6 Money Lessons You Can Learn From Your Pets
Each morning, I am generally awoken in one of two ways: either Tivo, our three-year-old greyhound, places his wet nose directly in my face and snuffles with excitement, or our cat Lebowski (a.k.a. The Dude) lays himself across my neck and purrs jet-engine-decibel contentment straight into my ear.
I love my pets, and not just because they have made the alarm clock app on my phone completely superfluous. They are great companions and friends, but they are also fonts of incredible money wisdom. (If you're looking for more ways to save on your pet, try getting pet insurance.)
Don't believe me? Consider the following.
1. Dogs Remind You to Enjoy the Little Things
If you want to make your dog happy, just grab his favorite ball and head outside. A little bit of rough-and-tumble play with Rover, or some scratches behind his ear are more than enough to send him over the moon. He knows that there's no need to commit to a huge, expensive indulgence to have fun, when walkies and a full bowl of kibble get his tail wagging.
And researchers have found that dogs are onto something. We derive more happiness from the small, regular pleasures in life than we do from the big, occasional indulgences. That's because of something known as hedonic adaptation, where we feel less pleasure from something we have become accustomed to. After a day at the beach, you will not be feeling as happy as you were when you got there, and by the end of your vacation, you will be completely accustomed to sand and surf, which means you'll take it for granted.
If you emulate your beloved pooch, however, and spend your money or time on smaller and more regular pleasures — such as weekly drinks out with friends, a monthly manicure, and daily walks with Rover — then you'll be much happier than if you deny the small indulgences in favor of big purchases.
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2. Model Your Investments After Catnaps
Cats sleep between 12 and 16 hours a day, and will often only move in order to stay in the sunbeam they are napping in. But even with all of that shut-eye, cats are hardly "sleeping on the job." Even a snoozing feline will twitch his ears if you drop something — and he can spring into action almost instantaneously if he feels threatened while snoozing.
What Mittens is indirectly teaching you with this type of sleeping pattern is how to be a rational investor. Taking a long view and sitting tight on your investments through market ups and downs is by far the smartest way to grow your wealth. Most of us have a hard time doing what feels like nothing during market volatility. This is called the action bias, and it makes us feel as though doing anything, even if it is counterproductive, is preferable to sitting around doing nothing. But listening to the action bias is the reason why people sell when the market is at its lowest and buy when it's at its highest. They are afraid of doing nothing.
It's important to note that your cat doesn't just sleep the day away. He always keeps one ear cocked for signs of trouble. Doing nothing may be his default — as it should be with your investments — but he is ready to take action when it is necessary, and not a moment before.
3. Dogs Teach Us That Boredom Is Destructive
When we first got Tivo, one afternoon he managed to tear open our locked bread drawer by pulling hard enough on the handle to break the wooden face of the drawer. We quickly realized that our new family member didn't just share our affinity for bagels — he was also suffering from boredom. Thankfully, increasing our visits to the dog park, and investing in a better drawer lock, helped solve the problem.
But Tivo's drawer-breaking tendencies reminded me of the destructive power of boredom. Parents know that bored kids will always find something to do, and generally that something is destructive. Bored grownups, on the other hand, tend to spend money to relieve their ennui. How often have you found yourself browsing Amazon or going out to eat because you can't think of anything else to do?
For both dogs and people, the best boredom relief is often exercise. Heading out for a quick walk or even doing some jumping jacks when you are feeling bored can stimulate both your body and your mind, for free. Even better, it won't result in the better part of your kitchen being strewn through your living room.
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4. Your Cat Doesn't Fear Failure, and Neither Should You
I have owned cats my entire life, and yet I never cease to be impressed by their ability to leap tall cabinets in a single bound. Cats do not weigh risks or do cost-benefit analysis when trying to navigate a tricky obstacle to the preferred spot on the highest piece of furniture. They simply leap without hesitation. Even if they do miss their target and fall, they simply get up, pretend that they meant to fall, and try again.
Of course, cats feel confident making acrobatic jumps because they are uniquely suited to landing on their feet. But human beings are similarly well-suited to adapting to new circumstances and handling the issues life throws at them. We may fear big changes, like leaving a job to become an entrepreneur, or going back to school to learn a new skill. But like the cat's landing reflexes, we have the ability to handle those big changes. We should look at failure like cats do — as a potential cost you can easily bounce back from.
5. Emulate Your Dog by Thoroughly Investigating Opportunities
When you introduce your dog to a new person, their first instinct is to take a good whiff of the stranger before deciding if he's a friend or a foe. Dogs also thoroughly investigate every fire hydrant and patch of yellow snow on their walks to make sure they are au courant with the neighborhood doggy business.
This kind of investigation is an important aspect of protecting your finances. Dogs are known for being easily excitable, and yet they take a moment to make sure they know everything they can about a person or fellow animal's scent before making a decision. Human beings, who are supposedly more rational, will often jump into the "sure thing" investment because they are so excited about the prospect of big money. Only when they discover that there are no tin mines in Bolivia and that they were taken in by a con man, do they remember that they should have investigated the investment thoroughly before writing a check.
Read More: 6 Great Teachable Money Moments to Share With Your Kids
6. Cats Know How to Ask for What They Want
Although cats have a reputation for being aloof and dignified, they are also perfectly happy letting the humans in their lives know when they want something — as anyone who has spent a day letting a cat in and then back out and then back in again, can attest.
Human beings have trouble being both dignified and willing to ask for help. We tend to think of dignity as somehow being above asking others for help. But our cats show us that there is nothing undignified in recognizing when you need help getting what you want. Getting help from others is often necessary to meet your career and financial goals. You would hate to miss opportunities just because you were afraid to ask for help.
Four-Footed Friends and Finance
Tivo and The Dude may not have a thriving stock portfolio or even a simple budget. But my dog and cat both show me on a daily basis that they may know a thing or two about money anyway.