Lemonade stands, paper routes, babysitting – and Warren Buffett

After writing about the iconic lemonade stand as a model with which to teach children about entrepreneurship, one of my readers asked if paper routes counted too.  I hadn’t given that any thought, so I went to my first research stop, my friend Mr. Google.  It seems that lemonade stands, paper routes, and babysitting have been recognized as the big three of early work experiences for kids, as they learn about earning money of their own.  Lemonade stands have become the iconic entrepreneurial standard because they involve children embarking on their own venture, with its attendant risks and rewards, as opposed to paper routes and babysitting, where the child is learning responsibility and the value of work and reward of money, but is working for someone else.

It turns out that there are exceptions.  Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men and from all appearances a very down-to-earth fellow, had a paper route.  According to an on-line bio, “When Buffett was thirteen he bought a paper route, which is not all that surprising or innovative, since many children delivered newspapers for their first jobs. But, what separated Buffett from the others was that he actually was required to file an income tax return.  In addition to his earnings from the paper route, he also sold racing tip sheets that he made, and understanding the mechanics of a profit and loss statement, he used his bicycle as a tax deduction.”  That, one might say, is a good example of an entrepreneurial approach to paper routes!

Warren Buffett had an even earlier introduction to investing, which is not on anyone’s list of classic first steps to introducing children to entrepreneurship or work.  From the on-line bio, “His father was a stockbroker, allowing Buffett to learn the inner workings of the stock market, which he embraced wholeheartedly.  His father let him write the stock prices on the blackboard at work, and by the time Buffett was only eleven years old [in 1941], he wanted to try trading.  Apparently, he purchased three shares costing him thirty-eight dollars each, but the price abruptly fell to twenty-seven. He hung on a little longer, and when the price recovered at forty dollars, he sold. He had indeed made a profit on his first trade, but was somewhat dismayed when later the stock increased to two-hundred dollars per share. To this day, he still recounts the story as the one that taught him about ‘patience in investing’, and knowing when to buy and sell.”

Reading about Warren Buffett’s early start reminded me of my initial motivation for exploring ways in which children can be introduced to entrepreneurship as an option for their future.  My exploration was about how to ensure that such an option is visible to young people, so they can choose that path if it appeals to them.  We can’t expect everyone to gravitate towards starting their own business,  but they can’t choose something if they don’t know about it.  Of course, we should hope for every young person to be enterprising and innovative in whatever endeavour they choose, regardless of whether they become entrepreneurs or not.  Warren Buffett clearly found a path for which he had passion as well as ability very early on.  Our goal should be to provide our children with the education, information, and encouragement they need to reach their full potential doing something they enjoy.

As an old saying goes, “love what you do and it will never feel like work”.  I agree, although maybe the saying should include, “…, well, most of the time.”


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