Free-Range 9-Year-Old Earns $250 — in a Week!

Hi Readers! I don’t even know many ADULTS this entrepreneurial!  Enjoy this  story sent in by Misty Olen, who posted it on her blog, Free Your Kids.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Three years ago I started reading this blog. At that point, I was like many parents. I was afraid to let my kids play outside or do anything without me keeping a close eye on them. After a week of reading Free-Range Kids I decided I was going to start raising my kids to be Free-Range.

It was a hard transition and a million thoughts went through my head: “I’m going to let them walk down the road? That’s crazy, what if a car hits them? What if they get kidnapped? What if they fall down and get hurt and I don’t hear them cry?” There were so many thoughts and scary ideas that I had to work through, but I kept in mind that I was raising my kids to be confident and to be able to handle themselves in the world. They needed to explore and learn what life is like, and the best way to do that is by experiencing it.

Soon after, I decided to raise my kids this way I started looking at other things in life I wanted to teach them, like how to earn money. When my youngest, Colton, turned eight years old, I decided I was going to stop giving him and my daughter their $3 per week allowance. I was going to help them learn how to be entrepreneurs. I told them I would not give them money and that their job was to look for ways to make money, ways that didn’t involve doing things for me.

In the first month my son started recycling. He walked around and picked up cans on his way to school and then walked them to the recycling facility next to our house. He could easily make $10 per week (over 3 times his previous allowance). He was off to a great start!

One year later, Colton decided to change his focus to golf balls. We lived next to two golf courses so he and his friend Zach got the idea to gather the balls and sell them. They collected a 5-gallon bucket full of golf balls. Zach never wanted to do the work of selling, only collecting. Colton decided one day he was going to the golf course to actually sell the balls.

He took off and told me he would be back in a couple hours. Hours later he returned with a wad of cash. He was full of excitement and told me about learning which golf balls were the most valuable and how much people would pay. He figured out that standing by Hole 8 on the course was the best place to sell because people stopped there to get a drink of water, and he could also wash the golf balls there while waiting for his next customer.

Colton soon recruited friends to help him sell and he let them keep 50% of money they earned and he kept the other 50 percent. Yes, he had employees. At dinnertime he would tell us about discounts he had come up with to convince customers to purchase more, and discuss his different selling tactics. One of his marketing strategies was giving away some of his cheap golf balls to some of his bigger customers to encourage repeat business.

Altogether he made about $250 in those two weeks. He was really excited to have that much money, and decided he wanted a new bike. We took him to the store and he bought a bike with the money earned from golf balls. I had the pleasure of seeing his sense of accomplishment and witnessing how proud he was of himself. I feel like I’m doing my job as a parent. I’m teaching my kids to be confident and providing them with the tools to be happy and successful in life. — Misty Olen

What are you trying to sell us, son?

54 Responses

  1. Oh lord, when you added the comment to the picture I thought of the episode of Beavis and Butthead where they did the exact same thing. Maybe those two weren’t as dumb as MTV would have us believe.

  2. Will he have to file taxes too? I may be tipping my political hand here, but I don’t know what kills a good entrepreneurial spirit better than heavy handed taxes.
    Go, Colton!

  3. My 13yo and his 12yo friend have done the exact same thing for the past 3 years. Collect, clean and re-sell golf balls to grateful golfers. It’s a great business!

  4. Congratulations to Colton and his mom! He’s going places.🙂

  5. That is fantastic!

  6. Go Misty for instilling self-reliance in her son, and Go Colton for going out and doing it. It’s a wonderful feeling when you know that if you want something you can get it without being dependent on somebody else getting it for you. He wanted a bike, he got a bike. Brings me to tears (of joy).

  7. I ran into a kid doing the same thing last year. He was a bit over zealous, taking balls out of the middle of the fairway and then trying to sell my own ball back to me.

  8. hmmmm, we live within a mile of 3 different golf courses ….

  9. My kids raised $102 in 3 hours at a lemonade stand by taking donations only. They decided it would be best to put the stand on the main street in our community so they could get the most traffic, far from the sight of my front door. People recognized them as the little girls who play at the park alone! We put the money with other donations we had collected to purchase diapers for an Alabama town that was destroyed in April tornadoes. They had an amazing sense of accomplishment!

  10. I wish my kid was that ingenious to do something like that. There are at least two golf courses around here and the recycling depot is just about at the edge of his roam. Except he prefers to sit on the computer and vegetate. *sigh* He wants me to pay for a cel phone for him to go out. Honestly, if it means he’s out doors and exploring, I just might do it.

  11. Fabulous! Kudos to Colton and kudos to mom for letting him learn how to be a contributing member of society. You’ve given him something that no one can ever take away from him. He already figured out how to run his own business. In this capitalistic society, you could have given him no better gift.

    And also, to the mom who gave the donation money – that’s such a big-hearted thing of your family to do. What wonderful things to teach your children. 🙂 It gives me a little more faith in humanity.

  12. That’s a fantastic story. Colton may be the next Ron Popeil!

  13. I used to recycle cans as a kid. I wish they still did it here. I havent seen those recylcling stations in years! all homes have individual reycling bins here now, so I think that killed the can recylcing depots????

    I was thinking of taking my girls to a confectionary warehouse in my city and buying a big container of candy for them to sell. The only probably is bulk buying is still pretty expensive in australia and they will have to take care to sell it for enough to make their money back😉 I also have doubts about whether they will eat the candy themselves🙂 so as long as I keep an eye on them, this will be one of their activities for the winter holidays here at the moment.

  14. What a great idea! My cousin lived behind a golf course when he was a child, and I remember hearing how he did the same thing and made a decent amount of money with it.

  15. Dang now I want to go move near golf courses and recycling centers

  16. I can’t help but think that this is one of those things that might be fine for some but not for most. I have a feeling that many golf courses are not going to let a kid wander around collecting golf balls. Also, what happens when other kids start to catch on to this? Of course, there may not be any other kids around that are allowed outside of their yards.

    When I come across kids selling lemonade or something similar I usually buy to try to encourage them (if they are being reasonable — I won’t spend $2 for a cup of Country Time). There have been a few occasions where a parent will give me the evil eye from inside the house and one time the kid’s father told me that he didn’t think that it was “appropriate” that I was buying Kool-Aid from his kid since he didn’t know me. I remember doing this as a kid and the only people who ever bought any were the parents of the kids running the stand.

  17. For the past couple of summers, my son and one of his friends sold “mirabellen,” which are basically miniature plums. I have two mirabella trees in my yard, and my son’s friend has several. The boys picked the mirabellen, got clean buckets and lots of Ziploc bags, then headed into our town’s pedestrian zone. The boys went up to people and asked them if they want to buy some mirabellen. To entice people to buy, they let potential customers try some for free. They figured out their prices through trial and error. If customers said that a bag of mirabellen seemed expensive, they lowered the price until they figured out what was reasonable. On a typical weekend they would each earn between 20 and 25 euros (about 28 to 35 US dollars). Now that the mirabellen are starting to ripen, my son and his friend will soon be heading to the pedestrian zone to sell them.

    The first time the two boys sold mirabellen, they started off in front of our apartment building and asked people passing by if they wanted to buy any. We get a quite a few hikers and people just out for a stroll on our street. The boys figured they could sell more, and therefore earn more money, if they went into the pedestrian zone. My city’s pedestrian zone is a tourist attraction in itself and is always busy on summer weekends.

    My son used his mirabellen money to buy himself a new Nintendo.

  18. ] Will he have to file taxes too?

    If he makes more than $400 (net) a year in self-employment earnings, legally he has to file his own tax return. (If it’s earned income via an employer, though , you don’t have to file under $5,700.) How many kids actually do this I don’t know…not many, I’d guess! That would be a lesson in politics – I imagine he’d owe no income tax but would have to pay the self-employment tax.

    ] and one time the kid’s father told me that he didn’t think that it was “appropriate” that I was buying Kool-Aid from his kid since he didn’t know me

    What the…he lets his kid set up a kool-aid stand but doesn’t want him to sell it? Wish you’d stopped by my kid’s stand yesterday…they only made $1.25 each (selling for a quarter a cup). But they had fun. And since they only get 75 cents from me for washing, drying, folding, and putting away their laundry, I guess the $1.25 for an hour at a lemonade stand seemed good to them.

  19. My son who is 11, sells herbs door to door in our neighborhood. One year we had a bumper crop of basil and he did really well with it. He came home and said some people didn’t know what to do with the basil, so we wrote down a recipe flyer and he handed it out with the basil.

    This year he has planted more herbs and is taking care of the plants too. We will see how it goes this year.

    My daughter, who is 7, set up a lemonade stand this year just after the tsunami and collected money which she donated at school to help the tsunami victims. It wasn’t a lot of money, $5 or $7 dollars, but I was very impressed that she organized a bunch of other kids to help her do it. She is very good at getting others mobilized.

  20. one time the kid’s father told me that he didn’t think that it was “appropriate” that I was buying Kool-Aid from his kid since he didn’t know me

    LOLOMGWTF?

  21. ….one time the kid’s father told me that he didn’t think that it was “appropriate” that I was buying Kool-Aid from his kid since he didn’t know me….

    I had to read that 3 times. I still can’t figure out what the problem could be (He could poison YOUR Kool-Aid). The fact that the father KNEW it means he was watching (hovering?) in the first place….people are nuts.

  22. Thank you Lenore for posting this story.

    As far as taxes…wow that thought had not even crossed my mind for a 9 year old. I imagine it wouldn’t be a huge shock to him as we have had many conversations about taxes and interest on loans, and he fully understands sales tax. You are right it can kill the entrepreneurial spirit (guess our next conversation will have to be on setting up a corporation).

    @Eldo, what happens when other kids start doing it? Well, Colton had the same concern so at first he didn’t want to take other kids with him. He found that without him there to push the kids to do it with him none of his friends would go do it on their own. I’m not sure why that is.

  23. Awesome parenting, awesome kid🙂

  24. I love this post. Learning the hard way = learning the real way. When we grow up, no one gives us any money. We have to earn it. Misty gets it. She is teaching her kids how the world works giving them a real lesson.

    She is allowing her children to make some mistakes along the way. And when they succeed, they will know that the success is all theirs. Talk about building real self-esteem, not the omnipresent inflated good-job type.

  25. This reminds me of a group of siblings (friends of our family) who had the brillant idea of setting up a lemonaide/gateraide stand in our tiny town when Cycle Oregon came through. Hundreds of cyclists having biked dozens of miles through extremely rural, arid, and hot countryside flooded the town (we were a stop over for the night, size of our town almost doubled!). They made over $400 in a couple of hours!
    My friend and I used to collect pop cans to buy snacks during the day. We each needed to find 11 cans, then we could buy a can of pop and a pudding cup. We’d walk around for hours looking for 22 pop cans.

  26. The poster of the story doesn’t say whether or not the kid has the permission of the golf course operators. Perhaps safe to assume they do if he is continuing to operate. Having been in the golf course business, I agree with a previous commentor that most courses will not allow people wandering around the golf course during play and during the golf season. They have a lot of liability and it essentially is trespassing and stealing, since the lost balls do belong to the golf course owners and many harvest balls themselves for sale, especially from water hazards. Great that the kid is outdoors and an entrepeneur, but not so good values of being on another’s property to do so.

  27. I just wanted to respond to those who responded to my original comment about buying Kool-Aid from a child and having a run-in with a parent. This happened when I was in college (about 20 years ago). I was out riding my bicycle on the city’s bike path. There was a section where the path dumped people out onto a residential street for about 5 or 6 blocks. The kid was set up in front of a house right where bicyclists have to exit the path. It would have been a primo spot for any kid running a lemonade stand at that time (especially on a nice weekend when there would be a lot of bike traffic).

    I have suspected that the kid was actually just playing, rather than trying to sell anything. Although he had real Kool-Aid in a jug, he also had a toy cash register filled with play money. He did take my dime and give me a cup, though.

  28. That’s awesome!🙂

  29. I set up my two 4 years olds first lemonade stand this year. We were doing it for fun. We really did not care about making money but I thought it might help them learn to talk to people and meet their neighbors and count money. I had to help them obviously. They helped me make a sign and we sat out at the end of our driveway for two hours trying to get people driving by into our subdivison to stop and buy some. We only charged a quarter a cup. We had about 6 people stop to buy some and several of them would give us a dollar and tell us to keep the change. They enjoyed it and thought it was fun but when no one would stop they would kinda lose interest. 4 year olds don’t have the best attention spans.

    They made $8 for two hours. I didn’t subtract out the cost of materials or anything. We are going to make a tradition out of it and do one every Summer.

  30. As far as the kid not having permission to be on the course and that creating a problem, that *might* be the case,but I know there are situations where it would not be a problem at all. For example, my parents live in a development that was built around a public golf course. People in the neighborhood walk through the course all the time (when there is not play going on) and I know that for a time, one of the adult neighbors was collecting and selling balls out of his yard just that way. Of course, it’s tacitly understood that you don’t walk on the greens or anywhere near players. But other than that, it’s just part of the neighborhood.

    So I wouldn’t assume either way.

  31. We used to live right on the route that people walked to get to our city’s July 4th firework celebration, about a block from the entrance of the college campus where it was held (which had effectively no parking for such an event, so people would park all over the neighborhood for blocks, but at least half the people pretty much had to walk past our house.) Our kids CLEANED UP on a lemonade and cookie stand every year. One year the TV station even stopped by and did about a 15 second portion of the firework story ON MY KIDS!

  32. Oh, and while my kids charged an appropriate amount for the stuff, there were a lot of people handing them a $5 and saying “keep the change” for a cup of lemonade. I did charge them for materials, for educational purposes, but they still made out huge.

  33. Up here in Alaska, kids will go down to the riverside and hunt for lost fishhooks and lures. They cut off any snapped fishing line, clean up the hooks and lures, and sell them back to the fishermen.

  34. Here it’s black walnuts. You see adults and kids picking them up and selling them. I had a friend who did this with her boys (mainly providing transportation).

  35. That is AWESOME! Sounds like your son really has the entreprenurial spirit!

  36. “since the lost balls do belong to the golf course owners”

    Curious about how this can be the case. If you’re talking about a driving range, I get that, but if you’re talking about an actual golf course, how does the golf course take legal possession of the golfers’ balls? Is there some implied contract in the greens fees or the club rules that stipulates that lost balls belong to the course? And if a golfer hits his own ball X number of feet into the rough, is he “stealing” if he goes to retrieve it?

  37. mistyolen – the reason some of the kids were not motivated was because they have no need to be. Colton wanted and needed the money, he had no allowance anymore. I would venture to say that the other kids get pretty much everything they ask for.

  38. @pentamom – Wonderful response on golf ball ownership! I agree.

  39. Lenore, you know I’m usually more professional when I comment on your blog, but I gotta go back to the neighborhood for this one!

    Dat lil’ dude is HUSTLIN’! That’s what I’m talkin’ bout!

  40. Thanks for all of the positive comments.

    @Fore! People walk through the golf course (not on the greens). Colton sells the balls from the sidewalk. He gets most of the balls from a pond where he wades in an pulls them out…yes he comes home covered in mud and soaking wet, but he says this is where you can find the most. He is pretty well aware of where he is and isn’t supposed to be, but thank you for your concern.

  41. Any scrap metal place should take aluminum, they don’t have to be recycling centers specifically.

    As for taxes, unless he makes over a certain amount he doesn’t have to claim it. He can always say he is a business and then charge off any materials, advertising, green fees for entrance to the course, etc as a loss.

  42. […] other 50 percent. Yes, he had employees. … Altogether he made about $250 in those two weeks. https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2…250-in-a-week/ How much did you earn at that age? Did your parents give you any allowence? Did you have to do […]

  43. Nice job!

    My daughter is always trying to find things she can sell. I’ve suggested that she follow the path one of my friends is doing, and drawing artwork for tshirts and other things she can sell on CafePress. Our street doesn’t get much traffic, so unless she catches someone having a garage sale nearby, it would be pretty hard to get enough traffic to do well with a lemonade stand.

    My younger sister has a daughter who sell worm castings, or at least was. No idea if it’s still going on, but they do composting and my niece sells excess worms and castings. I know they had also talked about a lemonade stand, as they live next door to a hardware store, serious prime location for such things.

  44. My son helps an old retired neighbour haul scrap metals into his pickup truck and they travel to sell it, my son is 15 and the neighbour lets him drive, practicing his driving skills with him (instead of me..too stressful for me). He has mowed lawns as well and shovelled snow in the winter. Raking leaves goes over well too. My 11 year old daughter has the monopoly on the bottles since she’s willing to walk all the way downtown to the depot on her own, her twin brother and 9 year old brother haven’t quite found their ‘niche’ yet…but it will happen soon, I am sure.
    I also wanted to say…thanks for your honesty and candidness. I have for years had my own ‘crate sermon’ regarding kids being intelligent enough to dress themselves properly for weather. I advocate for my kids at school when their teachers INSIST on hats, mitts and socks (which my children don’t care for too much). My children know WHEN their fingers are cold and will then CHOOSE to put mittens on. They will not catch a cold from being cold…they need to have the choice returned to them if they want to layer up or not. (gasps heard from the school staff rooms, I know!)

  45. @ Evelyn:

    One of my favorite comic strips: “When do you have to wear a sweater?”….”When your mother is cold.”

  46. Wow, that is impressive, you should be really proud! I know many adults that are not that resourceful!

  47. I have really mixed feelings about this sort of thing, when a parent takes a ‘tough love’ approach to cultivating ‘entrepreneurship’ in their kids. Introverts in particular may have trouble with such an ultimatum, because they have to be out there selling their services… and in many cases, even in suburbia, it’s to strangers. Parents have to ask themselves a) are there things their kids can really do to earn the spending money without bankrupting the family– if you’re paying for the lemonade and the cups, there better not be too much wastage! And are those things really something your kid can reasonably do to make the equivalent of their allowance in the long term– without disrupting the family schedule (and/or getting in trouble at school for selling things!)

    I had a hard time with finding work (since I was an introvert) until I was 14, when we were living in suburbia and broke, and I helped my dad with his Fuller Brush business (he was in bad shape and I did most of the work). Then I picked and sold tomatoes — the farm down the street charged less for pick your own, but their picking was pretty random, so people were willing to pay me to do it. In most places, you can’t babysit until you’re 14, so that’s out for a younger person, and paper routes are increasingly done by adults– I had a paper route for a year. Now, we were flat broke, so I was very motivated at that age– I ended up paying for my clothes, my school lunches, and my entertainment. My parents, concerned about my level of extracurricular activity in regard to getting into college, actually bribed me with an allowance my senior year to stop working.🙂

    Kicking your kids to the curb as far as spending money means you also have to think about what affect that will have on their participation in the family. If your kid gets paid next door to do stuff you expect them to do at home for free, you can’t be too surprised when they resent it.

  48. Jenne: I agree. There is nothing wrong with encouraging kids to find ways to earn money or help out, etc. But it should not interfere with school, extracurriculars, playtime, social time etc. Kids also need a good amount of time for playing and socializing with friends. Building social skills is important. They need downtime and homework time and time for clubs or sports or art classes, etc. If they spend all their time making money that is probably not good. Moderation is key.

    I never had an allowance growing up. If I wanted something and it was reasonable, my parents bought it. They told me my job was school and being a good girl. If I did that I was given most of what I wanted when the money was there. I will probably be the same with my kids. That is how I do it now. I might eventually start giving them small amounts just to teach them to save and spend it on their own, but I don’t agree with making kids be responsible to buy their own clothes, toys, school supplies, entertainment money all on their own at a young age. I think it takes away a bit of their innocence. They have the rest of their lives to worry about paying bills so to speak. Let them play and be kids right now.

    Delayed gratification is a good lesson to teach kids and I have been teaching mine that by letting them earn a sticker for the sticker chart every time they help me pick up the toys. If they earn 10 stickers they can get a new train. That kind of stuff is great, but I would not make them earn everything that way either.

    Once I was a senior in high school they started making me learn to budget. My dad would ask for a monthy breakdown of how much money I needed and what is was for. Then he would give me a check for the amount. If I blew it, then I would not get more. That was very instructive. So I was purchasing my own clothes but I did not have to earn the money. I was learning not to blow all the clothes money on one designer shirt or I would not have any more clothes. Stuff that is important. However, I was not required to spend all my free time working a job either so I had no time to socialize or dance or study.

  49. My old man almost shed a tear when I made him read the story. Major flashback. It took him back to his choldhood.

  50. @Jenne yeah it could be hard on a kid of they were forced to earn money. For Colton it was never about that, he had a bike that was only six months old that I bought him. If he needed money for something and it was reasonable I gave it to him, but on the other hand if he just wanted a random toy I might say no. That’s where his own money came into play. His money he got to get whatever he felt like without taking the chance that his Mom might not want to buy it for him. I didn’t have to push him or take away play time, it was simply a if you want the money go get it. That was enough for him.

    @RobertJ I’m glad to hear your old man enjoyed the story. Colton is a pretty amazing guy and loves his outdoor time. He’s not much into video games so most of the time he is riding bikes around with friends, and when he gets bored he goes and sells golf balls.

  51. Related to this – I just saw a GREAT segment on the PBS News Hour about the Maker Movement and the Maker fair in San Fransisco. This is a huge event, in which people, especially kids are encouraged to create projects, on their own, outside of school. The founder of Make Magazine spoke about how so much of what kids do these days is passive, and his mission is to get kids away from screens and entertainment, to actively doing something themselves; he sounded just like Lenore😀 As with Colton, kids were able to come up with some really amazing projects, often without adult assistance. Those whose projects failed learned something from the process. One group of girls, who looked like upper elementary/lower middle school students, created a seesaw that pumps water. Here is a link to the video: http://video.pbs.org/video/2032300286
    Liz

  52. My wife and I try to instill the entrepreneurial spirit to our kids. We find this really important.

    In this day and age, I think many kids lack life skills, entrepreneurship being one of them. Too busy with the wii’s and X Box 360’s.

  53. Thanks for a great post. I definitely want to push my kids into building their own income, without relying or hoping for a job these days. I think it’s essential. You must work for yourself, create income for yourself.

  54. Great post Lenore. And what an inspiring story made out of some golf balls… Well, the thing is you’ve got to have it in you, as they say and they are probably right.

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