Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Coins

The first financial lesson I learned from my father was to save my pennies. Literally.

I don’t know how or why Dad started saving his coins. I know when he was a boy in the late 50s and early 60s he’d do small jobs for his older brothers in exchange for “silver” ie, nickels and dimes. They were worth more then.

In any case, at the end of every day Dad would put all his change in a jar under his desk. When I was small Kraft peanut butter came in clear glass jar in the shape of a teddy bear. We had about a half dozen of these, washed out and ready for coins.

It usually took about two months to fill a jar, then it would be placed on the shelf leading down to the basement. By November, the shelf would be full of coin jars, crammed with coins.

A few weeks before Christmas, Dad would empty all the jars onto the dining room table. It looked like piles of pirate treasure. He would roll while mom made dinner. I can remember sorting the coins based on the pictures when I was too small to count them (maple leaf, beaver, bluenose, moose and loon, if you’re not Canadian. Later there were polar bears). When I got a bit older I counted the ones my brother sorted.

A few hours every night for about a week (depending on how many coins there were) we’d all sit around the dining room table together, rolling coins. I really liked doing it as a kid, making piles of coin like Scrooge McDuck, and I still do, honestly. Plus, it was the first sign that Christmas was coming to our house.

The coins were our Christmas money. Some people have Christmas Club accounts or some other way to budget for the holidays. Dad put in a small amount every day, an amount that he wouldn’t miss, and over the course of the year it would slowly add up to hundreds of dollars. After the advent of the toonie ($2 coin, which was a total game-changer for this technique) we top a thousand, easy.

I’ve done this since I’ve moved out, but I’m not as disciplined as Dad was. Even so, I rolled over $200 last weekend, which is enough to pay for the simple Christmas Boyfriend and I have planned. It also helps me avoid waste. I’ve noticed that if I have change in my wallet it almost always winds up at Tim Horton’s or in the vending machine. Overpriced junk that I don’t need. Without change in my wallet that temptation is gone.

Which plays into my new, focused spending plan. Christmas means a lot to me. Certainly more than 200 coffees. I have trouble resisting my sugar cravings when there’s so much temptation around. But I’m a lot less likely to break up a bill than I am to scrounge quarters for a fix. Better that those coins be safe in a jar on my vanity, waiting for Christmas.

So save the penny, and bring on the foonie!! (Occasionally a five dollar coin is proposed. I don’t think it’ll ever actually happen, but I can dream)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Post Script

I want to post an addendum to my last entry. Within a few days of posting my thoughts on gratitude, I saw the headline “Gratitude is Nice, But Don’t Let it Keep You from Action” on one of my favourite websites, The Gloss. See link below.

On the surface, Jen Dzuria’s article seems to be the exact opposite of mine. She talks about how being thankful for the little things can cause a person to stop striving for the bigger things. She discussed her own experience with this, describing a time in her life when she focused on the positive things in her life and ignored the major problems she should have been working on.

I want to be very clear that this is not what I am advocating. I can be thankful for what I have now and still work hard for more in the future. Gratitude is no excuse for complacency. Contentment in the now is no reason to ignore the future.

Right now, I am working at being content with what I have. I am proud of what I have. I’ve accomplished a lot so far, and I have quite a bit to show for it. But I’m still looking ahead. I’m working hard and keeping my eye open for better opportunities at work. I’m saving my money so one day I can afford a car and a house. When I talk about being content, I’m thinking more about squelching the jealousy I feel when others talk about shopping sprees and fantastic trips. Some of these things I’ll never need, others I may have to wait for. I don’t want that to make me miserable, so I focus on the positive.

For perhaps the millionth time I’m reminded of the Serenity Prayer. I think, whatever your religious feelings you can see the wisdom of striving for:

the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

The answer to any debate is almost always the middle of the road. Life is rarely an all-or-nothing proposition. Be content with what you have, but keep your shoulder to the wheel and your eyes on the horizon.

And read Jen Dzuria’s articles, because she’s a smartie.