Getting Under Way, and Lesson One

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The Great American Field Trip has begun! As today’s papers are hitting other people’s driveways, we are pulling out of ours.

This past week has been filled with good-byes, errands, packing, more errands and a lot of letting go of things that just did not get done before we left.

This past week was also when I unveiled to the kids our Economy on Wheels.

For the duration of our road trip, under this economic system, the kids will not have to ask me every time they want to buy a Mt. Rushmore snow globe or a potato piggy bank from the Potato Museum in Idaho. Instead, they will earn wages for their work and create a budget for themselves.

I immediately hired all the kids as independent contractors and instructed them how to invoice me each Friday via e-mail or handwritten paper.

I have never seen my kids more riveted as they huddled around my laptop staring at my list of jobs and how much each is worth. Billable jobs include domestic jobs: laundry, cooking, cleaning out the car, cleaning out the ice chest; as well as academic jobs: journal writing, math, and reading.

Payday is every Friday. Upon payment, they will have to figure out how much income tax they owe – a flat tax of 10%. Taxes are a bummer – but I explained, it is their way to contribute to the cost of gas, food, and lodging while on the road.

Financial bonuses are also a possibility for exemplary behavior.

We will be operating to the best of our ability in a free market society. This means that new opportunities for income may be there for a motivated person. For example, the front passenger seat is prime real estate. Would Payton be willing to sublet it on portions of the drive in order to increase his disposable income? Should I charge him taxes on that income?

An interesting discussion exploded almost immediately. I had to have the kids literally take turns asking questions.

I began to see that this part of homeschooling – the Economics Unit – may turn out to be a bigger opportunity for learning than I thought.

Our 13-year-old asked regarding the Pay Per Chapter Reading Incentive Plan, “wouldn’t the younger kids be able to make more money than me, because their chapters are shorter and I am going to be reading harder books?”

Folding laundry – 50 cents – my daughter asked – what if I folded everything in the pile and Sally only folded two things – would we both get paid 50 cents?

Our 6-year-old piped in. “I’m not very good at folding laundry.

Should he get paid less, since he is less skilled?

Suddenly, we were tackling subjects, on a miniature scale, that societies face. Terms and ideas such as productivity, balancing a budget, fair tax rates, revenue versus expenses, and job availability. A real concern was expressed that there may be more workers than jobs.

The kids pointed out that there is only one ice chest to be cleaned out each day, yet there are four capable workers willing to do the job. How would it be decided who got this opportunity each day?

Another question opened up the discussion about consumer debt. “What if we see something we want and we can’t afford it, but we’re not going back to that place? Can we borrow money from you and pay you back?”

“Well, you could buy it on credit or take out a loan from the bank (me),” I told them, and added, “but there would be interest charged.” So the enormous pencil with scenes of Yellowstone may double in price – and may not be as appealing.

There was one more caveat that the kids weren’t expecting. I would not force them, but I suggested that, along the way, they may see some people who are not as fortunate as we are. Think about your economic conscience, I told them. Paying taxes is a law, behaving philanthropically is not a law, but a moral obligation. Parting with hard-earned money to help someone, rather than purchasing a miniature pewter model of Lincoln’s boyhood cabin for yourself, are the kinds of decisions you have to make the rest of your life.

Not sure where the Economy on Wheels is headed, or what problems we will have to address, but I saw the fiscal wheels begin to turn in the kids’ heads.

And that is worth something.

Follow the Fales’ travels at


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  1. Jill – I’m in Boise, Idaho and I just saw a post on the Rediscovered Books Facebook page about your voyage. I sure wish I’d discovered this earlier because I handle Facebook content for some tourism organizations around Idaho. I was a TV news anchor for 33 years, then worked for the Idaho Tourism Office for a few years before retiring and starting to play with social media as a hobby and a way to earn some extra gas money! 🙂 Anyway, I thought I’d mention this to you, although I don’t know if you have the time to deal with this sorta thing – – I think most state tourism offices would be interested in having the link to your blog so they could re-post it on their own pages. They’re pretty easy to find.. a Google search will reveal Idaho’s as , etc. Good luck to you and your family.. I’m very jealous! 🙂
    Ron Gardner – [email protected]