Growing up, I was a greedy little kid. Not your average “whadya bring me?” type either. I was born in 1981 and family members would call me Alex P. Keaton (after Michael J. Fox’s character on Family Ties) because I was so money-focused. It was cute, until it wasn’t. But I did learn a lot, and for that, I am not sorry.
I’ll prove it to you in five ridiculous anecdotes:
- I learned how to swim in garbage for profit.
I saved up for my first Nintendo by dumpster diving . . . at age 5. We lived in Monterey, California where they printed the magic words “CA REDEMPTION VALUE” on cans and bottles. My dad would take me to the park by our house and chuck me over the side of a big green metal container. Miraculously, I was never stabbed by unmentionables sticking out from the garbage. I loved it. It was free money from the trash. I now have a 6-year-old boy. My wife would kill me if I did this with him.
- Fiscal sanctions worked on me by age 7.
Once my parents figured out that money was a pain point, my punishments shifted from “go to your room” to “I’m going to fine you 10 cents.” And this worked. Really well. The threat of a deduction from my tiny allowance sent me into a flurry of apologizing and correcting of wrongdoings. It was a new terrible power they had over me. My parents were/are smart.
- International deals and border crossings by age 8.
We traveled to England when I was 8. We were there six weeks, did a home exchange (a different cool story), and had a great time. I knew the daily exchange rate EVERY DAY. Yes, that’s weird. Anyway, I converted all my dollars to pounds and then back again at just the right times at the exchanges, turning my $50 into $70 . . . a seemingly infinite amount of money. I rejoiced in the Nintendo games I was able to buy.
- I didn’t deal drugs, but I did sling Now and Laters.
I would ask my mom to buy bulk-sized candy at the giant wholesale store, and then I’d resell pieces of it to the kids at school whose parents wouldn’t let them eat candy. My mom thought I ate a lot of candy. My “clients” thought four Now and Later pieces for 50 cents was reasonable given their circumstances.
- My greed reached all the way to outer space.
I became an expert on the push and pull of the moon in eighth grade. Studying the tide tables allowed me to excel at my used golf ball business. We lived close to the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Course, which runs right along the Pacific Ocean, and my dad and I knew a secret street you could park on close to the 18th hole. There was a path and some rocks you could jump down to where the normally crashing waves would recede perfectly, allowing you to scoop up 50 to 200 errant golf balls on a good run. The frustrated golfers’ hook shot became my financial boon. I’d wash the golf balls in my bathtub and resell the nice ones for $20 a dozen to Dad’s friends, and the bad ones for 10 cents each to a driving range. This perfect job ended only because my dad slipped on some algae and kissed the uncompromising rocks with his back. Hey, he knew the risks.
All this to say, as a parent of two boys today, I think the biggest advantage to this greedy trait is that your children may be more open to bribery, making it easier to potty train, take long car rides, and survive airport security. Because we all know that a child impervious to bribes is a scary proposition to take out in public.
You must have gone to my elementary school. There were guys who would show up in the gym before school every morning with their crumpled paper bags of lollipops. They did a brisk business, making 300% profit on each one.
Here’s another nerdy example, I would buy fish for my fish tank, and then after a year I would get tired of them and resell them back to the pet store for a profit (because they had grown larger). Granted, the profit was in store credit . . .