The prompt for writing group this month was CHANGE. I approached it from a little different perspective.
I walk up the well-worn wooden steps of the little store on the corner of 7th Avenue and Oxford that’s tacked onto the front of an equally small house. We call it Tom’s because that’s the name of the smiling man behind the counter who knows all of us by name. The “official” name of the store is Minto Grocery, but I won’t learn that for decades.
I’m gripping a quarter in my hand and feeling quite flush because you can get a lot of candy with that much money. Inside the tiny store, Tom stands patiently behind the glass-fronted counter while I peruse the sweet selection and place my order. Two cents worth of that please, five cents worth of that please, and so on until I’ve used up twenty-five cents. The price of a square package of Double Bubble or Black Jack isn’t the same as Pixy Stix or Lik-M-Aid or licorice babies. Some things are two, three, or more for 1 penny, while special things like Red Hots cost one cent each. Tom picks my selections from display boxes with his bare hands and drops them into a small paper bag, both of us keeping mental track of the total Thinking back on it now, the simple act of choosing penny candy must have helped improve the arithmetic skills of countless kids in those days.
Once in a while, on a Saturday or Sunday, Dad suggests the two of us walk up to Tom’s to get chocolate bars. We take orders from Mom and my sister before we set off: Invariably, Mom asks for Cherry Blossom and it’s Mackintosh Toffee for my sister. Dad and I, having the opportunity to look at the selection once we got there, vary our choices. It’s either Burnt Almond or Eat More for Dad, and I alternate between Aero, Jersey Milk Treasures, and Malted Milk. Ten thin dimes. That’s all it takes to buy treats for our entire family.
Every Saturday morning, Dad makes a great production of giving me my allowance—twenty-five cents—and watching as I drop the coins into a glass globe that serves as my bank. The ritual is repeated week after week. He hands me a quarter and waits while I lift the heavy glass globe down from the shelf in the hall closet and drop in the coin.
Eventually, I develop a resentment for the ritual, wondering what the point of it is. During the summer I am twelve, when our family is in transition, Dad having taken our travel trailer and to B.C. where he starts a new job while Mom, my sister, and I stay back to sell the family home. Mom softens that summer, because I finally gain access to the contents of the glass bank. I crack it open, count up my savings, and calculate that I can afford to visit Tom’s in the morning to buy a candy bar, and again in the afternoon for an ice cream sandwich. Best of all, I have enough money to do so for the entire summer. It’s my first experience at learning to budget.
Remember change purses? And those oval squeeze coin purses? How about jars we put our change in at the end of the day or week to save up for something special? These days, change is out of vogue as is cash of any kind. During the past few years, signs have started showing up at checkout counters suggesting that cash is no longer the preferred method of payment. Mom always told me that coins and bills were germ-leaden and, given what we’ve come through, I suppose it’s no surprise that it it’s use is falling out of fashion.
As soon as I was able to get a debit card, I got one and enjoyed the freedom from having to write cheques at the grocery store (though I always jotted down the total so I could add it to my register once I got home). I haven’t carried cash for decades, save for one quarter and one loonie required to get a grocery cart at some stores. My husband, on the other hand, usually has a pocketful of change and bills in his wallet. He’s perfectly willing to take the time to count out the correct change to pay for a purchase and is tack-sharp at figuring out how much change he’s due if there’s an amount owing. Me? I gave up trying. It’s far easier to simply tap or swipe.
Recently, Gerry started using an empty Tic Tac container to hold his change. He doesn’t carry it around on a day-to-day basis (thank goodness!) but, if we’re going somewhere and intend to go through a drive-thru for something, that container comes with us. The other day, while we were out and about, we decided to stop for coffee. At the window at my preferred place, I handed him my phone so he could pay with my app. Point. Click. Done. At his preferred place, while he waited in line, he counted out change from his Tic Tac container and when it was his turn handed the employee the correct amount to pay for his coffee.
I was struck by two things that day. First, the exorbitant difference in how much my coffee cost in comparison to his and, second, how the act of paying with coinage vs scanning an app, wakes one up to the reality of where their money is going. I might be less likely to hand over five dollars or so for coffee if I was counting change and calculating how much I’d have left afterward. I might be more prone to develop a taste for coffee from somewhere else. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m unlikely to give up going for coffee at my preferred place but it does give me pause for thought about how often I indulge.)
Some people chuckle at those who hold up the line while they count out the correct change or grow impatient because they have “very important” things to do and places to go and can’t afford to waste precious minutes counting out the correct change. It’s a tap and go world where things move at the speed of light and the triteness of counting change to pay for a purchase has no place. Or does it? Word on the street is that we’re heading for some tough times. Maybe counting nickels and dimes and paying more attention isn’t such a bad habit to cultivate.