Check Stop: When there’s 400 free bucks on the line, Edmontonians aren’t any different from kids from the Big Smoke

First published in the Edmonton Journal’s ed section on December 10, 2005.

“What would you do if the provincial government mailed you $400?”

While Albertans have had month to think about this, the Torontonian I was asking had mere seconds. Most bought more time by asking why their government would go and do something that crazy.

So I explained about the $400 resource rebate cheques that are being mailed out in January courtesy of the Klein government, and that I was curious to see if residents of these two supposedly different provinces would use their money for radically different purposes.

Would residents of these two capital cities live up to their provincial stereotypes? Would Edmontonians hoard their money, refusing to spread the wealth around? Would Torontonians blow it on frivolity and foolishness?

Short answers: no, no and residents of both cities are guilty of wanting to splurge on themselves.

It turns out that despite their differences in politics, Edmontonians and Torontonians both love to buy stuff. Perhaps the shopping bag should be added to the list of symbols that unite our country.

“I’d buy a bunch of new clothes,” says Courtney Maci, a 28-year-old student at Toronto’s Humber College who proudly declares that she would use her fictional $400 to go shopping.

Her 24-year-old friend says he would like to use the money to buy electronics. He’s not sure exactly what he’d get but it would be “something extravagant that I don’t need.”

“I’d put it towards buying a new camera,” says Meaghan Thomas, an 18-year-old photographer who has her eye on a on a $3,000-plus camera. She says that her current camera is pretty good but that she could always use another one.

Her friend, 18-year-old Jessica Coulson, isn’t surprised that Torontonians would spend their money on material items. “People aren’t going to spend that money on things they need; it’s luxury money.” While she would likely put her cheque towards her tuition, Coulson would prefer to treat herself to a shopping spree.

Back here, Edmontonians are also in a shopping mood.

“I’m buying a new goalie helmet,” declares Clayton Richardson, a commerce student at Grant MacEwan.

Over at the U of A campus, 20-year-old Shauna Cruden plans on buying tickets to an Oilers game. “I think that after paying taxes I deserve a little treat,” she says, adding that she like likely use any leftover cash for groceries.

While no one from either province seemed interested in banking the money, using it pay off one’s education was a popular choice.

For Caryn Lansing, also a U of A student, the cheque’s timing couldn’t be better. “By January, I will have no money left from the start of the year to pay for my second term tuition,” she explains.

Back in Toronto, Lisa Sarracini, a recent grad currently working as an inside sales representative, would put the $400 towards her student loan. “In many ways, my (student) debt keeps me tied to a job and a life that I don’t really want for myself.”

Like many of the Torontonians I spoke with, Sarracini would to see $400 appear one day in her mailbox. However, she does believe that at least a decent portion of any provincial windfall should be reinvested into social spending.

“The money may be better used to support public healthcare – something that will benefit all citizens equally,” she says.

It’s an attitude that was shared by more than a few Edmontonians. It turns out that not only do residents of these two capital cities both love consumerism; they also support the welfare state.

But a few residents of both provinces had no problems their respective provincial governments cutting cheques.

“I suppose this is my chance to sound like an amazing human being,” says Craig Musselman, a U of A science student and aspiring rock star, “But I might have to pass.”

He goes to explain that while, yes, some people do need money more than others, who really couldn’t use a little extra? “In all honesty though, I’d be very happy if they just put (the money) back into lowering gas prices. They’re ridiculous.”

Something else residents of both provinces will likely happily agree on.

Sidebar: Four ways to blow your $400 all at once

1. Nothing says impulse buying like shoes. Stop by Gravity Pope and pick up a pair of “Ultimate Tall” Uggs ($370) or a pair of brown two-tone Paul May boots ($350) if you prefer something a little more manlier.

2. Throw a “January” party. Rent out the Igloo room at the Fantasyland Hotel ($279 for a weekend night) and then blow the rest on matching tuque and scarf sets as party favours for your guests.

3. Esmeralda’s sells highballs for 99 cents on Tuesday nights, so a $400 cheque gives you enough to make you 404 new friends.

4. Conspicuous consumerism isn’t your thing? Then “adopt” an animal at the Valley Zoo ($250) then donate the rest to one of the city’s homeless shelters.