Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Money Tree

 

“Wanna buy some greeting cards?” With sales technique like that, how could I possibly fail? Turns out… thoroughly. Didn’t sell a single card. Or a single seed. Or a single anything else I ever tried selling door to door, after reading about how much money I could make in the back of Boy’s Life. And I tried them all. Well, except Grit. I had never actually seen a copy of Grit, and I had the idea that it might be tough to sell.

I was a kid-sized Ralph Kramden, always pursuing one get-rich-quick scheme after another. But unlike Ralph, I was occasionally successful, which is one of the reasons that I tried selling so many things door to door. Because my first time out had been such a success.

In 1968, I was 6 years old. One Saturday, while my brothers and I were all out with the old man, he made a stop at a craft store and bought supplies for making pot holders. You have to understand that in 1968 this was a new and exciting idea, with most people just using dish towels for the job. There was a small plastic rack, and a bag of double-knit cotton loops. If you were to cut the sleeves of a long-sleeve T-shirt into one-inch sections, allowing the edges to roll up, you would have to same kind of loop. You would stretch the loops across the rack, hooking them on the teeth on either side, and then weave loops through from the other direction. To finish, you would loop the ends together all the way around, with the last loop providing a way to hang the pot holder from a hook. Together with us, he made four of them.

And they worked. They were a real, functional product. You could pick up hot things out of the oven without burning yourself.

The old man, having fulfilled his duty as the mighty hunter by providing his family with pot holders, forgot about it and went back to reading the paper. I quietly appropriated the rack and remaining loops for my own purposes.

The following Saturday, I requested a stop at the craft store, and with a 51¢ investment, I went into business. I had to divulge my plan, but the old man was always fairly indulgent when it came to us trying to make money.

There were enough loops in the bag that I had bought that together with the leftovers, I made five pot holders, in various colors and patterns. The old man bent a coat hanger into a giant safety pin that I could hang them on to carry them and display them. I had 12¢ in each one, and I priced them at a quarter.

They sold like hotcakes.

(Did I mention I was extraordinarily cute when I was little. I actually peaked at about 5.)

Every week I was back in the craft store, buying more and more loops, as I worked my way around the block. If they didn’t like the current selection, I would make them to order on color and pattern to match their home décor, at no extra charge. I very quickly realized that if I got the mom to the door, I was golden. Not that the dads didn’t buy them too. I was averaging close to two units per house all the way around the block, until I went out of business.

You see, I wasn’t allowed to cross the street.

But I made more than $6, so for a long time after that I was always looking for the next thing that I could sell to people. I didn’t realize why I had been successful.

And then, one spring morning in the year I was in 5th grade, it happened. A carnival came to town.

This was not a scheduled carnival. Any kid in town could have told that there are carnivals on July 4th, and for the annual Tomato Festival. But not only were they setting up, but they were setting up within actual view of our front porch, on the field where we played two-on-two tackle football. But the true horror of the situation was that I only had a nickel. A carnival not 100 years from my front door and all I had was a nickel.

I was desperate. But inspiration struck, and I was hit with a sudden truth that led me to discover the money tree: The entire world is filled with people who have money, and all you have to do is figure out how to get them to give it to you. And then I remembered making a couple of dollars the previous winter shoveling snow, and realized that some people must hate cutting grass as much as they do shoveling snow. Five minutes later I was on my bike a couple of streets over where I could be anonymous, riding up and down looking at the grass. I picked out four houses and started knocking on doors.

Late that afternoon, when the carnival opened, I had $7 in my pocket. $7! Rides were a quarter, hot dogs were a quarter, and I had $7! Before the night was out I was buying my friends ride tickets. I even got a pack of nudie playing cards out of the claw machine. Only took me two tries.

After that I never had trouble making money. The summer I was 11 I had four jobs and was making over $40/week. I had the paper route, I was cutting three lawns per week (I eventually had my own lawn mower, a rebuilt wreck from my uncle’s farm), I was doing janitorial work at the local Dairy Queen 5 mornings a week for $1/hr, and what is probably the worst job I’ve ever had, umpiring little league baseball, both tee ball and minor league (8-10) fast pitch games.

Don’t get me wrong; the hardest part of umpiring tee ball is trying not to laugh. Kid comes up to the plate, swings for the fences and misses the ball completely over the top on his first two swings. I ask him if he wants me to raise the tee, he says yes and I do it, and then on his third swing he aims where he should have the first two times and knocks the tee out from under the ball. Five more kids do the exact same thing, and there’s the inning. But it was on those rare occasions when a kid would actually hit the ball that things got really interesting.

Little Bobby comes up to the plate, and to the amazement of everyone present, smacks the ball deep, deep, deep into right field, by which I mean it actually crossed the baseline into the outfield. As one, the entire opposing team takes off running after the ball like a flock of ducklings. In the meantime, Bobby starts running for third base. People in the stands are yelling to him, telling him that he’s going the wrong way; Bobby looks over to them as he’s running and waves. Hi, Mom!

The first of the defenders reaches the ball, scoops it up and throws a frozen rope to the catcher. Unfortunately, the catcher is standing right next to him and the ball rolls into the infield. And nine little ducklings turn and run after it again. Meanwhile, Bobby is rounding third, on his way to second.

By the time the mighty ducklings catch up to the ball again, somewhere in the infield, Bobby is pulling into first base. Through mass intimidation they manage to hold him at first, and I make my call on the play.

“I don’t know… safe?”

Doesn’t really matter. It’s not like the next kid is going to get a hit.

Minor league, with the older kids was no fun at all. You’re umpiring a fast pitch baseball game by yourself from behind the plate, not only calling balls and strikes, but trying to make calls all over the field from that vantage point. There are forty parents in the stands, and at least half of them are pissed off after every call. And if you’re as bad an umpire as I was, frequently the opinion will be unanimous.

Hardest three bucks I ever earned in my life.

But that’s how the money tree works. You can try selling them things, but the surest answer to the question of how to get people to give you their money is by doing the work they don’t want to do themselves. Or can’t do themselves. Or hate doing themselves.

You know the kind of work I’m talking about. The crappy work. What did you think the money tree was fertilized with?

There are 28 comments.

  1. Arahant Member

    But have you been shaking the money tree since your retirement?

    This conversation is part of the Group Writing Series for October on cards. If you have a story to tell about cards or that involves cards of any kind, even selling greeting cards, consider signing up for a date and tell the story as part of our group writing series. Our sign-up sheet is right here.

    • #1
    • October 3, 2017, at 6:09 PM PST
    • 1 like
  2. RightAngles Member

    You are hilarious.

    • #2
    • October 3, 2017, at 6:14 PM PST
    • 12 likes
  3. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental Post author

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    You are hilarious.

    Thank you, ma’am.

    • #3
    • October 3, 2017, at 6:15 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  4. DocJay Inactive

    Nice article dude. There’s always a way to make coin serving others. I currently do just that.

    I did snow and lawns from age 9 but my favorite weird job was in a traveling carnival.

    • #4
    • October 3, 2017, at 7:17 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  5. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental Post author

    DocJay (View Comment):
    Nice article dude. There’s always a way to make coin serving others. I currently do just that.

    I did snow and lawns from age 9 but my favorite weird job was in a traveling carnival.

    Bobo needs a ballplayer?

    • #5
    • October 3, 2017, at 7:20 PM PST
    • 1 like
  6. DocJay Inactive

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    DocJay (View Comment):
    Nice article dude. There’s always a way to make coin serving others. I currently do just that.

    I did snow and lawns from age 9 but my favorite weird job was in a traveling carnival.

    Bobo needs a ballplayer?

    Bearded lady ( identifies as).

    • #6
    • October 3, 2017, at 7:27 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  7. GrannyDude Member

    My little friend and I saved up and ordered a gadget that made 1$ bills out of plain paper. We were so excited. An early lesson in what “making money” does and does not mean.

    I was a nurse’s aid for awhile when I was in college, speaking of jobs that people don’t want to do. Helping to debride a decubitus ulcer… at $4.30/hour.

    The adult diapers were made of cloth. Only really rich people could use Depends. This was in Washington, DC, and I was the only white nurses’ aid, so the patients all assumed I was an R.N. or maybe a social worker.

    On the night shift, the other nurses aides used to watch porn movies in the employee lounge. I didn’t join them, but I remember the creepy, elevator-music wafting down the hall, and an orderly announcing “you can tell that one’s from California, can’t you?” and everyone else saying “Uh huh!”

    • #7
    • October 3, 2017, at 7:31 PM PST
    • 13 likes
  8. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    When you were a kid selling potholders door-to-door, you discovered the power of intermittent reinforcement. That’s what keeps gamblers gambling, workers working, and Girl Scouts selling. You only have to make one sale, or one jackpot, in many attempts, to keep that behavior happening. I call my every-other-week payday “Intermittent Reinforcement Day”.

    • #8
    • October 3, 2017, at 7:51 PM PST
    • 11 likes
  9. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental Post author

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):
    When you were a kid selling potholders door-to-door, you discovered the power of intermittent reinforcement. That’s what keeps gamblers gambling, workers working, and Girl Scouts selling. You only have to make one sale, or one jackpot, in many attempts, to keep that behavior happening. I call my every-other-week payday “Intermittent Reinforcement Day”.

    In the simplest terms, I learned it was possible. If they hadn’t sold, I may have never made any money at all.

    • #9
    • October 3, 2017, at 7:54 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  10. Gary McVey Contributor

    “The entire world is filled with people who have money, and all you have to do is figure out how to get them to give it to you”.

    • #10
    • October 3, 2017, at 10:38 PM PST
    • 14 likes
  11. Front Seat Cat Member

    Hysterical! So funny – great memories! I had one of those potholder makers but stupid me gave them as gifts. I’m so impressed by your entrepreneurial thinking at such a young age – no standing around a lemonade stand for you! Did you go into marketing?

    I saw an ad in the paper once to make quick money as a teen. It was selling fine cutlery – the two “managers” loaded us up with these nice knife sets and dropped a pile of us off in business districts. We were told to sell from “$20-60” and take cash whenever possible. Mine sold like “hot”cakes….then someone tipped us off they were hot……they were bootlegged and these characters picked them up off a barge from a wharf in Pgh. When we figured it out, we turned the tables and kept most of the cash. I was too innocent to catch onto their names of Bill Cody and Jack Daniels. When we started turning in less cash, they suddenly disappeared.

    • #11
    • October 4, 2017, at 8:06 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  12. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental Post author

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    Hysterical! So funny – great memories! I had one of those potholder makers but stupid me gave them as gifts. I’m so impressed by your entrepreneurial thinking at such a young age – no standing around a lemonade stand for you! Did you go into marketing?

    I saw an ad in the paper once to make quick money as a teen. It was selling fine cutlery – the two “managers” loaded us up with these nice knife sets and dropped a pile of us off in business districts. We were told to sell from “$20-60” and take cash whenever possible. Mine sold like “hot”cakes….then someone tipped us off they were hot……they were bootlegged and these characters picked them up off a barge from a wharf in Pgh. When we figured it out, we turned the tables and kept most of the cash. I was too innocent to catch onto their names of Bill Cody and Jack Daniels. When we started turning in less cash, they suddenly disappeared.

    Thanks, FSC. No, I did software development. And great story!

    • #12
    • October 4, 2017, at 8:21 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  13. Gary McVey Contributor

    Everyone had lemonade stands. At seven, I opened a fingerprint stand. For a penny, I’d let you put a fingertip on a blue ink pad and make your very own fingerprint on a sheet of paper, which you were welcome to keep. I moved up to selling “airplanes” made of two clothespins. Several times I made and personally peddled around-the-block newspapers, some hand drawn, some printed on primitive toy presses with movable rubber type.

    Junior Achievement didn’t last long in my part of town, but for the year or so when adults took interest in it, my project was making egg timers out of plastic prescription bottles plus beach sand, which I scooped up from an East River beach near our home.

    I put the money to good use. With an incredible burst of saving I bought an old wooden radio, a tabletop model with shortwave, one of the best shortwave sets I ever had as a kid. Bought it at the Immanuel Lutheran annual rummage sale. It gave me a lasting warm feeling about Lutherans. Damn shame about the counter-reformation and all that.

    • #13
    • October 4, 2017, at 1:46 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  14. barbara lydick Coolidge

    Loved the piece. And it brought back memories

    Embarrassing time in life… At 6, a few of my friends set up a lemonade stand at a corner near their house – and in a good foot traffic area. Thinking I could get in on a good thing, I asked my mom if I could have one. The answer was yes, but she made me set up it in the backyard, on the alley side. Sales? Zero.

    Learning from this, the next year several of us were out playing and found some seed pods, along with some other seeds. We got some small envelopes, filled them and without asking permission, sold them door-to-door. (Some of the seeds were undoubtedly weeds.) Sales? Several dollars. (Pity donations, in all probability.)

    But it was our staging of plays that brought in the cash, tho when divvied up among the actors, not too much per person. Staged on our back porch with a blanket strung across as a curtain, chairs set in the backyard, and scripts collaboratively written, we packed them in. Parents, brothers and sisters of the cast, and several older neighbors made up the audiences of these productions.

    Babysitting, lawn moving, and snow shoveling came in later years.

    Oh, and yes, there were the potholders. But like FSC, they were given away.

    • #14
    • October 4, 2017, at 2:11 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  15. SecondBite Member

    I was thinking I never did this sort of thing, then the synapses started firing. One of my friends and I had sea shell collections and books on undersea life, so we would lay out our exhibits and charge neighborhood kids to come look at them. We didn’t make much. Then we hit on the idea of the “Snack-Mobile”. We built a shack that fit in the back of a wagon, stocked it with candy and pulled it around the neighborhood, selling at about 100% mark-up. We ran out fast, so we hired a sibling to pull the wagon so that one of us could ride back and forth to the store for restocking. It was great until someone’s Mom came out and yelled at us for overcharging and tried to get us to sell the candy at cost. We decided we didn’t want any more that kind of grief so we ate our inventory and went out of business. Fifty-five years later and I still struggle with pricing.

    Fun post, thanks.

    • #15
    • October 4, 2017, at 2:25 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  16. Boss Mongo Member

    Awesome post. Thanks, Judge.

    • #16
    • October 4, 2017, at 3:40 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  17. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental Post author

    SecondBite (View Comment):
    I was thinking I never did this sort of thing, then the synapses started firing. One of my friends and I had sea shell collections and books on undersea life, so we would lay out our exhibits and charge neighborhood kids to come look at them. We didn’t make much. Then we hit on the idea of the “Snack-Mobile”. We built a shack that fit in the back of a wagon, stocked it with candy and pulled it around the neighborhood, selling at about 100% mark-up. We ran out fast, so we hired a sibling to pull the wagon so that one of us could ride back and forth to the store for restocking. It was great until someone’s Mom came out and yelled at us for overcharging and tried to get us to sell the candy at cost. We decided we didn’t want any more that kind of grief so we ate our inventory and went out of business. Fifty-five years later and I still struggle with pricing.

    Fun post, thanks.

    Snack-Mobile? What a great idea!

    • #17
    • October 4, 2017, at 3:45 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  18. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental Post author

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    Awesome post. Thanks, Judge.

    Thanks, Boss.

    • #18
    • October 4, 2017, at 3:45 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Your posts are always a joy, Judge. I laughed all the way through–the kid running to third base first was a winner. (I identify with that kind of kid–clueless.) Please write more often. You have a gift.

    • #19
    • October 4, 2017, at 4:16 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  20. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Your posts are always a joy, Judge. I laughed all the way through–the kid running to third base first was a winner. (I identify with that kind of kid–clueless.) Please write more often. You have a gift.

    Thank you , Susan.

    • #20
    • October 4, 2017, at 4:20 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  21. barbara lydick Coolidge

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    At seven, I opened a fingerprint stand.

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    I moved up to selling “airplanes” made of two clothespins.

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    my project was making egg timers out of plastic prescription bottles plus beach sand

    SecondBite (View Comment):
    One of my friends and I had sea shell collections and books on undersea life, so we would lay out our exhibits and charge neighborhood kids to come look at them.

    SecondBite (View Comment):
    Then we hit on the idea of the “Snack-Mobile”.

    Great projects all!! I wonder if kids do these things today? It does take some creative thinking, but with ‘helicopter parents,’ it may not be as common as in years past. More’s the pity.

    The 2-clothespin airplane reminds me (for some reason or another) of the thingy you could use to balance a belt on your finger without touching the belt. One of the guy’s father made them and we painted and sold them. This was in grade school. I looked it up on the internet to possibly find the name of it and found this: ” Belt Balancer Magic Trick by RALPHULOUS is licensed under the Creative Commons – Attribution – Share Alike license. Granted, our design was a bit different but had the web been available, who knows how many untold millions $ we could have made about 60 yrs ago. After all, he has 59 ‘likes.’

    • #21
    • October 4, 2017, at 4:38 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  22. Front Seat Cat Member

    barbara lydick (View Comment):
    Loved the piece. And it brought back memories

    Embarrassing time in life… At 6, a few of my friends set up a lemonade stand at a corner near their house – and in a good foot traffic area. Thinking I could get in on a good thing, I asked my mom if I could have one. The answer was yes, but she made me set up it in the backyard, on the alley side. Sales? Zero.

    Learning from this, the next year several of us were out playing and found some seed pods, along with some other seeds. We got some small envelopes, filled them and without asking permission, sold them door-to-door. (Some of the seeds were undoubtedly weeds.) Sales? Several dollars. (Pity donations, in all probability.)

    But it was our staging of plays that brought in the cash, tho when divvied up among the actors, not too much per person. Staged on our back porch with a blanket strung across as a curtain, chairs set in the backyard, and scripts collaboratively written, we packed them in. Parents, brothers and sisters of the cast, and several older neighbors made up the audiences of these productions.

    Babysitting, lawn moving, and snow shoveling came in later years.

    Oh, and yes, there were the potholders. But like FSC, they were given away.

    Anyone that can sell weed seeds is a genius!

    • #22
    • October 4, 2017, at 5:43 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  23. Front Seat Cat Member

    Does anyone remember ordering the carnival kit for Muscular Dystrophy offered by the Jerry Lewis Telethon? I ordered one and tried to put on a carnival – I hope I gave the money to the charity…..I can’t remember……

    • #23
    • October 4, 2017, at 5:45 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  24. Boss Mongo Member

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    Anyone that can sell weed seeds is a genius!

    No I wasn’t.

    • #24
    • October 4, 2017, at 6:29 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  25. barbara lydick Coolidge

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    Anyone that can sell weed seeds is a genius!

    Nah. The envelopes were sealed shut

    • #25
    • October 4, 2017, at 7:35 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  26. J.D. Snapp Moderator

    I love your stories, Judge!

    • #26
    • October 4, 2017, at 9:00 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  27. OkieSailor Member

    I don’t remember whose idea it was but when I was about 7 or 8 my dad managed to get some donuts at a discount (probably day old). Mom warmed them in the oven and I took them door to door in our Ft. Worth neighborhood early in the mornings. They sold quite well packed in the boxes the donut shop used but with no logo, usually 1 or 2 dozen at most homes in our middle class neighborhood.
    One lady exclaimed when she took the box, “They’re still warm!”
    I didn’t know any better than to say with pride, “My mom put them in the oven.”
    That’s how I learned that it’s not always wise to say everything that comes to mind.

    The plan worked fine until the donut shop owner suddenly wanted to raise the price to match our selling price. He apparently heard about or figured out what we were doing and didn’t like the competition. It was rather short-lived but a good lesson that hard work can be rewarding.

    • #27
    • October 5, 2017, at 12:16 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  28. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Coolidge

    Ah, potholder weaving…Glad to see others did it, too…I did it for gifts, but the accomplishment was profitable in its own way. Wonderful read, JM!

    • #28
    • October 8, 2017, at 1:29 PM PST
    • 4 likes