Money grows in this treehouse

Marketplace Staff Aug 20, 2010

Money grows in this treehouse

Marketplace Staff Aug 20, 2010


Tess Vigeland: Teaching your kids the value of a dollar can be daunting, especially when summer jobs are hard to come by. But Mike Lane of Wofford Heights, Calif., came up with an innovative way to teach his daughters valuable lessons in finance, while making a few bucks on the side.

Our technical director Josh Rogosin left the control booth to take a ride to the Sequoia National Forest, where he met up with two tween entrepreneurs.

Abbie Longero: Is there anyone under 95 pounds? Nice one, I can tell who are going to be the trouble makers on this trip.

Josh Rogosin: Every summer, Abbie Longero heads up to California’s Kern River Valley to work as a river guide. She’s done this since 2001, and never worried much about money. But she turned 27 this year, and she’s started to pay a bit more attention to her spending.

Abbie Longero: So I probably have about $4,500 in credit card debt, and at the end of the summer, I can probably put around $2,500-$3,000 down on my credit card.

Sticking to a tight budget isn’t easy when the going rate for a place to stay in the Valley is about $300 a month. But Abbie shopped around until she found a place for just a hundred bucks — with an unusual landlord… or landladies.

Megan Lane: My name is Megan Lane and I am 10 years old.

Emma Lane: Hi, my name is Emma Lane. I am 12 years old and I’m going into the seventh grade.

Renting a place from a pair of pre-teens may sound odd, but it gets odder still: Megan and Emma Lane’s house is located in their backyard, 10 feet off the ground in a tree.

Emma: This is Emma. There are three oak trees growing through our tree house. Oh four oak trees.

Megan: This is Megan. There’s a sliding glass door and a veranda with the railing.

The tree house is 106 square feet, with a bed and a desk. There’s electricity, but no running water: Abby uses the bathroom and shower in the Lane household, a few steps away.

The girls didn’t come up with the idea to rent the tree house themselves. Their father, Mike Lane, is a middle school teacher, and he knows, first hand, that educating students about money is not a priority in most American classrooms.

Mike Lane: Certainly up to the middle school, there’s very little done to teach kids the value of money and how to spend it.

Mike thought renting out the tree house could provide lessons in personal finance to his daughters. Lesson number one? Find the right tenant, someone you can get along with, and who you can trust.

Emma: We probably pretty much have to know to even think about letting them stay in the tree house, because some people say that they’re one way and they’re really not. And we want somebody who’s friendly.

Megan: And a person that pays the rent on time.

Lesson number two: get the place ready to rent.

Emma: Before she came, we swept it all up.

Megan: I mostly did the carrying down and she did more of the cleaning.

Lesson number three: How to manage the money you make. The Lane girls split the $100 a month they charge for rent and are surprising their dad with their fiscal discipline.

Mike: They will spend about 20 percent and then save percent of it, which is probably more than I would have done. So Emma, last month your received $50 for rent and then you had $10 to spend. What did you spend that money on?

Emma: I spent it on a little pouch for my friend.

Megan: This is Megan. I bought a thing that does your toothpaste that you just lift off the hand and toothpaste splurts out for my friend Taylor.

But don’t let all that generosity fool you. The $40 they each put in savings are for big-ticket items for themselves. Emma’s already reached her next savings goal.

Mike: So what are you saving for right now? What’s the big thing you’re saving for?

Emma: An iPod Touch.

But dad has some ground rules she must follow before she can start to spend.

Emma: If I have the exact amount of money, they want me to have $50 or $100 more so I don’t just drain my back account.

Rogosin: So you don’t have any credit cards?

Emma: No!

Emma and Mike laugh

Mike admits to having had a somewhat casual relationship with money. And he doesn’t want his daughters growing up the same way.

Mike: I’ve always enjoyed money, but I personally have not really been tied to money. I wanted them to respect money a little bit more and understand that it just doesn’t grow on trees, you work hard for your money, you get money and then there are certain benefits that come from that.

Rogosin: Well, it kinda does grow on trees in this case.

Mike: Yeah, right, in this case it does, it’s in the trees.

Abbie’s tenancy means the Lane girls can learn some valuable lessons about money, while enjoying their treehouse all year round. It’s a bit too hot for them in the summer, but for Abbie, it’s perfect.

Longero: I think the best thing about the treehouse is like when I say I live in a tree house, people look at me like I’m kinda nuts. But then I tell them that I have three skylights and a balcony and wifi and electricity. Pretty bomber.

From the inside of Megan and Emma’s tree house in Kern County, Calif., I’m Josh Rogosin for Marketplace Money.

Rogosin: We’ve got Josh’s photos of cute kids in trees.

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