He’s not a dog or a pet of any kind—he’s an empty peanut butter jar and his name is Smoothy. He’s a special edition 2002 Kraft NHL Bear Bank. He’s adorned with a Calgary Flames jersey and a slot in the top for coins. He sits on the dresser in our bedroom.
Smoothy and I have been pals for about six years now. When I got him he was filled with Kraft smooth peanut butter, one of my all-time favourites. In the beginning our relationship was all about sandwiches and late-night snacks. But when he was empty, I washed him out and started to save coins in him.
It took quite a while to fill him that first time. It was 2002 and I wasn’t really working then. I’d just moved to Vancouver and it was a struggle to get a life started there. Every nickel I had was needed just to survive. They were thin days and the idea of saving didn’t fit my reality. But every time I had something spare I put it into him and eventually he got filled.
I took my girl out for a good dinner on what I saved that first time. It was about and the meal was fabulous. It felt like a celebration. Everything seemed to taste more jubilant knowing that I’d scrimped for it. Things got a little better for me after that and I worked more and had more spare change to throw into my faithful friend.
Nowadays I work steadily and money comes along regularly. Ironically, there are some days when it feels like there’s too much work and not enough down time to relax and enjoy things. But old Smoothy is around to keep me grounded. Every time we go shopping I make sure to ask for my change in coins if the amount is small enough. When I get home I go right to Smoothy and drop them in.
He fills up more quickly now and each time I roll the coins up and take them to the bank to exchange them for bills, it’s a special occasion. There’s just something in the simple act of throwing change in a pot that hearkens back to the nickel-and-dime days of my youth. Those irreplaceable days of childhood when the jingle of change in your pocket meant adventures and small joys.
We’ve been out for great dinners, seen awesome movies or bought books and music with offerings from the Smoothy jar. Whatever we spend it on, it always feels good knowing that we saved for it. I’m a kid again, jingling change and excited.
Lately, I’ve taken to dropping loonies and toonies into old Smoothy. That’s the privilege that comes from working hard and finding your way out of hard times. It hasn’t been all that long since it hurt to afford to save. But now, when he’s full, there’ll be a lot more to splurge with and I’ll be grateful. The thing is, dumping change into my old friend never feels like a sacrifice or a chore. It’s just become a habit and it’s a good one.
See, I was never good at saving money. When you spend a lot of time poor, the word budget and saving are foreign things. Like a lot of us, money, when I had it, just seemed to trickle through my fingers and I was on the short end a lot more than I was in plenty. But old Smoothy has taught me that a little can become a lot and in these hard economic times that’s a good thing to remember.
It’s a simple thing, dropping change into a jar. It’s a thing a child would do and maybe that’s the secret of it all. Maybe in these cash-strapped times, when news of the troubled economy and national deficit has everyone fraught with worry, we need to return to the innocence we knew as children. Days when loose change meant freedom.
Sure, that might seem simplistic when the debts are higher than a February snow drift, the mortgage is on the line, or when the job gets cut. But those are adult concerns and we have adult reactions to them. Doing without our pleasures, without our toys and distractions, seems like a huge sacrifice at times like that.
“I deserve it,” we say and then wonder how we’re going to make it to month’s end. Well, old Smoothy has taught me that instead of a cup of Timmy’s, the magazine I don’t really need, or the movie rental, I’ll save it and spend time with family or friends instead—and we are all richer in the end.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, arrives in August from Doubleday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org