Growing up, I was one of those kids who liked coming up with ways to make money. While my peers daydreamed about flying to the moon and being superheroes in alternate universes, I played “store” with my cousins. At the risk of sounding boring, all I really wanted was a job so I could have my own money.
I looked forward to school fundraisers, and worked hard at selling enough candy bars to score a free school trip to one of the nearby theme parks. And in the 7th grade, I got the idea to sell candy to my fellow classmates. While it didn’t make me rich, there were a few early lessons I learned about money and entrepreneurialism:
1. Understand profit margins
After scouring the shelves at the Smart & Final in my neighborhood, I decided on selling Pixy Stix, caramel apple pops, and fun-sized chocolate bars. That’s because the cost of these products was relatively low.
I looked at the cost of candy against how much they were being sold for. For instance, back in the mid-’90s, I could get a small box of 36 (three Stix in each package) for about $3. As I sold each for a quarter, I ended up raking in about $9 for every box I sold, which ended up being a $6, or 200%, profit. Not too shabby.
I did some simple math for the other types of candy I peddled, and made sure that I earned at least a 200% profit, if not more. When the prices of the candy went up at the store, I hunted for alternatives. While I knew I could just up my own prices, I knew that my fellow tweens don’t have a ton of disposable income, so that idea was nixed.
2. Research the competition
While there weren’t any other kids selling candy, there were vending machines in the school cafeteria that sold large candy bars. I made a point to sell my candy for less than the vending machines, and also to offer different types of candy.
There were certainly slower times, like after Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and during the holidays. I also noted that it could be slightly tougher to make a sell during school fundraisers, when students were up to their ears in candy and maybe more focused on selling their own.
During these slumps, I still peddled candy. I figured that if I stopped selling, my classmates might forget that I was an option, and I would lose my steady customers.
3. Strategize the sell
I’d offer candy in between periods — right outside my locker, between class periods, during lunch, and before and after school. Besides trying to be relatively discreet about it lest I get in trouble, I tried to make it as convenient as possible for my classmates to buy some candy. I offered flexibility and different options for someone to shell out a quarter or two to satiate their sweet tooth.
It was also important to listen to what my classmates wanted. They were the customers, after all. When one of my friends suggested I add Starburst and Skittles to the mix, I tried it out— and those turned out to be bestsellers.
4. Re-invest the profits
After I sold a box of Pixy Stix or went through a bag of chocolate, I would take some of my earnings and put that toward replenishing my supply. That way I was never drawing from my weekly allowance, or from money gifted to me during Chinese New Year or my birthday.
Even as a middle schooler, I didn’t feel great about pulling from other sources of money to put toward my small operation. I felt it was best to use the funds I was earning from candy to keep it going.
5. Save for a goal
After setting some money aside to buy more candy, I put the rest toward the big 8th grade trip to Washington, DC. While my mom helped pay for part of my trip, I raised the rest of the money, partly from selling candy through a school fundraiser and partly from my own endeavors.
The rest of my earnings I spent on random stuff: stickers, clothes, Christmas presents for my friends and family, and on food while hanging out at the Burbank mall. Having a specific savings goal to work toward kept me going. Even on days when I didn’t feel like selling or felt discouraged because I wasn’t making as much money as I would’ve hoped, I kept my eye on the prize.
While my business endeavor wasn’t terribly sophisticated, and I probably didn’t rake in more than a few hundred dollars selling candy throughout the school year, it taught me a lot about what it takes to strike out on your own to make a few bucks. These early money lessons have stayed with me throughout my life