Couch Money

When I was a kid, my parents regularly threw house parties. My dad was a natural entertainer, always equipped with his guitar, electric keyboard, bongos, a healthy supply of drinking songs, and outrageous stories from his wild past. These weekend parties would go on until three or four in the morning.

At our parties, whenever things started to wind down, my younger brothers and I routinely helped to clean up so that our folks so could keep entertaining the guests who stuck around. ‘Clean-up’ typically involved putting away glasses and leftover food, collecting garbage, and doing dishes. When unmonitored, we fished out of ashtrays any cigarettes that were still burning and we smoked the rest to the filter. We used to pour unfinished whiskey and scotch into half-finished beer bottles to create wicked cocktails and dare each other to take sips. When our mixes became undrinkable, we poured in the cigarette ashes and switched out our dad’s beer while he was mid-song or mid-story. Suppressing giggles, we eagerly waited for him to pick up the wrong bottle and take a swig. That always got our dad’s attention, and it was usually bedtime for us after that.

As fun as our parties were, the day after was our favourite part. We’d sit on the couch while watching TV with our little arms jammed down the sides of the cushions to fish for money. Our dad’s drinking buddies never failed us with their loose pockets full of change. We always took off to the store with our found coins to buy candy. I fondly recall these hilarious times, and I realize that I regard money differently based on how I got it. I have a different emotional connection to found money, prize money, given money, earned money, and invested money–I believe it’s this way for everyone.

My loving, liberal, supportive parents were financially stressed people. Not because they didn’t earn much, but because they had a complicated relationship with money–one I never got close to understanding. I believe each person’s relationship with money varies from healthy, neutral, stressful, troubled, to toxic. This relationship isn’t entirely based on the numbers in your account. When I started earning my own money, I realized–with some unexpected guidance–that money management could be simple and uncomplicated.


Fun at my first job! Me (left), my boss, Joelle (middle), and my co-worker, Akiko (right)

I remember how at my first full-time job, getting paid was like finding couch money. As soon as the money was in my account, I ran to the store and bought candy (hey, I was still in my teens) and other frivolous things. After months of working I still had no savings and I actually thought this was normal because that’s how I grew up. My caring boss at work noticed my spending habits and urged me to think about saving up for university and retirement. As I resisted with excuses, she insisted with simple solutions. From that point, my attitude toward my earned money shifted and it became a regular practice for me to divide my pay to cover my bills, future goals, and having fun.

Life has gotten much more expensive since I was young and starting out. Even if you’re already sensible with your money and have some stashed away, you need more money than ever in order to pay for university, buy a house, and save for retirement. The focus is now turning to investing because the good habits and the simple solutions we used to rely on just won’t cut it alone. Despite these mounting financial pressures, I still experience a thrill very similar to finding couch money, but an even better and more satisfying one: it’s when I see the growing returns of the hard-earned money I’d set aside and invested. I only hope it’s a similar experience for anyone who invests.