me Dondi (does anyone remember that comic strip?)

Well, once we got there I'd make the rounds--saying hi to all my favorite uncles and dad's friends attending the meeting. By the time I left the "club" I had a good 50 cents in my pocket from all the guys who told me to treat myself and my cousins to candy or ice cream. Sometimes we'd gather enough to all go to a Sunday afternoon matinee--you didn't need much--you bought a brown paper bag filled with penny candy and you were set.



"Working the Crowd"
by Ira

It was my brother Richard's Bar Mitzvah and there was well over 200 people. My parents had lots of family and friends. It was January 26th, a Saturday. The next day was my 9th birthday.

I went from table to table showing off my cuteness and getting my cheeks wet with kisses and red with squeezes. I said to each table, "Tomorrow's my birthday, did you get me any presents?" I made out like a bandit collecting almost $30 (it was 1962). Afraid that I may have missed some people and of course wanting to give everyone a chance, I went up on stage and said into the microphone, "Hello everybody. I just wanted to remind you that tomorrow's my birthday." I came off stage and got hugs from my parents and aunts and uncles. I collected another 20 bucks.

Unfortunately, the next day my brother Richard gave me birthday punches.



"Slow Line, Quick Buck"
by Patrick

I worked a lot of different jobs as a kid, but the first money I ever made came during the gas crisis of the late 1970s. I know the BIG GAS CRISIS took place in 1973-74, but apparently there was a smaller one that took place a few years later--there were gas lines that people would wait on, sometimes for half an hour or more. I was about 7 or 8 years old at the time.

Me and this guy Thomas from my neighborhood (he was a couple of years older) would get up just after dawn on weekday summer mornings. We would each take 15 cents and put them in the freestanding newspaper boxes. Papers were 15 cents at that time. 15 cents to open the Daily News box, 15 cents to open the Post box. But instead of taking just one paper, we would take ALL OF THEM.

Then we'd head over to the gas lines. There were several gas stations right in the area, and within a short time, they'd each have a line of cars going down the block. The lines would last throughout the rush hour, and we'd be there the whole time, walking up and down the lines, charging 25 cents a paper--ten cent mark-up for the convenience we were offering. Lots of folks bought papers, and some would give us as much as 50 cents a paper.

Then there were the people who would send us to the deli for coffee, rolls, bagels, egg sandwiches, whatever. The deli was a three minute walk away, but naturally they couldn't get out of the car. Those people would sometimes give as much as a dollar tip.

The great thing about the gas lines was they would pretty much be over by 9 a.m.--we'd have the rest of the day wide open, with what seemed like a lot of money in our pockets.



"A Real Ford"
by John

I was about 10 years old. My best friend, Bill Foley, and I sold magazines (Liberty Magazine) at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. We went through the parking lot and sold to people, usually husbands, who were waiting in their cars while their wives visited in the hospital. The magazine sold for a nickel. We didn't get rich but we kept busy.

One day, my friend was standing near the entrance to the parking lot when a large black car turned sharply into the parking lot causing my friend to jump back to avoid being hit. As he jumped back, he yelled "Hey. Watch it. Who do you think you are, Henry Ford."

To our suprise, who should look out the rear seat window, smile and wave, but Henry Ford, himself. (He didn't buy a magazine.)


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