Important Lessons From Some Soda Cans

I've posted before about how important I think it is for kids to have real life experience with money, already from when they're young, so that way they can learn from their mistakes when they're still young and their mistakes don't have as big repercussions, and I shared some ways that I allow my kids to earn money.
One of the things I touched on, but want to expand upon more, is earning money via recycling.
Because lately, my boys have gotten very into it, and I feel they are learning so many important things that way.

So let me backtrack.

In my country, they want to encourage people to recycle, so when one buys soda cans, beer bottles, small water bottles, and 1 liter glass bottles, you pay a small surcharge of 8 cents, and when you bring them back to the grocery store, you get your money back.
Only most places don't give cash, just store credit.

I've taught my kids the importance of recycling, and how we have to take care of our land, because if we don't, it'll number one be gross and ugly, and number two, hurt the environment. They don't litter and get upset with other people who do.
So my kids have started picking up the litter that other people drop.
Well, not all.

The soda cans and water bottles mostly, because that way they hit two birds with one stone- they are cleaning up the place, making it a more pleasant area to live in, and they even make money from it.

Since you don't get cash for these bottles, I offered to my kids to buy the cans off of them- whatever they collect, I'll give them the equivalent amount in cash, and then use the bottles that I redeem to pay for my groceries.
The reason for this is twofold.
I would like my children to be able to spend money on things that are important to them, that they save up for, and not just be stuck buying things in the grocery store, because that'll just leave them with the option of buying healthy food- which they don't need to buy, since I provide it for them- or junk- which they don't need to buy buying anyhow.
But I'm buying groceries anyhow, so using the bottles to pay for what I'm buying anyhow only benefits- they have actual cash to buy things with- with more options than just food that'll be finished in a second.

So for the past little bit they've been collecting, no matter where we go- and they've collected quite a lot. Ike and Lee decided to pool their money, so they'd have more.

Then their friend, Joe, heard what they were doing to earn money, and since his parents buy the water bottles that can be redeemed for money, Joe took the water bottles out of the trash and brought them to me instead- my boys decided that they wanted to pool their money with Joe, so that way they'd have more.

When I'd heard that they wanted to pool their money with Joe, I tried to dissuade them, since they aren't with Joe most of the time, so if something comes up while they're out, that they want to spend it on, they can't ask him. And getting three people to agree how to spend the money is harder to do than only with two.

But no, the kids didn't listen, and were only thinking about how many bottles Joe would be bringing to them, and how much extra money that would mean, and not about how the more people you have, the more ways to have to split the money...

Then one day, we were out, and Ike was doing something that possibly could have broken something. He wasn't being willfully destructive, but I did warn him that if he didn't stop what he was doing, and it caused the thing to break, he'd have to pay to get it fixed, with his money.
And that gave Lee a bit of a scare.

Because until that point, he had only been thinking about how cool it is to have more money, but not about the responsibilities that come with shared money.
And that led to some discussions about what it's like to share money as a married couple, how sometimes I make a monetary choice that my husband doesn't like, and sometimes he makes a monetary choice I'm not so thrilled with, and the importance of discussing with each other how we spend our money, and also to be careful that we don't do things accidentally that'll cost us more money, since it won't only hurt us, but also hurts the person with whom we share our money.

After that, Lee and Ike decided that they wanted to split their money.
Also split with Joe, and even split their money from each other.
Me? I can advise them what I suggest, but it is their money, and their own lessons to learn with their money.

I told the boys that if they wanted to collect cans for cash, I am happy to give them money, but I can't give them money all the time, since I don't always have the cash available. So my boys decided to make a money chart, which they keep on the fridge.

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They made a bunch of boxes, each with a number in it, and whenever they reach that amount of money, they put a check, and if there are smaller denomenations that they got as well, and not a full amount, they write down the denomination as well.
This was all done with their initative, not mine- they practiced writing the numbers themselves, and keep on doing the math to see how much they have- including with decimals- in their head! And then when they decided to divide up their money, they again did this division in their heads.
This math wasn't something I had to try to get them to practice- since the math is relevant to them, they want to figure it out, and they practice all the time. Then they do multiplication to figure out how much money they'll have when the entire chart is filled, and to figure out how many cans they'll need to collect to fill up their entire chart.

Then there's the unspoken lessons that they've also learned. That hard work pays off. That patience is a virtue. That money doesn't grow on trees, but you actually have to make an effort to make money.
And also lessons like learning about other people's attitudes towards smaller amounts of money ("Mommy! Why are they throwing these on the ground when they could be making money from them?") and about how some people are environmentally aware and some not.

I am really proud of my kids and the lessons they're learning from these cans, all the time.

Everything, I mean everything, can be a learning opportunity.

P.S. When my boys heard I was going to post this, they said "No, don't- because if you post it, then everyone will want to collect cans and bottles and there won't be any left for us to collect." I told them, sadly, that they don't have to worry- that so many people litter that there still will be plenty to collect. And getting more people to do what they're doing, and making the world a cleaner place- can only benefit.
And so they agreed.

Do you make any money via recycling?
How do you teach your kids money lessons? How do they have opportunities to earn money?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. In my sister's city there is a bulk item pick up week, which is meant to allow people to dispose of large trash items. My sister started several years ago picking up items during the week to resale, reuse, and recycle . This year she picked up a set of aluminum wheels that she recycled for $52. She also has picked up strollers, high chairs, yard toys with minimal wear to resale. I am currently wearing a pair of shoes that she found this year that look brand new. I find it amazing... she fixed a Dyson vacuum that had a toy stuck in it and sold it for $100.She donates any remaining items that she cannot sell or use to the thrift store. Her children are learning how to maximize their resources and stop adding to the pile at the dump,

  2. This article resonated because we know bottle and can collecting is lucrative and is one way my husband earned THOUSANDS when we lived in Canada. I love the lessons your boys learned and how you assisted them to figure it out for themselves Over in Canada you get money back for your bottles and cans unlike where you are. I was working and my partner and small girl were home all day. Every single place they went they picked up cans and bottles and he had a system of cleaning them and returning them. Every trip to the depot to return them he would return with the money and put it in a jar. The first year he saved enough to pay for a holiday cottage for our family for a week when we got married, the second year he paid for a ticket for one of us to fly to Australia where we now live. He saw every can and bottle as money and also a community service by recycling. People would laugh in the beginning but them were floored by the amount of cash he made. I just read this article to my hubby and he knowingly nodded at your boys concerns that everyone will want to pick up cans and bottles if they know there is money to be made. Sadly your point about the number of people who litter is also true. Here in Australia there is no paid deposit or recycling and the litter you see, in our part of the country is deplorable.

  3. Thank you for the post. It's wonderful to see how your boys are learning multiple lessons from their recycling experience! My son is only 1.5 years old but I do want to "unschool" him to a certain degree, so stories like this are inspiring :-)

  4. Sounds like your boys are learning important lessons!

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