A Summer Job Landscaping A Rental Property With My Children

During the summer, I like to work odd jobs to remind myself of the importance of hard work and determination. This way, it helps me not take for granted the things that I have today.

Since starting Financial Samurai in 2009, I've been told countless times that I live in a bubble and I'm out of touch with reality. Never mind that I grew up in a middle-class household, went to public grade school and public colleges, and am a minority who came to America at age 14.

To many readers, I come from privilege, which I accept. I believe my wealth is mostly due to luck as opposed to skill and hard work. Because of this, I keep grinding so that one day I can feel like I deserved my good fortune.

Summer Jobs Before And After Children

I've taken on a number of summer jobs to remind me about the time I worked at McDonald's for $4/hour. These odd jobs help me maintain a more grounded tone in my writing.

Before my boy was born in 2017, I gave 500+ Uber rides for three summers that paid between $15-30 an hour. Although the income wasn't huge, I got to meet a lot of interesting folks. I also learned more about the San Francisco economy and various hot spots.

After my girl was born in 2019, I spent more time at home taking care of her, especially during the pandemic. Instead of working a near-minimum wage service job, I decided to spend time writing my book, Buy This, Not That. When I finished it, the hourly wage was even less than what I made driving for Uber.

It may be too late for me as a privileged person, who is out of touch with reality. But I'm determined not to let my children suffer the same fate!

This post is for people who are:

  • Looking for ways to not spoil their children
  • Looking to create stronger bonds with their children
  • Retirees looking for things to do with their free time
  • Real estate investors wondering whether landscaping pays off
  • Feeling ungrateful and trying to appreciate more of what they have
  • Lacking empathy for others because they’ve gotten too rich

The Decision To Put My Boy To Work At A Young Age

One of my constant fears is to raise spoiled children who do not appreciate what they have. I think many FIRE parents have this fear of screwing up their kids. We've only got about fourteen years of parenting before their foundation sets.

As a result, once he turned five in 2022, I decided to make him come pull weeds with me at a rental property. The tenants are supposed to maintain the yard once a month, as written in their lease. But they do not do so regularly. Instead of getting into an awkward conversation with them, I just end up pulling the weeds and trimming the bushes myself.

Once he turned six, I decided to put him to work as a landscaper for the fixer I had bought in 2019. My master plan was to renovate the top two floors in Stage 1, gut the ground floor in Stage 2, and then landscape the front yard in Stage 3.

Manual labor is the best type of labor to help us appreciate mental labor.

Saving $5,000 Or Making $7,000

My neighbor had spent $5,000 landscaping the front of his house, which now looks great. Given my rental property hadn't been landscaped in over 60 years, I thought about hiring his landscaper for $5,000 as well.

But then I thought, why not “earn” $7,000 before tax by doing the landscaping work ourselves! When I told my boy about the plan, he asked me, “How are we going to remove all those plants and carry all those rocks? It seems impossible!”

I responded, “One plant and rock at a time!” Give most things enough time and eventually, we will succeed. And so, we got to work.

The Landscaping Process

Although the rental property's front yard is small, the landscaping process still took a lot of time. There's usually a crew of three adult men doing landscaping work. In our case, it was just me and a six-year-old boy.

Here were the steps we took to eventually turn an overgrown mess into something simple and beautiful.

Landscaping Step #1: Remove all the dead plants.

We used shovels and our hands to dig deep down into the dirt and remove all the plants. We then loaded up a truck and sent everything to the dumpster.

Landscaping Step #1: Remove all the dead plants.

Landscaping Step #2: Dig out all the roots of the dead plants.

It's not good enough to remove the dead plants, we also had to till the soil and pull out as many large and small roots as possible to prevent the plants from growing back. Then we had to rake the soil.

Landscaping Step #2: Dig out all the roots of the dead plants.
Landscaping Step #2: Dig out all the roots of the dead plants.

Landscaping Step #3: Go to the store and decide on the materials.

We drove 20 minutes south to a landscaping company called Broadmoor Landscape Supply to pick our materials. We used a black eco-friendly mulch to cover the dirt and got tri-colored pebbles for the pathway. We also bought a roll of black weed blocker material with stakes.

Landscaping Step #3: Go to the store and decide on the materials.
Landscaping Step #3: Go to the store and decide on the materials.

Landscaping Step #4: Roll out weed blocker and insert stakes.

To reduce the need to constantly pull weeds repeatedly every month, forever, we rolled the weed blocker over as much of the dirt as possible. We then inserted stakes every two-to-free feet.

It was so tempting to skip the weed blocker and dump the mulch on the dirt. But I told my boy the extra effort we put in at the beginning will save us time and money in the end.

Landscaping Step #4: Roll out weed blocker.

Landscaping Step #5: Spread the mulch and rocks.

Dump the 12 bags of mulch on the dirt and spread it around. Then dump the four bags of pebbles on the path and spread them evenly. We didn't put the weed blocker on the path because I forgot. Darn! But there weren't any weeds there anyway.

Landscaping Step #5: Spread the mulch and rocks.

Landscaping Step #6: Get the best succulents we could find.

Instead of paying $30 – $300 for each succulent, we decided to get the succulent pups from our other rental property. In 2017, I planted three succulents to represent my son, my wife, and me. I explained to my boy that since 2017, the succulents have grown and produced pups.

We cut the succulents that were the most accessible. I ended up sawing off succulents that would easily cost between $200 – $300 each if I had gone to the store. The largest ones each weighed between 50 – 80 pounds!

Landscaping Step #6: Get the best succulents we could find.

Landscaping Step #7: Plant the succulents.

Once we agreed upon a design, it was time to spread out the mulch, cut a large enough hole in the weed blocker, plant the succulents, and give them a good dose of water to help root. We decided to go with succulents because they are low maintenance. I also know from experience that tenants won't water and take care of them.

Landscaping Step #8: Plant the succulents.

Landscaping Step #8: Make a better border.

Because the house is on a hill, the front yard slopes downward. Over time, the brick border began sinking deeper into the soil. This posed a problem because then the mulch drifts down onto the entranceway and driveway.

The bricks were impossible to pull out. But we discovered that once we dug out one, every other one was much easier to dislodge. We cleaned the bricks, added soil where the bricks were, and placed the bricks back.

Landscaping Step #9: Make a better border.

Landscaping Step #9: Clean up!

We ended up sweeping up all the dirt and debris in the driveway and entranceway. We filled up both the trash bin and ecology bin to the top and set the bins outside for pickup.

Landscaping Step #9: Make a better border.

Related: How Landlords Can Create Teachable Moments For Their Kids

How Long Did It Take To Landscape?

All told, the landscaping job took about 11 hours over seven days. We spent one-to-two hours a day working to make the landscaping project manageable. Two of those hours were driving to the supply store, picking out the materials, and driving back thrice.

After each day, we felt a tremendous amount of satisfaction. When it was all done, we gave each other high fives! I told my boy that every time he walks by or drives by the rental house, he will now experience the joy of knowing he helped do the work.

The total cost for all the materials was $240. Gas cost around $12. And then there was the cost of our time. But I didn't view the 11 hours we worked as a costly expense. Instead, it was a priceless bonding experience between father and son we will never forget.

Instead of paying landscapers $5,000, we did it ourselves. My hope is this laborious experience will help him develop a strong work ethic and realize hard things can be completed with enough time.

Life Lessons From The Landscaping Project

1) Learn to do things yourself.

The more knowledgeable and self-sufficient you are, the easier your life will be. Instead of relying on people to do the simplest things, you can do things yourself to save time and headaches.

One example is learning how to change your own tire in case of a flat. Another example is learning how to invest your money. Once you do, you can save money on a financial advisor and potentially make a lot more money compared to those who are financially illiterate.

2) It's better to do than to show.

You can tell your children or your students to do something all you want. But unless you are also taking action by doing, your teachings may not be as effective.

As a high school tennis coach for three years, I enjoyed playing against my students in challenge matches during practice. Win or lose, they respected my authority more and tried harder because I was battling against them.

By getting my hands dirty, I showed my boy I'm not too good for any job. In turn, he was also willing to get his hands dirty. If you work until exhaustion, you might be able to get rid of entitlement mentality and better appreciate any other type of work that is less demanding.

landscaping is exhausting

3) If the direction is correct, sooner or later you will get there.

This is my favorite Chinese proverb. Big tasks often seem impossible to accomplish in the beginning. But if you keep on working at it, you will eventually succeed in completing your task.

The next time you face a big task, think about tackling it in multiple stages over time. This way, the task won't feel as daunting. Eventually, you'll put together something you're proud of.

When I bought the fixer in 2019, it was in pretty bad shape. But I gave myself three years to make the property beautiful. Although it took one-and-a-half years longer than expected due to the pandemic, it eventually got done.

4) The first impression of your house matters.

A well-landscaped front yard makes a tremendous difference in improving the value of the home. The first impression a buyer has is always from the outside. The stronger the first impression, the better the overall impression of the house.

Now whenever my boy and I go to open houses, we take a moment to appreciate the landscaping. We talk about the type of stones they use, the design, the lighting, and the plants. He's interested now, whereas, in the past, he never paid landscaping a lick of attention.

5) The work is never-ending

Despite landscaping the front yard, weeds will eventually grow back. As a result, we've got to return regularly for maintenance. But hopefully, this realization of the need for constant upkeep will translate to lessons for other areas of my children's lives, e.g. eating healthy and exercising, continuing education, etc.

Given we finished landscaping the yard, I decided to tackle the next project with my daughter by redoing the sidewalk. I asked her to help me pull the weeds and lay weed blocker with stakes. We then went to get 18 bags of 3/4″ pami stone. Now that was a good workout!

18 bags of rock cost another $270 plus about $20 for gas back and forth.

pulling weeds for landscaping sidewalk
Landscaping the sidewalk

Summer Jobs And Teachable Moments

During every summer onwards, I'm looking forward to doing more odd jobs with my children. Eventually, we'll move on to painting interior walls and trim. Then I'll teach them how to change fixtures and fix toilets. Finally, I'll teach them about the online business world.

We'll be able to get a lot done over the next 12-15 years!

My hope is that after they leave home, they'll turn into handy people who will appreciate the importance of hard work. If they ever get jobs that pay much more than minimum wage, hopefully, they will appreciate all the odd jobs they did when they were children.

As a Gen Xer who remembers life before the internet, I still can't believe we can make money typing on a computer from the comfort of our own home! As a result, I have a lot of motivation to keep writing on Financial Samurai.

Eventually, I hope their hard work will translate into financial reward. It would be nice if they turn into financially independent adults with their heads on straight. They might end up even going into the landscaping business, you never know!

What I do know is that once they get to actually make money from work (instead of get rewarded with hugs and popsicles), I'll encourage them to max out their Roth IRAs. This way, by the time they graduate college, they will have enough saved up to confidently pursue their goals without too much financial worry.

Reader Questions And Suggestions

Anybody do any landscaping work themselves? How satisfying is it once the job is finally done? What are some odd jobs you're doing with your children to make them better appreciate what they have and teach them work ethic?

Related post: How To Stop Worrying About Your Child's Future In This Brutally Competitive World

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26 thoughts on “A Summer Job Landscaping A Rental Property With My Children”

  1. Great and inspiring article – good job, on it and the landscaping.
    Uncanny timing, as we just finished a long-overdue landscaping project on our front yard, ripping the whole thing out and starting clean. My wife did the design and we both picked out the plants and materials, but we decided to “write the check” on doing the work and hired a pro landscaper. And I’m glad we did – it would’ve been too much for just the two of us take on. At the end of the work we did end up spreading nine yards of mulch ourselves, though, to finish the job.

    And we ended up with a couple yards of extra mulch, which became the prompt to get to work on our smaller backyard. This entailed succulent pup harvesting and replanting, something my wife’s been doing for some time now and has a practiced hand. I was the bulldozer, ripping out tree roots (a pickaxe is your friend here, btw – you should get one), trenching out old irrigation pipes and digging in new ones, and carting off wheelbarrow loads of material.

    It’s good work, and the satisfaction you describe at the end of the work is definitely a wonderful feeling – in addition to saving a few bucks.

  2. Buddhist Slacker

    Super fantastic!!!! As a FIRE parent, you have the luxury of working side by side with your child. I feel that raising great people as you are doing is perhaps the most noble profession. Your child will come to see that work is fun instead of a drudgery when doing it side by side with you.

    By the way, don’t worry if it turns out that your child is not interested in studying 3 hours per night as you and your wife did. It doesn’t mean your child is a slacker or stupid. I simply could not bring myself to study and I didn’t seem to fit into any of the traditional professions that Asian parents want their children to do.

    My mom didn’t know about any other kind of jobs and neither did I. Eventually, I fell into project management and IT software admin jobs which happened to be my thing. I logged hundred hour weeks regularly and I still work 12-hour days. I also very much enjoy studying and reading about the topics that pertain to my job for hours on end. You are able to expose your children to many other different types of jobs. Hopefully they will find their niche and be self-motivated and driven to study and work as the carrot and the threat of manual labor as the stick lol.

  3. When I went through advanced training in the Army, there was an older sergeant, a member of the National Guard from Missouri. He was a high school teacher who had spent two decades in the Guard and when his commanders would allow it, he’d get additional training unrelated to his original MOS. Since his summers were available, that’s when he’d do the training.

    During summers when he wasn’t training or drilling, the sergeant worked for his hometown diner. The man who owned it had given the sergeant his first job as a young teen. They were now good friends and the diner’s owner was advancing in years. The sergeant would wash dishes, clean the bathrooms, and when needed, work the grill.

    The money was negligible and the work, it seemed to me, was beneath him, so I asked him why he did it. There were two reasons, he said. He did it as a favor to his friend who he had great affection for and he did it so he wouldn’t lose touch with who he was and where he was from.

      1. I’m am avid gardner and have completely transformed my front and back yard over the 10 years we have lived here. I also maintain my elderly neighbors yard and my lazy neighbors yard. I just can’t live on a street with unmaintained landscape so I helpt if I can. I purchased most of my landscaping equipment at estate sales (trimmers, edges, leaf blower, etc etc ) My brothers girlfriend owns a landscaping company and the prices are outrageous to me !

  4. Steve Letro

    Circa 1960s, I worked every summer as a plumber’s helper with my Dad. Started at 10 for 4 hours at near by new house roughs cutting and soldering water pipe drops and ate lunch with the men. Summer and other times age 13 to 17 worked 8 hours/day learning all types of plumbing. I went to Florida at 17 to study marine tech/diving used my paper route , odd job and plumbing savings to pay tuition. I worked 30 hours/week at supermarket paying all my bills. The tech school was 1/2 VN vets. VN vets taught me the correct way to register for draft at 18. One use shared house address, then move,Two your parents are dead, three adult self supporting, saved. I returned to WNY worked more plumbing with larger shop 1972 to 1978. Dad said after 18 you should never work for family. Saved money and enrolled in Erie county technical institute for 1975 AAS in chemical technology. 1975 passed Town of Hamburg Master Plumber exam, 1976 BA Chemistry ACS certified, 1978 MA Chemistry, 1979 Lab supervisor of Occoquan Watershed monitoring lab VATECH Manassas VA., 1981 Lab supervisor of Potomac Electric electric system lab. Retired chief electric system chemist of 3 utilities. Married 1979 in 1981 my Wife competed MS in Biology at Georgetown and entered Medical school. I worked OT at PEPCO and PT property maintenance for landlord till 1985.
    When I asked Dad in 1975 for support to continue education. Dad said NO because I would never steal your MANHOOD by questioning your ability to work for your goals. Dad was right I always made money plumbing, tutoring, work study, side chemistry analysis and MA paid $100/week teaching lab and free tuition.

  5. I’m impressed with you being able to motivate the kids. That’s my struggle: getting them started, and keeping them motivated. Ice cream usually gets to activation energy but keeping the whole experience positive is a challenge… I’m all ears for more parental advice.

  6. When my daughter was a little older than your son I was watching a show about troubled youths. When they got in trouble the counselor would make them dig a hole waist deep then fill it up. I liked that idea and had my daughter do it a couple times when she was in trouble. Fast forward 15 years she was in college and we were talking about some of her college friends. She told me you can really see the difference between the kids who dug holes and the kids who didn’t. It’s amazing how the small things taught to your kids can register and carryover when they become adults. Well done teaching your kids how to work!

  7. Great story. Your kids will be self-sufficient one day and not assume all work gets done by “trades people.”

    It never ceases to amaze me the cost of doing any contracting work in San Francisco. That was admittedly a small job. At $500 for 11 hours (and that’s for one adult and a small helper), that’s $455 an hour, for unskilled labor. The projects/repairs I have done in SF are multiples of the price it costs in NYC/Hamptons. We can’t wait for the market to turn again and to sell all the rental properties in SF, especially since the multi-family ones are subject to rent control and the whims of tenants/corrupt SF planning/rent board etc.

  8. This is great!

    Not paying people to work on my house is my side hustle too. Every $1.00 saved is $1.30 I didn’t have to earn.

    1. I paid them through popsicles. So I don’t think there are taxes to pay. :)

      But now that you bring this topic up, something to think about given the importance of pictures in illustrating what I’m talking about on FS and making the articles more impactful.

      Any summer jobs you’re doing with the kiddos?

        1. Indeed. It’s how to create dialogue and learn from others. I try to encourage as many liters is possible to share their experiences so we can all learn.

          What type of summer jobs or our jobs? Do you do with your children to help emphasize the importance of hard work?

      1. Canadian Reader

        Thanks for the article and the helpful pictures. It motivated me to clean up and landscape my front beds in similar design. Not sure why I didn’t do something about it until now! Thanks again.

      2. Hi Sam,

        Why wouldn’t you count this as labor for your children and pay them a fair wage for their custodian ROTH IRAs today? Or do they have income from others sources?

        1. I guess I could from my online business given their work was required for me to write this post. I’ll think about it.

          In general, paying for chores is not earned income by children, so it doesn’t count for Roth IRA purposes. Let me know what you find out.

  9. Thank you Sam for all of your great financial advice. I have been reading your weekly newsletter for approximately 3 years and I have recently finished your book, “Buy this, Not That”. Wow, you really touch on every aspect of all the life decisions and no matter where you are at in your financial journey, you will definitely learn something.

    I’m 58 and do all of my financial planning, but by reading your newsletter and book, I’ve been able to tweak some things. Thank you for helping the individual investor with all your insights.

    I ended up giving my copy of your book to my 29 yo son and told him, he too can be a Financial Samurai! Again, thank you for all you do and no you are not privileged but experienced and there’s no price you can put on that.

    1. Hi Marty – Nice to hear from you. Glad you finished reading Buy This Not That! If you could spare a moment and leave a review on Amazon, I’d appreciate it. Every review counts.

      I hope your son enjoys it and finds it even more useful. The younger one reads BTNT, the more useful it should be!

      All the best to you and your boy! We are blessed.

      Sam

  10. Wow that is so awesome! The before and after show such an impressive improvement. And the fact that you got both of your kids involved is very clever and admirable. What a great progression of pictures and improvements. Letting kids get their hands dirty and to participate in a project like that with so many steps and stages is such a great learning experience that will stick with them. “Rock” on!

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