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Sometimes the most important lessons in life come from the most unexpected places.
Meet Benny, the greatest dog in the entire world (not subjectively).
Benny’s my sidekick, my right-hand man, and at times, my life coach. We’ve come a long way in our three years together, and I can’t imagine where I’d be without him.
However, it hasn’t always been easy. Every pet owner out there knows that furbabies come with a lot of responsibility and a fair amount of financial uncertainty. In 2011, the average American household spent over $500 on their pets. But that’s just the average. You can expect the costs to increase depending on the kind of pet (dog $ > cat $), size, breed, and overall health.
Benny has taught me a lot about life and finances over the past three years, and I’m here to share some of that wisdom with you. Here are the top 7 money lessons I’ve learned from my dog.
Lesson 1: Plan for Regular Expenses
Pets have regular expenses for food, checkups, flea and tick prevention, vaccinations, grooming, etc. just like humans. Some of these expenses only come around once every few years, and some are several times a year. Regardless of their timeline, it’s a lot easier on your wallet if you have these funds saved in advance.
I knew when I got Benny that he his regular treatments were going to be expensive, especially in the first year (I was in college at the time, so even Chipotle seemed expensive).
Knowing pets, and especially puppies, can be expensive, I had saved up a fair amount for that first year, but I didn’t really have anything planned beyond that. I figured I would just pay for things as he needed them. Once my Benny savings ran out and I got that first vet bill, I quickly changed my tune. I decided to work a special section into my budget just for Benny, and I’ve since applied the same principle to saving for insurance and other regular-but-not-fixed expenses.
Lesson 2: Expect the Unexpected
Benny was a hellion as a puppy (I’m sure any border collie parent can relate). I spent all my spare time exercising him – taking him on hikes, playing fetch, going to the dog park – but he had ENDLESS amounts of energy.
What was his favorite way of expelling all this energy? By chewing up everything I (and my roommates) owned, of course.
In that first year together, I replaced a vacuum cleaner, a number of phone chargers, retainer (probably the grossest), expensive bedsheets, boots, and a ton of random small stuff. Everyone would have hated us if he wasn’t so darn cute.
Pets do bad things. I pretty much came to expect that if I left Benny for someone to dogsit, I was going to be replacing at least $50 worth of someone’s something. So I started a “Benny F*#$ Ups” fund for those unplanned messes. I’d set aside a little here and a little there so that whenever something did happen, I had funds to cover it (or at least part of it).
Lesson 3: Always Save For Emergencies
You never really know what you’re getting when you get a pet, especially a dog. Some breeds have known health issues – Hip Dysplasia is common for German Shepherds and respiratory issues abound with bulldogs – and some are generally healthy overall, but you can never bank on having a forever-healthy pet. Pets are animals just like humans, and they get sick.
Fortunately for me (and for Benny), he’s a pretty healthy dog. There were no major health-related issues early on.
Fast forward two years and we find out Benny is highly allergic to pretty much everything (dust, mites, shrubs, grass, trees – you name it). He was one itchy puppy. Luckily, allergies are far from the worst that could have happened, but it did add an extra ~$60 a month to my expenses, and $300 upfront. If I hadn’t saved a decent emergency fund, then I wouldn’t have been able to afford the proper treatment and care for him when he needed it.
Lesson 4: Let Sunk Costs Stay Sunk
A sunk cost is one that has already occurred. There’s no grace period, refund option, or arguing your way out of it – you’ve already spent the money, and there’s no turning back. All you can do now is move on and forget about it.
I’m a firm believer in not dwelling on things you can’t change. There’s simply not enough mind space for all that worry and negativity. I’d rather use that space to think of corny jokes to tell at completely inopportune moments or memorize all the words to every Barenaked Ladies song.
If I’d focused on the sunk costs of everything I had to replace (of mine and others) because Benny couldn’t stay fixated on his own toys and just HAD to chew through every pair of socks in sight, then I would have stayed mad at him for…well, probably forever (so many socks). And who benefits from that?
Lesson 5: Don’t Let Your Finances Affect Your Health
Admittedly, I’m somewhat of a workaholic. I work as a freelance writer and virtual assistant, teach English online, and run this blog. I don’t mean to work so much, but that’s what happens when you love what you do (and when you’re trying to pay off $40,000 of student loan debt in 5 years or less). I’ve been known to spend hours and hours sitting on my couch or at my desk writing, reading personal finance news, and tinkering with web design.
But that’s not healthy for my body or mind.
And Benny reminds me of that. Constantly.
He’s always bringing me balls and toys and imploring with those big, bright eyes for me to “get off that motherlovin’ couch and run around with me, ma!” (that’s exactly what I imagine him saying in my mind in the voice of a dopey yet unexpectedly intelligent cartoon character).
You can always make more money, but you only have one body. Play fetch while you can.
– Wise Words of Benny the Border Collie
Lesson 6: Know Your Why
Whatever your financial goals (pay of debt, reach financial freedom, save an emergency fund, etc.), it’s important to know the why that drives you. It’s something you can always come back to when the going gets tough for motivation to push through.
Call me a crazy dog lady, but Benny is part of my why. My biggest financial goal is to pay off my debt and work towards financial freedom. Being financially free means that I’ll have more time and money to devote to the things I care about and enjoy most, and that includes Benny. It also means we can go on more adventures, which are his favorite thing in the entire world.
Lesson 7: Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Life is short – we hear it all the time but seem to constantly forget.
And if you think your life is short, imagine being a dog. The life expectancy for a border collie is 10-17 years, and that’s even more than some other dog breeds.
So have fun. Do what makes you happy and spend time with people (or dogs) who inspire you. And, perhaps most importantly, make sure your wallet’s on board!
What are some unexpected but welcomed money/life lessons you’ve learned from your furry friends?
I’m a financial coach and author + owner of Goodbye to Broke. I love all things personal finance, money management, and healthy living. And I talk to my dog way too much, if we’re being honest.