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

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?

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