One doggone good idea for teaching kids about money

Bernadette, her son Aaron, and their dogs

Bernadette Dorman decided the best way to teach her 9-year-old son Aaron how to be responsible with money was for him to earn some cash himself.

Two years later, the 11-year-old is a miniature entrepreneur with his own dog biscuit business.

Best of all, mom says, he’s saving more and spending less.

This is a far cry from the slippery slope the family had been on, when she basically “bought him everything he touched.”

“I noticed that he would just go to the store, like what was on the box and take it to the counter,” says Dorman, 49, an executive recruiter in Chicago.

The final straw was a collection of Japanese battle toys that he had to have, because all of this friends did.

They weren’t expensive, she says, but there were so many of them. Dorman put her foot down and told him: “Mom and Dad’s money is for education, for the roof over your head, for the food that you eat, for museums, for books, for time that we spend together. It’s not for buying all these toys.”

Aaron was taken aback when Dorman suggested he put the toys on his Hanukah or birthday lists and wait it out. He also dismissed the idea of doing chores around the house so he could buy them himself.

Suddenly, it hit her: “I’m raising someone who’s going to be 16 and expect a new car every year,” she says.

Through her job, Dorman has noticed people who had jobs earlier in life seemed more focused with their money and in their careers.

So she talked Aaron about starting his own business during his summer break.

His first idea was to wash windows for neighbors. But he could only reach the bottom half of the window, leaving Dorman to do most of the work.

Dorman vetoed a lemonade stand, sensing that she’d be making the lemonade and cleaning up the mess, as well as cookies, because too many kids have allergies.

“I thought of dog biscuits because we have two dogs, and we know everyone in the neighborhood who has one,” Dorman says.

And, with a little prompting, Aaron came up with the dog biscuit idea on his own.

Dog biscuit success story

Aaron was definitely on to something when he set out to join the $55 billion-a-year pet industry. Here's what we're expected to spend on our furry (and feathered and scaled) friends this year:

  • $21.2 billion for food
  • $12.6 billion for supplies and OTC medicines
  • $14.2 billion for veterinary care
  • $2.3 billion to purchase live pets
  • $4.5 for grooming and boarding

(He initially proposed a dog-walking venture, with mom cleaning up after the pooches a key part of the business plan. “Mom refused,” Dorman says.)

After researching recipes online, Dorman found a canine cookbook with a biscuit cutter for about $10 at Whole Foods Market.

She and Aaron chose the simplest one, and the family took a Saturday to make their first batch. Dad — Jeff Dorman, an attorney — pitched in by kneading the dough.

Aaron priced them at 25 cents each, or five for a dollar, and set off for the neighborhood park with his mom.

“Enough dogs gobbled them down to know that we had a winning recipe,” Dorman says.

(Since the family’s Japanese Chin and shih tzu, Sparky and Ollie, will eat anything, they were not considered to be reliable taste testers.)

Dorman then ordered her son a personalized “Aaron’s Biscuits” hat, and he began offering samples to neighborhood dog owners they crossed paths with while walking Sparky and Ollie.

All of this generated enough interest to justify creating an order form, business cards and an email address so that sales could be booked electronically.

Dorman requires that Aaron put half of his profits in a savings account, and the two go to the bank once a month.

“He knows the tellers there, and they know him,” she says. “He has two secret passwords to his account.”

The other half of what Aaron makes goes directly into his pocket, and he's allowed to spend it as he wishes.

But he doesn’t.

“He is surprisingly frugal,” Dorman says. “Now he understands how much it takes to make $20.”

Aaron never even bought any of those battle figures he was so desperate to have.

He’s now in the habit of putting toys and games he wants on an Amazon wish list and then reviewing those items when he’s accumulated enough cash.

His mom says he’s more likely to buy board games that he can play with family and friends.

Dorman only allows Aaron to take email orders during the school year, when his focus should be on homework. She reminds him to send customers a new order form the first of every month.

But back in February, Aaron began talking about restarting park sales this summer and adding to the $400 in his savings account.

“The more they take the lead and own the experience, the more they want to repeat the experience,” Dorman says.

Dorman’s tips for teaching kids about money:

Develop a financial routine. Dorman believes their once-a-month bank deposit ritual is helping Aaron develop a good habit.

Help kids find an interesting way to make money. Aaron loves dogs, which is why his biscuit business continues to thrive. “If you have a passion for something, you do whatever brings you closer to that passion. Now, the biscuits are tied into meeting more dogs.”

Don’t forget charity. When he delivers biscuits, Aaron also picks up unwanted toys and pet food from his customers and delivers the items to dogs in need at city shelters.