family · Homeschool · kids · parenting · skills · work

Kids Earning Income: They “Can” Do It!


Happy boy with his cans

So when I was a kid, we drank a lot of sodas.  It was the 80s, I think everybody did?  And we drank sodas out of aluminum cans.  We were a can household, not a 2-liter bottle household.  So the cans built up pretty fast and this was waaaay before curbside recycling was really a thing, even in hippy dippy California.  I believe the California Redemption Value program began in 1987 when I was 10, so that’s probably about the time I started this.  What is this?

I smashed our cans and recycled them for money.  It was my dad’s idea and I did it for years to supplement my weekly allowance until I got a part time job in high school.  It was super simple and is something we’ve now started with our boys, aged 5 and 7!  I think it is a great beginner way to let children earn money.  If your state has a recycling program (I assume all do at this point!), I highly recommend this.

Here’s what you do:

Kids Home Recycling Program

  1. Buy a can crusher.  You can get one at your local hardware/home improvement store or on Amazon of course.  If you really want to teach the kids about earning money, buy them the smasher up front and make them pay it off in installments from the proceeds of their recycling, since it’s considered capital equipment.  This is what my dad had me do, of course…
  2. Install it in an area with a bucket underneath that will be good for the kids to smash cans.  Ours is in our pantry but when I was a kid it was in our garage.
  3. Designate a can staging area kitchen for after cans are used and emptied but before they’re smashed.  Maybe it’s just a place on the counter or it’s a recycling bin next to the other garbage cans.
  4. Setup the kids on a system of regularly smashing cans.  It’s way easier to do 5 or 10 at a time than like 50!  Our boys smash cans each afternoon when we’re cleaning up before dinner so it’s done for the day.
  5. Have a garbage bag or can designated as the can storage area.  We just use a regular ol’ trash bag that sits outside.

That’s pretty much it!  As the cans build up, you can decide how often you want to drive them over to the recycling center.  Our boys are both involved so they are required to smash the cans, transfer the full bucket of cans to the trash bag, and then load them into the truck and go to the recycling center with me.  The past couple of times we’ve gone they’ve earned over $30, which is about $15 per child.  That is great money for how much effort they’re putting in!  The recycling centers typically pay by the pound and the rate varies state to state.  In California, the current price is $1.57/lb.

I love that this teaches them an early lesson about doing work to earn money and gives a “can” do attitude.  Ha.  It’s also a nice benefit that you can weave a recycling discussion into this.  And it doesn’t hurt that they get a little upper body workout when smashing the cans!

This is a great introduction to real life with the kids.  And they enjoy it, especially when we trade in those cans!





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