‘Spocking a Fiver’ and Other Financial Literacy Lessons

By Dan Kadlec

March 14, 2017

In Canada, folks have taken to a peculiar practice with their currency. They call it “Spocking their fivers.” Individuals have been doing it for years, and they should have stopped by now. But the practice rolls on.

Okay, this isn’t normal fare for Right About Money. But I couldn’t resist. Spocking fivers only recently came to my attention, and now some in the U.S. are doing it too. If you bear with me, there is a money lesson buried in here—one that educators and parents might find useful. But mostly it’s just fun.

Spocking a fiver is the act of doctoring the picture on a five note to make the figure look like Mr. Spock from the cult TV series Star Trek. Canadians were doing it even before the actor that played Spock, Leonard Nimoy, passed away in 2015. But the trend picked up steam after that, as a tribute to the actor whose character famously wished friends to “Live long and prosper.”

With just the right shading, Canada’s seventh prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who appears on the Canadian five note, looks strikingly like the half-Vulcan, half-human Spock. So someone got the idea to deface the currency, and it took off.

Appalled at the legs on this trend, the Bank of Canada has asked Canadians to stop. The bank even changed the makeup of the note to discourage Spocking, to no avail.

Spocking is not illegal. Defacing a currency carries the risk that merchants will not accept the note. But most do, and banks can’t take them in fast enough—they want the old more easily doctored notes out of circulation. The trend has spread to American fives as well, even though Lincoln’s image doesn’t lend itself so readily to a Spock conversion.

It isn’t often that a person gets to eat her cake and have it too. The first “Spockers” probably thought the note would be invalidated, but that the creative fun was worth $5. They then found they could have their fun and still spend the bill.

I began to wonder where else you might “spend” a fiver but not lose its value. That’s not the same as spending on something you think is worth it, like a great meal or vacation that pay you back in satisfaction. In that case the money is gone, no matter how much you enjoyed it. Where can you actually spend money but not lose it? Inevitably, these fall under the category of investment.

This is not a novel thought. But for young people it might put investment in a new light. Spend on a car and you lose value everyday. Buy a condo or land and you build value, if not everyday at least over the long haul. Where else can you spend without spending? With rewards cards you get cash back. Any kind of tool—from a hammer to a computer—creates value if you earn income with it. A new suit creates value if you use it to land a job.

And of course there is straight up investment. When you put money in a 401(k) you won’t get to “use” the 401(k) while it is building wealth. But most people enjoy watching their balance rise from year to year. Celebrate milestone balances. That’s got to be more satisfying than Spocking a fiver.

Posted in Classroom, International on March, 2017