For my first jobs as a kid, I was part of the underground economy—no cheque payments, just cash. I worked for my godfather, who ran a corner store called Shea’s Rip-Off (he believed in truth in advertising) and would slip me a few dollars for helping out. It was probably just 20 bucks, but I felt rich. Years later, when he closed the store and opened Shea’s Hamburger Hell, I worked for him peeling potatoes and washing dishes. Every time I received a paycheque I thought the same thing: “This is not enough money. I hate minimum wage.”
When I got older and decided to buy a house, I needed a $4,500 down payment. My parents gave it to me straight up. This money had been saved for my post-secondary education, yet somehow they saw the wisdom of letting me blow it on a house. It changed my life. For my parents, it was a huge sum, so paying it back was a priority to me. That meant saving while making minimum wage at a restaurant known as the Duckworth Lunch, while doing theatre—one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I lived on pilfered peanut butter.
Of course, being self-employed in show business, with erratic paydays, is hard, too. We all know you have to put away money for taxes, but that’s easier said than done when you are just getting by. Still, if I ever start giving you financial advice, it’s best to ignore me. My worst investment was an antimony mine (a metal used in batteries) in Newfoundland. It was a well-hyped discovery and my Newfoundland pride got the best of me. But what I didn’t know was that half of China is made from antimony. I would have been better off digging my own hole and throwing the money in there. I was also told to buy gold when it was $750 an ounce and passed.
I don’t have to worry about money anymore, and that’s the best thing a good gig will give you. Most people worry about money every day, yet when I’m on the subway, I still have a certain satisfaction that I’m saving cab fare. When I remember to bring reusable bags to the grocery store, not only do I feel good that I’m avoiding plastic, I actually think “There’s five cents saved.” That said, it’s all relative. My father has never worried about money and my family was far from well off. My parents simply lived within their means. In fact, I can’t think of anything my father has bought new in his life. When I moved to Toronto years ago, I mentioned to him that I had bought a new lawn mower. His reply? “A new mower? Someone won the lotto.”
The new season of the Rick Mercer Report airs Tuesdays on the CBC.
As told to Briony Smith
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