The life lessons learned from my newspaper route

Before the world wide webs, there were newspapers that were delivered to your home.  Back before these dying newspapers hired drivers for all their routes, they would hire kids that would deliver newspapers to your box or your door.

When I was 12, I got my own newspaper route.  I am not sure why everyone in my family had a newspaper route, but it was almost like a right of passage.  When you reached this early age, you woke up at 4.30 am in the morning, grabbed a load of newspapers that an early morning van dropped off at your house, and got on your bike or your feet and delivered them to every house in your neighborhood that ordered one.  After that, you got ready and went to school for the rest of the day.

I am exhausted just writing about it.  If you think it’s challenging for an adult to wake up this early, work and then go to school all day, imagine how hard it is for a 12 year old to do this.  Kids this old need about two hours more, of sleep each night, than adults do.  I was getting a few hours less than I needed.

What I learned

Earning money takes some effort.  This may sound simplistic, but having to go from house to house and door to door in the dark is exhausting.  Getting paid for that effort is what made it worthwhile.

Since the money I earned was tough to come by, spending it frivolously or without thought was not going to be something I  would take lightly.  (Even at the age of 12) I was able to associate the hard physical and mental effort of newspaper delivery to the wages I was earning.

Rapper Too Short knows the value of his paper.

Saving money is rewarding

I had a savings account, and was able to deposit money I earned into that account.  Each month I noticed the bank would pay me interest in order to keep my money .  I asked my dad what this extra money was, and he told me they were paying me interest.

Now I had a comparison to make in my mind.  The interest earned seemed to good to be true.  I was working exceptionally hard for that earned income, but getting that interest each month was like hitting the lottery for a 12 year old.  I just couldn’t believe anyone would pay me extra for doing nothing.  This created an intense psychological desire to save even more money.

Other jobs are easy

Anytime you put forth a great amount of effort for a low amount of money, you will be shocked at how much easier subsequent jobs are.   When I worked my first sit down job at a customer service call center, I was amazed at how much easier it seemed to me compared to that newspaper route.

There is no free lunch

If I wanted to buy something, I knew I was going to be responsible for the effort and thrift to make that happen.  If I did a good job with my route customers would tip me, and they did.

Higher Education isn’t a bad idea

It might surprise some readers to hear that I wasn’t a very good student growing up.  Most of the time I day dreamed in school and wasn’t very good at keeping up with homework as I lacked interest in most of it, particularly the BS busy work that teachers often times force upon students.

Most sane people do not keep their high school Senior T-shirt for over two decades. I am not a sane person.

After that paper route, as well as a subsequent four year job in fast food, I was certain that I did not want a heavy manual labor job for my career.  It was too exhausting, too many hours, and too frustrating.  I was not sure what I would study in college, but I knew I wanted to go.  Later on when I studied accounting, I never thought it a big deal to study and learn before an important exam, because I knew the alternative really sucked even worse.  It was pleasant to sit in a comfy college library and going through accounting problems in order to master the subjects.

Graduating College in 1999. Desk jobs were not great but it beat delivering newspapers or flipping burgers.

Now that I have had 18 years of corporate desk jobs, I am no longer excited about sitting all day to work.  I’d rather move from time to time and early retirement makes this possible for me.

The Final Word

I know many of you have similar stories of difficult manual labor jobs that helped your work ethic and made you successful in life. I hope sharing some of my experiences will encourage you to teach your children the value of hard work and the rewarding nature of thrift savings and investing.

It is said that it’s tough to enjoy luxuries without experiencing hardships.  I think that the more hardships you experience, the sweeter those luxuries taste.  For example, having air conditioning feels great right now because I was doing yard work in the heat and humidity of the Southeastern US.  If I hadn’t been doing yard work, I would hardly even notice or appreciate the feel of the cool air.

One of life’s luxuries


  1. I’m glad the paper route inculcated greatness! One of my first jobs (the Marine Corps) did a fair job of endangering my internal hustle! When you are paid the same regardless of how hard or how long you work, many get sucked into a black hole of laziness. After all, you won’t be paid more for your hustle!

    Some Marines had to be physically propelled to shower *sigh*

  2. Paper route is a tough job. Getting up that early, and carrying the heavy load, it is not easy for a young kid.

    Your high school t-shirt still fits you, that is great. Congratulations on your early retirement! Enjoy! I retired 2+ years ago, and love the freedom. I never missed the work-related stress or former coworkers.

  3. Interesting story. Each one of us have a story to tell, thanks for sharing yours.

    Wisconsin should be lot of fun during summer. Does the fall freeze during peak of the winter?

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