When Is It Okay To Treat Yourself? Pets, Emergency Funds, and Enjoying Life

For the last few months, the SR Wife and I have been debating if we should get a pet.

A puppy would be fun but possibly more expensive. Would either of us have time during our work lunch breaks to come home and let the dog out for a few minutes? A cat might be lower-maintenance… but we’ve been enjoying the ease of leaving for a weekend without making arrangements for the pet.

Plus, getting a pet tends to have some up-front cost. Is that something we should save up for beforehand?

I’ll tell you what happened, but first, I want to give more context to the mindset we were in.

“Treat Yourself” and Being an Adult

If you haven’t yet watched the popular TV show Parks and Recreation, I highly recommend it. There’s one running comedic thread in particular, though, that’s on my mind today as I reflect on our pet journey: “treat yo’ self” (the characters’ pronunciation of “treat yourself”).

In the show, Aziz Ansari and Retta’s characters (Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle) resolve to spend one day each year doing exactly that — treating themselves to life’s luxuries and pleasures. Comedic moments ensue.

I know that personal finance writers, myself included, seem to be obsessed with creating rules and guidelines. I promise, we think that we’re helping. It even helps us, the writers, in our own lives to have more structured, strategic ways to approach financial decisions.

If it sounds like I’m contradicting myself by introducing this topic with both “treat yourself” and “structure is good,” it’s because I am. 

So much of being an adult is about trying to find the balance between extremes like these. With your finances, how do you balance saving now for your future while also trying to enjoy the present?

What I’m trying to say is… we just got a cat.

The Full Story

I didn’t have cats growing up (my family always had a dog), but my wife did. Very early on when we were dating, I realized that getting a cat was inevitable.

We lasted longer sans-cat than I expected, honestly. But a few days ago, we opened the curtains to the back patio and boom — there was a cat. Before we knew it, the door was open, the cat was inside, and we were all friends. We left food for the cat outside and tried to learn if she had an owner through neighborhood flyers and social media, but we didn’t find one.

After a series of daily visits, we took her to the vet.

A free pet can very quickly become a $500 pet.

Thank You, Emergency Fund

We had been asking ourselves, “Is it okay to use your emergency fund to get a new pet?”

I would have told you that emergency funds are not intended for pet acquisitions. 

I could understand and support an argument that an existing pet that has health problems qualifies as an emergency. They’re part of the family so, within reason, you want to help them be well and have a decent quality of life. 

But this was not an existing pet.

In a way, I broke my own rules. And you know what? I’m embracing it. 

We ended up essentially cash flowing the vet bill and other setup costs. We got very close to $0 in the checking account until our next paycheck came in. We didn’t meet all of our savings goals for the pay period. But that’s okay. 

Our emergency fund is complete, so we knew that we would be okay even if there were additional, actual emergencies that arose.

This is the beauty and the value of financial preparedness — it’s not just stuffy rules and saying “no.” Putting your family in a strong financial position unlocks present and future flexibility. That’s the heart of the Semi-Retire Plan.

Get Ready for the “Patio Cat” in Your Near Future

Please hear me say this — I’m not endorsing full-on rebellion. But, we will all have “surprise cat on my back patio that we want to keep” moments periodically in life. How are you going to respond?

So, yes, do the “nerdy” financial things. Get the full employer match. Optimize your investment account types based on your future goals. Save for your kid’s college expenses. Go to work and save so you can have a future you love! 

But also, while you’re doing all the nerdy financial things, say yes to the patio cat if you want to. Order dessert. Take time off of work. Enjoy life. You only get one chance at it.

Later this year for our anniversary, the SR Wife and I are going to the west coast and to Disneyland. I suppose that’s the next “patio cat” in our lives. 

Who knows, maybe I’ll even start to loosen up and start experiencing a “patio cat” of the month.