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March 2009

My Pets’ Worth

This article was written by in Family and Life. 12 comments.

The author of Free Money Finance pointed out a story highlighting how the recession is affecting the health of pets. He or she also linked to a helpful chart of estimated costs for owning various kinds of pets.

Personally, my wife and I don’t even include pet care in our budget, because our affection for them goes beyond monetary concerns. I understand and sympathize with people who feel like they have to cut back their spending in multiple areas, and their pets’ overall health might have to be one of them. And I don’t imagine that this is an easy decision for anyone, but I would beg them to reconsider.

I should point out that the following doesn’t constitute what’s normally considered “financial advice.” These are just the thoughts I had when considering what to do in a worst-case scenario when my pet has a serious illness, and I don’t have the funds for it.

These are living beings, worthy of your care. And because you decided to take them in, they are dependent on you. If a pet gets ill, chances are it won’t get better by itself. Instead of “wait and see”, there are other options. In no particular order:

1). Use a Credit Card

My primary financial goal is to get rid of the credit card debt that I started in 1997 (this should drop to about $3,000 by the end of the week), but if it came down to a) sick pets or b) increased credit card debt, I would always pick B without hesitation. Your financial situation, though currently ebbing, will likely begin to flow again in the future. It’s not a fun choice, but some things are more important than interest payments.

2). Borrow Money from Friends or Family

You may be just barely getting by, assuming you’ve decided to let your pets’ health take care of itself, and you may want to avoid asking for help. But there’s a good chance that a friend or family member may be a real softie when it comes to pets, and will help you pay those bills, even if helping you pay other bills might’ve been something they’d avoid.

3). Plan Ahead with Pet Insurance

Lots of companies offer health insurance for your pets, and while I can’t currently recommend one in particular, it’s worth checking out.

4). Payday Loans

Payday loans are evil, period. But I think they’re slightly less evil than allowing your pet’s health to decline. If your pet is having an emergency health issue, I think this option is still on the table.


If you have been affected by the recession, perhaps by losing a source of income, you may not want to hear suggestions for turning a bad situation into an opportunity. In fact, the idea of turning challenges around for your own benefit is in line with the annoying soundbites that productivity gurus sell. But I firmly believe that it’s best not to let things happen around you without reacting and adjusting. Here are some ideas to keep you moving while the world is slowing down.

1. Reassess your finances. If your income has changed, you may find yourself increasing debt at a faster rate or worse. I suggest going back to the beginning by following the map set forth in Take Control of Your Finances. This involves reevaluating your goals, your income, your expenses, and organizing your savings and investments.

2. Consider your primary and secondary skills. If you are out of work, and particularly if you have experienced difficulty finding a new place of employment, it is easy to feel your skills are not appreciated. Perhaps this is a good opportunity think creatively about different ways to apply your skills or hone your other talents. In college, did you have a minor in a different area than your major? If you did, chances are you have marketable skills in some other activity. During my first two years of undergraduate studies, I had difficulty choosing my minor, switching from computer science to psychology. If necessary, I would enjoy pursuing either of these paths.

3. Turn your hobby into your own business. I have found that many people are reluctant to take the avocation they enjoy and turn it into a profitable endeavor. I can understand this; I work almost constantly these days between my day job and everything else I do. But if that day job were to disappear, there would be no question that I’d use this as an opportunity to ramp up my projects. I have already turned my hobby — blogging and building communities — into a business. Now my newer hobby is photography. I have tons to learn about this new hobby (and I still have tons to learn about personal finance), but if blogging were my “day job,” I might have take on photography as a more serious hobby, and possibly turn that into a business of its own.

4. Go back to school. Modern educational technology has made it convenient to earn another degree. You can take classes online in the comfort of your own home or you can go on campus and hang out with the young co-educational students. Do not focus on the return on investment (ROI) for the funds you put into additional education. Learning a new skill or studying an interesting topic has intrinsic value that can’t be measured by a financial analyst.

5. Consider frugality. I admit I’m not a big fan of most frugality tips out there. In the past, many frugal tips have required a lot of effort and therefore remained under the domain of people without other timely responsibilities. But online coupon websites and other modern technologies take a lot of work out of frugality, so this now is an option for more people. Frugality means different things to different people, so today’s recession provides an opportunity to explore and decide on where you can intelligently save money.

Check out this extensive list of frugal tips from Being Frugal.

6. Eliminate your credit card debt. Credit card interest is expensive. You don’t have to be frugal to realize that interest is in most cases an unnecessary expense if you spend less than you earn. If you’re out of a job, this can be difficult, particularly if you do not have enough income to cover the minimum payments. Call your credit card companies to see if they can assist you by lowering or forgoing your payments until your income returns. If not, perhaps they will lower your interest rate. It never hurts to ask, and ask a supervisor if the first customer service representative won’t provide satisfaction.

If you do have income, start the debt avalanche, the least expensive, quickest, and most efficient way to get out of debt.

7. Eliminate meat from your diet. I love a perfectly cooked, rare filet mignon. But meat, even steak from the grocery store, is expensive.

If you drop red meat, poultry and fish from your diet, you’ll find plant proteins cheaper than the equivalent amount of animal protein. The cheapest cuts of beef, such as ground round, average $3 per pound in U.S. cities (lean and extra lean); boneless chicken breasts cost $3.40 a pound; and canned tuna is about $2 per pound. Contrast that with dried beans and lentils at less than $1 a pound and rice well below $1 per pound… Even tofu, the chicken of the vegetarian world, is usually well under $2 a pound. Go Vegetarian to Save Money, MSN Money

Healthy diets help you save money later in life with fewer visits to the doctor.

8. Sell your extra stuff. The great thing about eBay is its enormous reach, bringing people from anywhere interested in owning anything closer together. There’s a market for practically anything transferable on the auction website. Sell your clothes, your furniture, your electronics, your art, your classic video games, and your baseball card collection gathering dust in the attic. Don’t expect to consistently make a lot of money selling your old items on eBay unless you own something truly rare. One drawback of the aforementioned reach is that lots of people are selling the same things you are.

But if you can create something original and use eBay to sell that product, you may be in a good position to earn a consistent income.

What would you add? How are you surviving this economic recession?


Yesterday, the Federal Reserve purchased $7.5 billion of debt in the form of Treasuries from the government, and plans to continue buying debt for a long time to finance the government’s spending. As the government continues selling this debt, the money supply increases. In total, the Treasury may add $3 to $4 trillion dollars to the economy.

This inflation will eventually lead to higher prices and the devaluation of the dollar. While inflation isn’t a worry when the economy is slow and consumers aren’t buying goods, it is likely that prices will start to rise when confidence in the market returns.

Currently, those high-yield savings accounts won’t do much to protect investors against rising prices. The banks will be slow to raise their interest rates when the economy returns. Investors may want to take a look at their portfolios to add a hedge against inflation.

Usually, gold is considered one of the best options and the best way to add gold to your portfolio is through an exchange-traded fund like SPDR Gold Shares. Even though the value of money was once based on gold, there’s nothing inherently stable about the price of gold. Gold doesn’t have intrinsic value — nothing has intrinsic value. Value is only assigned to something when people want it. And there’s no reason that people need gold.

Nevertheless, people turn to gold when they’re concerned about the value of paper money, so that makes it a good hedge against inflation.

Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) are bonds tied to changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the government’s measurement of the rise in prices. TIPS will decrease in value if we experience deflation, but you are guaranteed to get out at least what you invest. You can buy TIPS directly from the government via TreasuryDirect.

There’s a problem with TIPS, however. The CPI figure that drives the value of the bond may not reflect the real price increases experienced by consumers. It’s likely you will still lose the purchasing power of your money while it is invested in TIPS.

Another option for hedging inflation is investing in commodities, particularly oil. If you invest in oil through an ETF, like Energy Select Sector SPDR, you reduce your exposure to any one company and mitigate some risk. Oil is suggested for hedging against inflation while the economy is low because as the economy recovers, demand for energy will increase.


In my life so far, I’ve had three major chances to negotiate a starting salary. The first was with a cash-strapped non-profit organization that had enough problems keeping its payroll account funded every other week. The second was with a company in the financial industry, a segment of that industry that is known for being cheap in the salary department, particularly for an operational position rather than a business unit. The third was with the same company in a different location.

In all cases, I didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. And rather than spending my time outside the office looking for new opportunities, I’m spending my time working for myself. It would be nice never to need to negotiate a salary for myself again; and in fact, it’s possible I’ll be on the other side of the negotiating table.

But I liked one of the ideas offered by Liz Ryan at Business Week for dealing with a hiring manager whose offer is lower than one feels they deserve.

Go back to the hiring manager and say: “Thanks so much for the offer. The job seems terrific, and I’m thrilled to be moving along in the process. We’ve had some kind of miscommunication along the way, clearly. I’m focusing on opportunities in the $XX range, and the offer I’ve received is obviously way below that number. If you’re set on this type of salary range, I’m not your hire, but it may make sense to talk about having me consult with you as you get your new plans under way and your new hire up to speed.”

At first, I didn’t see this as an option applying to any of my situations, but maybe it would have. And maybe this is not a bad idea for winding down my day job to begin focusing on my own projects full-time.

Liz Ryan offered a number of other suggestions, like accepting the job part-time (wouldn’t they use that as an excuse to lower the salary offer?), but I don’t seem them applying to most situations.

Lowball Salary Offers: A Working Guide, Liz Ryan, BusinessWeek via Yahoo Finance, March 23, 2009


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