Money is a funny thing. It’s tangled up with just about every aspect of our lives — from where we live, to what we eat and the quality of our relationships — so it’s no wonder that all of us have opinions on what we should do with it. But what shaped our approach to money in the first place? What pivotal moment forever changed the way we think about our finances? To explore these questions, we’re introducing MONEY MOMENTS — a regular series where Canadians reflect on a moment in their lives that shaped their attitudes toward money.
For a couple of years in grade school, bundles of newspapers and flyers would show up on my front step two times a week. I’d lug them into the house, fan them out on my living room floor, stuff the papers with the appropriate flyers, stack them in a buggy and hit the streets, rain (or snow or sleet) or shine. I was a paperboy for the North York Mirror, responsible for distributing newspapers and flyers to about 60 houses, which, depending on the weather and the number of flyers, took me about an hour or two to do.
Paper delivery was never going to make me rich. If I remember correctly, I got five cents per paper and up to a penny apiece for the flyers. In a month, I’d net around $80, and make plans to buy whatever my 12-year-old self wanted: candy, skateboards, Linkin Park CDs.
My mother had other plans. Every paycheque I received, she collected half the amount. She wasn’t taxing me for the shelter and meals she and my father provided (though she very well could have). She was socking it away for later, when she knew I’d really need it. Of course, I had no idea what she meant by “later.” As far as I was concerned, I really needed a copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 right now.
As far as I was concerned, I really needed a copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 right now
Maternal tithing became a common occurrence in my life. Whether I was shovelling driveways, coaching volleyball or working at Shoppers Drug Mart, my mom unfailingly swiped half my earnings. Christmas and birthdays were even worse, because she’d take everything. If I received a card with some cash in it, I would solemnly hand it all to my mom, knowing there was no point trying to pocket any of it. (She’d know, somehow.) There was no point in arguing with her, either. Everything was equal between my two older brothers and me. We’d all had paper routes, we’d all had our precious dollars taken away and, whether we knew it or not, we were all getting a little richer.
See, my mom worked as an accountant and a financial planner. Every once in a while, she volunteered in high schools, teaching teenagers important lessons about budgeting, cash flow and financial planning, topics that, for no good reason, weren’t already baked into the curriculum. While my brothers and I were spending what earnings we had left on foolish purchases like Magic cards and mini-disc players (those did not catch on), my mom was investing our money in low- to medium-risk GICs and mutual funds. We were earning interest on all that money we’d watched get sucked into her fiduciary black hole.
Whether I was shovelling driveways, coaching volleyball or working at Shoppers Drug Mart, my mom unfailingly swiped half my earnings
The deal was that, when we became adults, those savings, plus all the interest they had earned, would be ours again for whatever we wanted. By the time I turned 18, my mom’s money management skills had rubbed off on me. I finally had the chance to take back what she’d taken from me but I decided to leave my earnings right where they were, and asked my mom if I could keep giving her half of every paycheque, both so my money would continue to grow and so I couldn’t blow it on a new guitar.
It paid off. Thanks to my mom’s decades-long foresight, money is almost never a worry for me now. She taught me valuable lessons I still use today. Every other Friday morning, when my paycheque arrives, I immediately use about half of it to pay off my credit card and other debt. And every week, I put $50 in a TFSA.
When I have children, I will do for them what my mom did for my brothers and me. I hated having my precious pocket change confiscated as a kid, but I loved when my savings resurfaced, all at once, much larger than I’d remembered them. Sure, my kids will hate it, too, at least for a little while. But if I’m patient, like my mom taught me to be, I know they’ll see the value in it one day—just like I have.
Illustration by Janice Wu.