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August 22, 2014, 3:37 pm

With ingenuity, kids lined their pockets

Regardless of your income level, you know we are living in tough economic times. We are made aware of this each and every day. Television, radio and newspapers constantly remind us of the challenges we currently face and will continue to face in the foreseeable future. Some of you have placed repairs and renovations of your homes on hold. Vacation plans for this year may be limited to one-day getaways. While today’s economic challenges mainly impact grownups, how many of us think about how parents’ struggles affect their children’s lifestyles? Their’ struggles to make ends meet have also caused young people to make major sacrifices. If you flash back to the ’50s and ’60s, you will recall that while parents did not have those well-paying jobs, children were often creative at money-making. Through ingenuity, we found ways to keep a few dimes and quarters, even dollars, in our pockets for some of the things we wanted. In fact, we managed to take some of the pressure off our parents through our entrepreneurial spirit, back in the day.

I recognize that some of the money-making ideas we pursued are not applicable today. Technology and other inventions have altered our way of life in so many ways. Yet with a little hustle, today’s youth can still earn a few extra dollars. Take something as simple as a soda bottle. Today we purchase a beverage and throw the plastic container in the trash or recycling container. The bottle has no value to us. Not so when I was growing up. Glass bottles back then could be exchanged for money; it was not much, but was a great way for my generation to make a little money we could call our own.

Soda bottles were returned to the store when empty. For each bottle, the proprietor issued approximately two cents. This could add up if you returned multiple bottles during a week. Many young people, wagons in tow, moved around neighborhoods collecting soda, milk and beer bottles. At two cents apiece, a wagon with 12 bottles brought in 24 cents, more than enough for admission to the neighborhood movie house. For those of us from back in the day, collecting empty soda bottles played a significant role in contributing to weekend fun.

Perhaps you pulled your wagon to the neighborhood markets to offer your services to an elderly shopper. Can you still see young people asking, very politely I might add, if anyone needed help as they left the supermarket with their groceries? Can you still hear young people negotiating with adults to determine how much they would charge for the delivery service? There was not much negotiating, as the delivery boy would invariably say, “You can give me whatever you want.” So, after the wagon with the groceries was pulled two or three blocks and everything was carried into the home, even up to a third-floor apartment, the young entrepreneur received 50 cents. Not much, you may say, but six or seven deliveries meant a whopping three or four dollars; an amount that went a long way for a 10- or 12-year-old boy back then. I wish I could go back in time to see little boys walking alongside of a grandmother or mother, pulling their Red Ryder wagons filled with grocery bags. What I would not give to have one of these images on a poster to hang on my wall at home or in my office.

The paper boy always comes to mind when we reflect on young boys’ money-making efforts in the past. Newspapers were not always delivered by an adult carrier driving over a massive route, nor were they only purchased at newsstands. Not long ago, little boys went door to door delivering papers. If you were a paper boy, then you know the routine. Newspapers were dropped off in front of your home in the morning, late afternoon and early evening. In the past, newspapers were printed several times a day. Paper boys would fold them, wrap them with rubber bands and stuff them into canvas or heavy cloth bags. Then they would go to homes on foot, pulling their wagons or riding their bicycles to deliver newspapers. Could you imagine a paper boy in these times, collecting the money from subscribers? Back then, a paper boy’s work was safe, and brought a sense of real customer service as he got to know those receiving the newspapers. Paper boys made it a point to give good service, as this was recognized at Christmas time .Unfortunately, little boys cannot earn money delivering newspapers today, as this is a job that is now in the hands of adults.

Delivering circulars was another option. Newspapers were not filled with inserts back in the day. Thus, some kids picked up extra change going door to door in a specified area to leave advertising circulars. These were little boys on a mission; earning money of their own to buy some of the things that “Mommy and Daddy” could not or would not buy for them. If it was not newspapers or circulars, then perhaps you may remember boys who traveled through neighborhoods shining shoes to make a few dollars. In barbershops, boys would shine shoes of those waiting to get haircuts. Some companies permitted the shining of shoes in their offices. In the streets, boys carried shoe-shining kits and would stop pedestrians, asking to shine their shoes. Is it possible to locate a youngster today to shine your shoes? I think you would be totally out of luck, but a number of little boys earned their spending money that way back in the day.

Snowstorms always provided opportunities to earn money. You would see little boys with shovels larger than they could handle out in droves. They would politely ask, “Can I shovel your steps and sidewalk?” They were competing to see who could shovel the most steps and sidewalks, and more important, who could make the most money. It was interesting, back in the day, to observe little boys who, based on prior years’ experience, knew which doorbells to ring. They had built up their clientele. At the end of a day of shoveling snow, these little boys, full of pride over their earnings, did not have to rely totally on their parents for things they wanted. These hard-working little boys had their own nest eggs. As you think about recent snowstorms, you are probably asking yourself, where were the boys available to shovel snow, as they were abundantly found back in the day?

Cutting grass, washing windows, operating lemonade stands, caddying, taking items to a junkyard, babysitting, walking a neighbor’s child to school, walking a neighbor’s dog, helping to clean rooms. carrying heavy gliders and rocking chairs outside to the porch, and, washing down porches, steps and sidewalks were some of the other ways in which children earned money in the past. While I earned money doing some of these things, I also went around my home reaching down behind pillows and under cushions on sofas and chairs looking for money that may have fallen out of someone’s pocket. I also went around the neighborhood with a long stick with chewing gum on the end to remove coins that had fallen inside a basement window grate or sewer grate.

To those of you who have young grandchildren or children and cannot do all you want to do to help them because your financial cupboard is almost bare, share this column with them, as they may be able to put a few dollars in their pockets by borrowing some of the activities that my generation utilized to survive, back in the day.


Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146.