Why My Cat Has a Savings Account

My cat didn’t always have a savings account. But now he does, and it’s not because I’m a crazy cat person, or because I’m saving to send him off to a competitive cat college. I’m convinced it’ll save his life.

Let me explain. It used to work this way: I’d get paid weekly. The necessary monthly bills got paid: electricity, gas, life insurance, and water. Then a big, meaty chunk of my pay, everything minus a bit of fun money, got moved automatically to an online bank account blandly named “My Savings.”

For years I commended myself on my high rate of savings and became obsessed with my total savings amount. When I’d hit a new, higher round number, I’d set it as a new mental floor. “I won’t dip below that amount,” I’d say to myself. When the elbows ripped on a work shirt I had, I said, “eh, I can live with one less shirt.” When the oil change light went on, I said, “what a scam, I can push it another 2,000 miles.” My worldly goods degraded around me while I cheered the ascent of an abstract number on a screen.

In the conversations we have about money, we tend to separate ourselves into spenders and savers, as if one group wears a black hat and the other a white one. But the more virulent strain of compulsive saving, the one I’ve got, can be its own destructive force.

Realizing I had cheaped out on buying a suit for years, I had to go out a few days before a wedding and rush into buying a suit whose cut I liked even less than the non-sale price. On more than one occasion I got a big bill from my car dealership, and when I protested they said, “Well, if we had found this earlier…”

By being obsessed with not spending money, I was spending more money. It made me sadder than it should have to see that number go down. And I could never take that vacation I wanted, because what’s more irresponsible than dipping into savings for a vacation?

The insanity of this approach came to light during one of the money meetings my wife and I had. Basically, she called bullshit on it, and with her help we diagnosed the problem. My savings wasn’t actually savings; most of it was earmarked for life events I tried to ignore until I couldn’t. My savings account was like a fruitcake: a bunch of ingredients unceremoniously thrown together into a gelatinous mess, worse than the sum of their parts.

Our solution was to separate out the ingredients, so to speak, by opening a large number of accounts, which was easy with my online bank. I now have separate accounts for: clothing, car maintenance, home improvement, vacation, Christmas and gifts and yes, my cat.

Having these accounts forced some thinking on my part: how much would I like to spend a year on clothes? On Christmas? Once I came up with the number, I divided by 52 for a weekly pay-in. Some of the numbers are surprisingly low, $5-15 per week, and yet the accounts accumulate money quickly.

With the money built up, I can act instead of react. I use my money to do what in engineering we call preventative maintenance. By spending money today, I save more money tomorrow. And in my new savings account, the money actually stays savings. This, in the end, is what money management is: creating systems with your rational mind to protect against your own personal afflictions, like a wolf man locking himself up before a full moon.

It can be annoying keeping track of the accounts, but most medicines have side effects, and I’ll gladly endure this one. Because someday my vet is going to say to me, “it’s a good thing you caught this early”, and my cat, stretched across the table in that half relaxed, half bored cat way, won’t have any idea how lucky he is.

 

E.A. Mann is an engineer and freelance writer living in Warren, R.I. He has a twitter account, but feels like an old person when he tries to use it. Photo by Phil Hawksworth.

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36 Comments / Post A Comment

Meaghano (#529)

Aw, I love this

a27 (#2,268)

Cool! I want to try the same! What bank do you use? Not sure it is super easy to have multiple accounts in all banks?

ATF (#4,229)

@a27 I’m not the author, but I use what used to be ING and is now CapitalOne for savings and it’s super easy to set up multiple savings accounts and auto-withdrawals. Literally just a few clicks and it’s done.

I have two at the moment but I dig this idea and may open up a few more to split my money out more evenly.

EA_Mann (#5,000)

@ATF author here – I use capitalone360 too! Takes about 3 minutes to open a new account. Plus savings accounts have rules where you can’t pull money out more than 6 times per month, so having multiple accounts can help keep you away from that threshold (if you hit the threshold three times ina year they close your account.

a27 (#2,268)

@EA_Mann @ATF Thank you!!!! I was looking at Ally because it has a slightly higher interest rate, but perhaps CapitalOne is the way to go.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@all I have super oogy feelings about CapitalOne because of their credit cards . . . But it sounds like the savings side is really great? Yes? Totally separate from the credit-card part?

EA_Mann (#5,000)

@aetataureate it was owned by INGDirect until about a year ago. Capitalone bought it but hasn’t changed anything aside from the color scheme so far. As of now it’s definitely separate from their credit card branch

erinep (#4,236)

My dog has a savings account! He has epilepsy and hypothyroidism and needs blood work every few months to have the drug levels tested, and the tests run about $75 each. If we just make the appointment with the techs, not the vet, then there’s no fee for the visit. I put in about $35/month, and then when it’s time for an appointment I just transfer my share into my checking. My boyfriend and I split everything dog and household down the middle. We each have separate have accounts at a local credit union. It takes about a minute to create a new savings account, and you can have as many as you want.

As a side: we can also transfer money back and forth in about a minute, so once a week we add up what we each spent on shared expenses and sort out who owes the other what.

a27 (#2,268)

@erinep awesome! what bank do you use? is there a max number of transfers per month?

erinep (#4,236)

@a27 We’re at the UW Credit Union in Wisconsin, but I would think many credit unions would offer that service? I don’t think there is a limit on transfers.

a27 (#2,268)

@erinep Thanks!

RadScientist (#3,081)

@erinep shout out to UWCU! there are many many reasons I am sad not to live in Madison anymore, but weirdly giving up my credit union account (no good way to access the money where I am, and doubt that I will move back) was one of them. And I second all the people who say Capitol One 360 for multiple savings accounts- plus you can track your savings goals and they will give you encouragement!

erinep (#4,236)

@RadScientist I looooooove UWCU. The customer service is amazing and so are the services I provide. My finances have been in much better shape since I switched from Chase, who charged me fee and after fee for all sorts of crap. I’ve also been toying with the idea of leaving Madison for a few years and the thought of leaving UWCU is one of the things I would hate to leave behind.

Jobeans (#227)

@erinep Have you tried using the Splitwise app? It lets you keep track of who paid for what and who is ahead on spending. It doesn’t seem like you’ve got a pretty great system already, but Splitwise has made sharing bills and expenses a lotttttt easier for me and my boyfriend :)

Bananasandwich (#2,301)

This piece is me exactly. After I finished school I had $0 but a new job. I just started saving like mad, repairing clothes instead of buying new ones, waiting till the muffler fell off my car before bringing it to the mechanic.

It is easy to become obsessed with saving while things fall apart around you.

charmcity (#1,091)

This is totally me. A huge part of it is that I don’t feel as though any job is ever really secure these days. I have friends with my identical credentials who have been job-hunting for close to a year and know many people who are underemployed and living paycheck to paycheck. Although my job is safe and my salary comfortable, I’m wearing a 12 year old coat and walking through the soles of my shoes because I am paranoid about the shitty state of the economy.

Bonnie St. Clair (#2,949)

After I opened a savings account last year, I got a little obsessed with watching my savings amount go up while pushing frugality a little too much. It’s just so nice to see it go up after years of not being able to save anything! But since moving in August and blowing through part of my savings for moving costs + appliances and then using up another part for a crown + root canal last month, I’ve basically done a 180 from my Silas Marner-y ways and have been spending more indiscriminately in other areas and haven’t saved anything in several months. I know there’s a balance somewhere in between those two modes that I need to find…

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@Bonnie St. Clair Moving is the worst!

I was fortunate to not have to touch my savings when I moved this fall, but I also haven’t been able to save anything in the last couple months, because I’ve been spending so damn much getting set up in the new place.

Let’s both re-assess our monthly saving goals? I’m going to get back in the habit of adding a little each paycheck (so, twice a month)!

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Bonnie St. Clair Spreadsheets and writing down EVERYTHING you spend. Seriously, it makes you realize “holy crap, I am spending SO MUCH MONEY.” We’ve been over spending like crazy this month and last month, but I’m more aware of it and it’s slowed down our spending from what it might otherwise have been. We’re going back to austerity measures in January and it is going to suck cause we’ve gotten so used to spending all the money.

Also, moving the worst and you get a pass for moving related expenses.

andnowlights (#2,902)

We totally plan on doing this when we get a dog. We almost got a dog, actually, and we were going to use our vacation account as our dog’s “trust fund” but the dog didn’t work out. My favorite pet finance related saying is “if you can’t afford the vet, you can’t afford the pet.” Putting vet expenses on a credit card is such a terrible idea and I know way too many people who owe something like $5k on their pet(s). It’s indicative of a bigger problem, most of the time, but still!

@andnowlights It’s sort of like how I also think people that are poor shouldn’t reproduce. Or have pets. Or go out to eat. Or watch cable. HAHAHA I LOVE IT WHEN PEOPLE MAKE OVERARCHING STATEMENTS.

amaeve (#5,095)

@andnowlights I have $7k of credit card debt from a kitten I had for five months before she died. Stuff happens. I’m not thrilled about it, but I don’t regret adopting her.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@amaeve I think a lot of it boils down to personal comfort level with debt and how it was accrued. Personally, the thought of that much debt on a credit is horrifying to me. I’m also a super anxious personality and find it necessary to have everything locked down in regards to finances, including a 3 month emergency fund and separate funds for eyes/teeth care, car stuff, Christmas budgeted for, etc. I’m an admin assistant and my husband is a PhD student- we’re not rolling in money by any stretch (HA HA!), but it’s a priority to me so we’re extremely frugal most of the time. Spending that much on a pet would not be an option to me because I am unwilling to go into debt for it.

My brother, on the other hand, makes more than me and my husband combined in his first job out of college and is constantly adding to his CC debt. He’s comfortable with it.

amaeve (#5,095)

@andnowlights I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable with that amount of debt on credit–right now I make less than 15k a year, and back when that happened I was making around $20k. But I don’t regret adopting a kitten who needed me, and of course no one anticipates that a kitten will become horribly ill, and not trying to save her wasn’t an option because I loved her and had made a commitment to her. The debt sucks, but I still wouldn’t have done anything differently.

Catface (#1,106)

I really liked this piece. And if you shift away from obsessive saving, you can be in the position of always being open to a deal, a sale, a beautiful suit marked down by half in the summer — this too gives one a sense of control like I imagine the saving mindset does, of never having to make a purchase that does not meet one’s standards.

Also I appreciate the very cute cat pic.

I think I should try this. We keep budgeting for savings but it always ends up being “oops! we had an unexpected event and it’s six days before payday!”

pinches (#3,520)

Enjoying this chat about obsessive frugality. I sometimes fall into the obsessive frugality trap because my non-profit day job allows me to work with low-income individuals, thus fueling my obsession about future financial stability. However, what is the point of saving money when you’re not enjoying it and living life… (or spending it wisely)

tuntastic (#2,769)

this is a great piece, but “abstract numbers on a screen” – no.

joyballz (#2,000)

I do this! My favorite one is “My Friends Get Married” because it’s helped me be less annoyed when wedding expenses come up.

EA_Mann (#5,000)

@joyballz I love this – I wish I thought of it in 2010 when I had 8 weddings

This made me laugh. Our cat also has a savings account. When my partner and I do the budget each month, we always marvel at how much money the cat has. Currently, he is sitting on $644.73, which is more than either of us humans have in our personal spending accounts.

We’ll be glad that money’s there if he needs his teeth cleaned this year, or has any health issues crop up!

EA_Mann (#5,000)

@Katie Katie Katie Our cats should get together and talk about their investment strategies

SaraAnn (#5,291)

I don’t think there’s any thing crazy/obsessive about being meticulous about savings, or with letting your things deteriorate a bit instead of buying new stuff to replace slightly worn things all the time. To me, frugality is not a dirty word! It implies a sense of control over savings, and a sense of discernment over what is/what is not truly necessary to buy.

Jull (#5,296)

A nice article and a happy cat!
Thank you I will now try multiple saving account, because last time when my cat has some genitourinary infection I had no other options but to use the service. Fortunately the cat is saved, I am in debt a little, but now we both know what to do.

logos3_1 (#2,821)

Heh. I want to make a bunch of LOLcats on this theme, now. IN UR SPREADSHEET / SAVIN (around a pic of a cat lolling on a laptop keyboard.)

anonymous1234 (#4,843)

I use a similar system to this with mint.com – if you use the budgets, and enable rollover, it’s basically the same thing but less complicated! You have to trust yourself to not go over since there’s no real punishment if you do. But if you are already a compulsive saver like the author, it’s a good way to keep yourself under control.

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