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What 4-Year-Old Joe the Garbage Man Has Learned From His First Job


Guest post by Jill Jarvis who blogs at

When our son was 4 years old, we decided to start a Garbage Can Curbside Service where Joe could his neighbors trashcans out and back in on trash day for 25¢ per can.

The business was started in lieu of an allowance, as a way to teach Joe about money but also to avoid a situation where he felt entitled to it. The work was easy enough for a 4-year-old, but just hard enough to create learning opportunities.

Over the last 1.5 years, Joe has learned a lot of valuable life lessons! Four of the lessons are:

1. Responsibility

Joe was excited to start this service, to help the neighbors and earn money for Legos. But there have been many weeks when Joe has not wanted to do his work.

However, he learned that his neighbors would be stuck with stinky trash cans if he did not show up, so he went to work anyway. He may grumble about it some weeks, but he always gets it done.

2. Self-Reliance

Joe gets to make all the decisions related to the Garbage Can Service. He gets to decide on expanding the business or quitting it. He also gets to spend the money.

When the decisions are bad, like he spends all the money on candy and cannot afford a special toy, he learns. When the decisions are good, he also learns. He then understands what good and bad decisions feel like and is able to self-correct as he goes.

3. Independence

By making his own money, Joe is somewhat financially independent and is able to make some purchases on his own. Joe buys Legos but also chooses to donate money to US Soldiers through the USO.

Also, by making his own business related decisions, with guidance from his parents, Joe has become more confident in his decision making ability. I’m hoping this 2nd skill will prove useful on the playground, in middle school and beyond.

4. Understanding the Value of a Dollar

As soon as he started collecting money, Joe began to understand what money is worth. He quickly learned that there are 4 quarters in a dollar and that it takes 6 quarters to buy an ice cream and 200 quarters for a fancy Lego set.

Joe has also learned that if he is saving up for something, he must do his job a set number of weeks before he will have the money. So, if he wants a simple Lego set, he will need to work less than if he wants the deluxe set.

Joe has also learned about loans. We have been out when Joe really wanted to make a purchase, but did not have his quarter jar. He has had to decide if he would take money from his parents, and then pay it back, or wait to buy his treasure. It turns out that he thought loans were just free money. When he discovered he had to pay the money back, he opted to wait.

As his parents, my husband and I have had to put in effort to help supervise Joe in rolling out trash cans each week, but these four life lessons are well worth the minimal time and energy.

And the best part about starting the Garbage Can Business is that the lessons have been automatic. We have not had to stage discussion; we just do the weekly work.

Jill is an engineer for a telecommunications company and a mom to the Jarvis family. She likes the first job but loves the second. Jill and the kids explore Houston and blog about the adventures, along with lunch box ideas and Joe the Garbage Man stories, at

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  • Karina says:

    What an amazing way to start teaching financial responsibility to your son! I’m amazed at how mature he sounds for someone so young. I love the pic of his employee in training too! 🙂

    • Jill says:

      Thank you! He’s always been a very serious young guy. And Baby James loves this job… he wants to pull out every trash can we see. 🙂

  • This is a fantastic post and the picture is so cute! I might try something like this with my 2 year old. She already loves money and being the one to pay at the store so I want her to learn to be responsible!

  • Wow! That is amazing! I would never have thought of a business like that for a kid, but it’s such a genius idea! What an awesome way to teach your son how to be responsible and manage money and work for what he wants. Amazing.

  • Swaps says:

    Love this post! I also watched Joe’s interview/ video and he and his little brother are so cute 🙂

  • Jillbert says:

    Adorable photo! And what a great way for a child to learn responsibility.

  • April says:

    Great post but his prices are a wee bit too low. I hope the neighbors that can afford it give him a small bonus or tip at the end of the month.

    • Jill says:

      Don’t worry. 🙂 Up until now, it has been more about learning than saving, but he is about to get a raise to 50 cents and the neighbors are generous!

  • Anna says:

    Wow! What a wonderful idea! I love it! Now off to think of something my girly might do like that. 🙂

  • So impressed! My 7-year old is always asking for extra chores or ideas to earn money because he’s also wishing to add to his Lego collection. I told him about your story, and now he wants to be our neighborhood garbage man! Thanks for sharing such an inspiring example.
    xoxo, Pam

  • Anne-Marie Berk says:

    I cannot tell you how charmed I am by the photo and how in awe I am of your amazing idea. Good job, Mom : )

  • Such a valuable lesson to learn and at such a young age. I think more children could follow his amazing example.

  • Tracy says:

    This is such a great idea. My son is always looking for ways to make extra money to buy things he really wants. And I love how you started teaching your son what a loan means. My son has asked for loans before too. He is 8 however the last time he asked it was for a large amount of money. I told him no and then he pouted and said well I know you can borrow the money for it and put it on your card thing (my credit card which is used for emergencies). So I explained to him about how interest works and that if he saved up his money it would be one price but if it was borrowed through a credit card how much it would cost him. He told me very quickly he would just save his money instead of having to pay more to borrow.

  • Stacey says:

    This is a great idea. My son does the same thing. Started when he was 6 I think but I realize now I’m being overcharged. $1 per can is his rate..maybe it’s the going rate in my area. 😉

  • Christy Spurlock says:

    Great Post! Will be sharing with my daughter for her son who is always wanting money for things that are so trivial.

  • Diana says:

    What a fantastic idea! I made the mistake of thinking my son was too young to understand money at age four. Must challenge my kids more as they grow! Thanks for posting this Crystal.

  • jac says:

    I love it! Those lessons are so valuable, and more so at a young age; if young children can learn them with little things like legos, they may be able to avoid making them as adults with large items likes cars and houses.

    I couldn’t help but notice from your photo one more lesson Joe may have learned–the importance of employee supervision. 🙂

  • Dianna says:

    I sure loved this post and the news piece on Jill’s blog! Great idea teaching the value of the dollar and responsibility at a young age.
    My girls (10 & 5) want a metal detector, and much like Jill, since it’s not Christmas or a birthday the the girls have to arrange to earn the money. They are helping dad clear out scrap metal at our house and another piece of property we have and hauling it to the recycling center, and they are also helping me declutter the house and are planning a garage sale for the things we are getting rid of.

  • ClareC. says:

    How precious! Thanks for sharing the story and the adorable picture.

  • Katie says:

    LOVE THIS IDEA!! My son just turned four and one of his duties at the house is to bring the trash can back from the curb. Something he actually likes doing. And I’ve started a system where he can earn small change for doing things, but it was more behavioral (a last resort if you will to get him to change his behavior issues – mainly Crying / Whining.) Well that worked so we stopped that system. I’ve also said a million times that my son will be the boy who will mow everyone’s lawns because financial responsibility is so important. Now this is a way to start the process at a much earlier age. We are moving in 2 weeks and I can’t wait to begin this job. Thank You So Much.

  • Sabrina says:

    I’d love to get this started with my daughter, and possibly my older sons. Do you have a form letter ad that we can stick in mailboxes for ‘promotion’?

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