I started working when I was 11 years old. I didn’t do it out of necessity, as you might imagine, I did it because my sister asked me to join her in her chambermaiding efforts, at The Moby Dick Motel, and it seemed as good a way to pass the time as anything else I was up to that summer. I was, of course, paid under the table, by the New York couple that owned the joint. It’s location on Rt. 28 in Harwich was highly visible. Someone must have dropped a time on the them for trafficking in underaged help, because I recall my stint roaming from room to room with my sister was short lived. They moved me into the main building, which served as reception and their home, and that is where I stayed, cleaning for the summer. It was a pretty good gig. I recall spending an inordinate amount of my time cleaning the refrigerator, home to the Andes Mints, which I ate with wild abandon, and no apparent fear of retribution. I have no idea what their real names were. I referred to them as the Ropers – from Three’s Company. They were characters and had a dog to match. The poor little puppy had an issue with incontinence and was forced, I am sure, much to his chagrin, to wear pampers. So started my work life journey.
I have no idea how much I made that summer, or what I did with that money. It was a pattern that I would repeat, again and again, as I moved from pot washer, to sandwich maker, breakfast waitress, to top notch server, slinging seaside offerings to sunburned tourists to put myself through school. I can recall a Pioneer Stereo and a Political Science degree by way of my spending, but saving – no. There was no saving, and I certainly didn’t donate money as I do now, but none of it is done strategically with a plan, a goal, a chance that the discipline will result in security, a date on the calendar that signals it’s ok to stop.
My financial education can be encapsulated simply – a single high school course on how to balance a check book, which I remember well, but never employed, a mother that insisted we shop discount so that we could buy more, and more often. Shopping for the Falla girls was a national pastime. That regrettably, has never changed, and so I keep toiling. The one thing I learned and learned well was that real estate was a sound investment, with the added benefit that it tied up my dollars, bound to that houseboat with knots that this seaside gal could not untie. Safe from my indiscriminate spending habits.
I found myself thinking about Yara Shahidi the other day. She was recounting, in one of her many talks, the lessons her parent’s imparted. She started making money at a very young age, receiving her first paycheck two years before me. I have no idea how much it was for, but her parents told her that each check would be divided into three buckets: the savings bucket, the giving bucket, and the spending bucket. The brilliance of these buckets has me wanting to buy some. I’d like them to be teak, varnished so they gleamed and accented with a rope handle. You can see I am already heading in the wrong direction with the lesson, unless of course I found the money in my spend bucket, and chose to use those precious dollars for a vessel, oh wait, I think I’d rather spend it on real estate. It’s a currency I can get behind.