A Pocketful of Change

I am not asleep, but I pretend I am. Clenching my face, eyes tightly shut and breathing loudly, as a 4-year-old this is my best impression of being asleep. It isn’t a terrible performance, but it is unlikely that I am fooling him. I hear him shuffling in his pocket, the coins weighing it down heavily. The pockets are as deep as his generosity. This is the pretence he uses to fill my coin jar, giving me a sense of significance. Being a little girl at times left me feeling unimportant, and this type of respectable exchange was rare and precious, just as the coins were. “I’ll get a hole in my pocket if I keep it there, you’re saving my trousers” he once explained with a wink that only fathers can so innocently pull off. Not wanting to lose out on my monetary reward, I continue with my dramatic sleep production with the addition of a loud snore for good measure. Hearing the coins jingling in his large hands that I have so vividly imprinted in my memory, the anticipation takes over and I break character as I take a risky peak. With the limited vision of one eye only half open, I can just about make out that he is sorting through his change. I know this means he is looking for the smaller coins and finally I hear it, the cling in my glass jar, an automatic cash deposit from my father. Just like that, my jar is filled a little higher, leaving me richer. Although young, I still feel the power that comes with this small increase in my wealth. As he quietly walks out of my room, he suddenly stops and digs again in his pocket. The gold loonie is shiny even in the dark, he adds another treasure to my jar. Perhaps I was extra good today or maybe he was feeling generous. I’ll never know. These magical donations are given sporadically, and I have no control. One thing is clear, money comes from him, the big guy.

These formative experiences set the tone for a complicated relationship with money. Even as a young child, I was impressively disciplined and saving money came to me naturally. My monetary values were passed down from my parents. They taught me that money is important and I should save and protect it. Always taking things to heart, I took it to the extreme. I passionately stockpiled the little change I had with the anticipation of a looming economic crash. I guarded my money by regularly changing its hiding spot. The exception was my glass jar containing a few pennies that I always kept in plain view on top of my dresser, in case my father would feel so inclined to unburden himself of the heavy change in his pocket.

As a little girl, I knew I was unable to make my own money. My capital depended on my father’s pocket change donations, birthday gifts which occasionally came in the form of cash or a rare coin I would find on the sidewalk. I felt insecure not knowing when or how I would earn more. I had no excuse for this irrational behaviour. My siblings and I lacked nothing, financially or otherwise. We had kind, generous, and dedicated parents who provided us with an excellent life. Perhaps my nervousness with money came from a lack of control which left me feeling powerless.

A little older, money rarely came magically and instead had to be earned. My parents gave me a generous weekly allowance in exchange for household chores. Through this transaction, I gained a sense of control. This predictability in my earnings was helpful and calmed my financial anxieties. I learned that you had to work hard to earn money and that you needed to save wisely, which I did by continuing to stockpile my cash in hiding spots and eventually at the bank. It was my privileged upbringing that made it possible for me to save in the first place as all my needs were met by my parents. This gave me an early opportunity to practice saving money, a life skill that is sometimes unfairly only taught to those who can afford it.

Whilst I enjoyed the power of managing my own money, I was immensely grateful and certainly not above accepting donations my father sometimes made to my siblings and I.  Every year, in a similar fashion to Santa Claus, my father would sneak cash envelopes for his three children on our Christmas tree. The envelopes were marked with our names in his bold handwriting, scripted by his Montblanc fountain pen, the one he preciously kept in his shirt pocket. I always appreciated that gift and kept the envelopes with his handwriting for many years as a memento of his generosity. Finally finding some security with money, something else became apparent. My allowance was paid by my father, the big guy, and in turn his pay came from an even bigger guy. A powerful circle I did not belong in.

These lessons in saving money served me well into my early adulthood. Moves, an unpredictable job market, a recession, and unreasonably high rent made the transition into adulthood difficult, but my savings made it smoother. I’ve managed to live independently and to a reasonably comfortable standard despite many setbacks. I am grateful for the money management values my parents passed down to me. My father always made a point to teach me about protecting my money. Always delivering a long speech before shopping trips, “keep your money, hidden in your bag”, “do not count it in public”, and even insisting I wear my purse across my body rather than hanging off my shoulder which could make it easy to steal. I still follow this tip except for a few rare occasions where I wear a purse hanging from my shoulder in the name of fashion. I wondered if boys were similarly preached at before receiving pocket money from their fathers. Whilst in my element when saving money, the uncertainty I feel protecting it leaves me feeling like a little girl.

I took a pay cut for a career I am passionate about. I proudly work in the early years but the happiness it brings barely compensates for my modest salary. I love the little friends that I’ve made that pay me in hugs, kisses, and lots of giggles. Seeing to their development and helping their families has been my greatest privilege. I am honoured to do the work I do but it doesn’t leave me in the strongest financial situation.

I like that my profession is predominately female. I’ve enjoyed working with strong, intelligent, like-minded groups of ladies. It has been rewarding to work with colleagues who challenge and inspire me. It is rarer to see male teachers in nurseries and they are highly valued, their rarity seemingly increasing their value. Male teachers are needed and certainly have a place in the early years. However, my previous employer had a stark gender pay gap, on average my male counterparts earned 28% more per hour than I did. This left me feeling poorer. I want to acknowledge that the males I previously worked with in that company were absolutely competent and a huge asset to the team, but so were my female colleagues and I. How could I justify this financial discrepancy imposed by my gender? My pay being determined by my gender instead of my performance left me wondering if this is the right career choice for me. Whilst happy, I am unsure it provides me with the financial security that I was brought up to seek. It seems like I am still outside of the big guy circle.

I still feel insecure about my money and worry far more about it than I should. I compensate by educating myself in the most of millennial ways through podcasts and dedicated financial Instagram accounts. Reminding myself that knowledge is power. But I do this with such reservation, imposter syndrome taking over, telling me I am not a big guy. My relationship with money is still complicated, deeply interwoven with my gender. But nonetheless I am my father’s daughter, and with my purse securely across my body, I remain optimistic. My pockets aren’t deep, but they are full of change and one day I will either break into or if need be, break the big guy circle.


Marie-Eve Bernier is a Québécoise currently living in New Zealand. She loves playing outdoors and reading books. She works in the early years and has many baby friends. Marie-Eve has previously published for Montréal Writes.