I was 12 years old when my mother came home from running errands one day and told me the local pharmacy needed a bicycle delivery person for an after school job. The pharmacy was just across the road from my house and only a few minutes further from school. The clincher: the $25 dollar weekly pay packet. I’d just received a new pink mountain bike for Christmas so I was all set.
I handed in my application form and was hired immediately. Each day after school I would race home and quickly have a snack before heading to work. There would be a basket of brown paper bags containing prescriptions waiting for me when I arrived. I had to plan my route so I wasn’t doubling back on myself. I became an efficient machine, quickly zipping between private homes and retirement villages, stopping to chat with some of the people who couldn’t leave their home to get their medication. Often, I was treated with home baking, which I happily indulged in (a benefit of my highly physical job was I could eat whatever I liked).
A weekly pay packet is mine
I received my first pay packet after a week. Two notes – a $20 and a $5. More money than I had ever had. And all I had to do was show up every day and cycle my little legs like hell around the city in the wind, rain and extreme sunshine and I would get paid. This was a revelation.y new wealth could enable a long-held dream – to buy a slick stereo system. I’d had my eye on a Pioneer system for a while but at $600 it was completely out of my orbit. Until I had a job, that is. I hoped that with some persuasion I might be able to convince my Mum to sign a Hire Purchase agreement in her name (at 12 I was too young) for the stereo that I would make the payments on. At first, she wasn’t keen. But I did the sums and presented her with a plan that had me paying the $600 off within a year. Well before the interest-free period finished. The only charge I was liable for was a $50 establishment fee.
She took a chance on me and the stereo was mine. I remember sitting in the store signing the agreement and Mum asking the salesman to list my name on the contract alongside hers. I now realise this was to foster a sense of responsibility around this purchase even though I’m sure it was just added in the comments section.
To keep the payments up I had to budget. I learnt about putting fixed expenses first (stereo payment) and saving for wants. I wanted new CD’s to feed my beautiful new stereo but I couldn’t afford them. At 12 years old I had a deep sense of economic scarcity, my desire for new CD’s was relentless but my ability to pay for them was severely limited so I had to make trade-offs. I recorded songs from the radio onto cassette tapes and swapped CD’s with friends.
I paid the stereo off within a year as promised. Twenty years later I am thankful to my Mum for trusting me enough to sign that contract. That early exposure to budgeting and debt repayment led to the realisation that my wants were infinite but my ability to pay for them was limited. I think that being aware of that at such a young age was a gift, which has motivated me to start my sons financial education as soon as possible.
As an aside my fantastic stereo lasted for 17 years, and the sound was perfect, never tinny. The 2011 earthquake in Christchurch caused it to be damaged beyond repair, but it was insured so I received replacement value for it, almost as much as I’d paid for it in 1994.