Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
Our cat is only 3 years old and needs to have some, if not all, of his teeth extracted. The range of cost for the surgery is $800 to $2,000, and we won’t know until the vet puts him under and does the X-rays to see how infected things are. The vet said that it will most likely be on the higher end, based on what she saw during the initial exam. The vet also said that if we do nothing, he will not be able to eat anymore, as the pain and infection will get worse in the next few months. (I trust what this vet is saying.)
We told our two children that we would treat this, but my husband and I are torn between spending that kind of money on a cat (it seems wildly elitist) and keeping our little buddy alive. It’s not going to break the bank, but it is a lot of money. We adopted him after he was found in the street as a kitten and have given him a really good life and a lot of love thus far. I guess I didn’t think that part of taking him in would entail thousands of dollars to keep him alive at this stage of the game. At what point do people draw the line on what it costs to save a cat’s life? Are we terrible people for considering not paying for this?
—Nine Lives Are Expensive
Dear Nine Lives Are Expensive,
Let me tell you a story about a cat named Harrison George. He was found behind a grocery store and rescued because he had thumbs. Little did his owner know that over the next six years, the cute cat she saved would result in her spending thousands of dollars in vet bills.
She’s also now on the hook for daily medicines and prescription cat food. The owner is me.
When you adopt any animal, you accept financial responsibility. That includes their care—food, shelter, and yes, medical treatment. The fact that you are considering putting a cat down because of what could be a one-time expense you can easily afford alarms me. Your cat is only 3 years old and likely has at least a decade left, if you were to pay for the teeth removal. This is exactly what you signed up for when taking on a pet.
If you do not want to pay for your cat’s treatment, please surrender him to a rescue that will. The rescue will raise the funds you do not want to part with to pay for his teeth and will then adopt him out to a new home that understands the responsibilities of pet ownership. I also advise you to not adopt any more animals until you’re fully ready to accept the financial obligations that come with it.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I’m a woman in my mid-20s, and I recently graduated from college and am looking for my first “real” job. I am terrible with money, to an embarrassing degree. Once it’s in my account, I have to spend it. I’ve tried hiding it, using apps to put it in different accounts—it doesn’t matter. I grew up very poor, and now that I finally have access to a bit of money (I worked full-time through college), I’ve turned into a bit of a bon vivant.
Recently, I got about $3,000, which I had been planning on saving so I could move later this year. A month later, it’s all gone. Some of it did go to expenses, but most of it went to vacations, clothes, and going out. I also have a lot of credit card debt for this reason (although I’ve paid down about half of the original $8,000 total). I just don’t know how to stop spending. There is definitely some mental illness involved, which I’m working on (unfortunately, it’s not as easy as “here, take this pill”), but the general idea of budgeting makes me miserable. I get paid $1,400 on Fridays, and I usually have $200 left on Monday. I thought running out of money and having to ask people to borrow money and defaulting on a bunch of bills would be my “rock bottom” and encourage me to stop spending, but here I am, still shopping and eating out like it’s going out of style. How can I stop spending money the second it hits my account?
—Broke in Boston
Dear Broke In Boston,
A money script is a subconscious belief you have about your finances. It can be positive or negative, and it plays in your mind like background noise from a TV. This is what influences you when it comes to how you perceive, and act, with your money. If you grew up poor, your mind may associate money with lack. When something is scarce, you tend to either hoard the item or use it as fast as you can, because you never know if you will receive it again. So of course you’re making it rain with your paycheck. Your mind thinks you’ll never have money again.
I want you to sign up for an app called Mint that will track your spending for you. This suggestion isn’t to feel bad about yourself but instead to see where your money is going. When you can see exactly how you’re spending your funds, you can then assess what to do about it. You can’t make a budget or try to cut back without knowing what to cut back on. I also want you to make small money goals. You aren’t going to be in peak financial health by starting big, so try next week to make it to $300 on Monday instead of $200. Or try not to borrow money from anyone for one week. These small, actionable steps are what will get you going to where you want to be.
You also mentioned mental illness. You’re absolutely right when saying it’s not as easy as just taking a pill. I’m sure you know that therapy, a good diet, sleep, and exercise are all things that can also help, as well as taking time out for yourself and having a solid support system. Therapy can be expensive, but there are more affordable options now, such as Talk Space. You aren’t alone in your journey—I’m cheering for you.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My parents have taken out multiple whole life insurance policies on me since I was a baby. My father has been paying on them for the duration, but recently said he wants me to take over payments—roughly $100 a month. While in the grand scheme it may not seem like much, it will affect my (somewhat tight) monthly budget. I told my dad that since he made the choice to take out the policies and can easily afford them, he should continue to pay them, as I did not ask for the policies or to take on the financial burden of them. Am I in the wrong here by wanting him to continue payment?
—Insured but Unsure
Dear Insured but Unsure,
Why do you need so many life insurance policies? Unless there is a murder mystery we need to solve, you need to ditch these policies ASAP.
Sometimes our parents do random things for added protection, and this seems like one of them. Unless you have a rare condition or history of an illness that affects your ability to find coverage, you can find one as an adult rather easily. There are different life insurance policies and prices to fit your individual needs and your budget. Your employer may offer one as well as part of your benefits package.
If you don’t have a condition that prevents coverage, tell your father to let the policies go. This way neither one of you are on the hook for paying $100, and it will no longer be a source of contentment. If he insists you pay, hold your ground.
Dear Pay Dirt,
Through a lot of hard work, my wife and I are in a really good spot financially. We keep our finances mostly separate and parse out the bills as proportionally as possible, and we both have a lot in savings. We also have a family trust and went through the estate planning process before our kids were born, but I feel like we might be missing some financial opportunities that we might be unaware of. My question is that if I wanted to find a reputable or honest financial adviser, what should I look for? My biggest fear is that we put our trust and money into an adviser and lose our shirts in the process.
Financial advisers get a bad rap because many of them do make money off of you in the form of commissions. As a result, you may be coached into signing up for a service or product you didn’t need in the first place! So I get being weary.
When you’re looking for a planner, you may consider if they are fee-only based, work with firms or by themselves, have appropriate licensing, and can provide referrals. If I were in your shoes, I’d Google “fee-only financial planners + [ZIP code, city, or nearby suburb]” and see what comes up. I would pay attention to which accreditations they have (CFP, CFA, and PFS are the ones to look for) and ask to set up a consultation. You do not have to rush into using a financial planner—just like dating, you can search around until you find “the one.”
You can also do some homework so you feel empowered before you go in there. I love Building Bread for this, especially with the investing content for newbies. Kevin Matthews II has a financial planner background, which he shares for free to ensure you’ll be ready and prepared when it’s time for your appointment.
More Advice From Slate
When I was a child in rural Ireland, a fun day out for my family was being taken to the local racecourse. My parents gave my sister and I tiny amounts of money to bet, and we would study the racing form intently, select our horses, scream our little hearts out at them, eat curry chips from the back of a van, and go home. I now have two kids of my own and have also become much more aware that, for many people, gambling is the exact opposite of a harmless childhood activity. My husband feels that introducing our kids to it in this way is like buying an adorable baby dragon and ignoring its latent potentiality to burn the house down. Is there any way I can re-create this experience with my kids, or should it just be a fun story from the past to them in the manner of dial-up internet?