Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Saving Money on Pet Ownership

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Saving Money on Pet Ownership: Pet ownership can be rewarding and therapeutic; I highly recommend it. But pet ownership can also get expensive. Some pet owners spend more...

Saving Money on Pet Ownership

Pet ownership can be rewarding and therapeutic; I highly recommend it. But pet ownership can also get expensive. Some pet owners spend more at the veterinarian than for their own medical care.

With today's advances in veterinary science, many injuries and illnesses are now treatable, when in the past, euthanasia was the only option. Pet insurance can help, but it, too, is expensive, and it usually doesn't cover the basics.

I can't offer advice on life-or-death decisions for an animal who has become your best friend or even a full-fledged member of your family. But here are a few general suggestions to keep pet ownership more affordable:

Adopt your pet from your local shelter or an animal rescue group, rather than buying from a breeder or a pet store. Some pet stores acquire their animals from puppy mills where conditions are often unsanitary and inhumane, resulting in health and behavior problems down the road. For a modest adoption fee, many rescue groups will provide you with a healthy animal that has been spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and micro-chipped, and they will often take the animal back or exchange it for another if it turns out not to be a good fit (usually minus the adoption fee). But you want a pure-bred, not a mutt? Did you know that approximately 25% of dogs in shelters are pure-bred? And if you can't find the breed you want in your local shelter, check out breed-specific rescue groups.

Research the breed you want before adopting your pet. The reason so many pure-bred dogs end up in shelters is because pet owners did not know what behaviors and traits to expect, and fell in love with a breed that was not a good fit for their situation. If you buy a dog from a breeder and then have to surrender it later, you stand to lose a sizable investment, not to mention the emotional loss.

Get your pet spayed or neutered, or soon you will have many more mouths to feed. Cat and dog overpopulation is rampant. Contrary to popular belief, cats and dogs can have their first litter at four months of age—when they are still kittens or puppies themselves! Millions of healthy, adoptable cats and dogs are put to death in shelters every year, simply because there are not enough homes. Don't be a part of the problem by assuming you'll be able to give away your pet's offspring. If you balk at the price of surgery at a full-service veterinarian, check out a low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinic or mobile vet. Spaying/neutering helps your pet live a longer, healthier life, because it reduces the risk of cancer and eliminates much unwanted behavior associated with mating, such as roaming and fighting, which can result in expensive-to-treat injuries.

Keep your pet's vaccinations up to date. This is especially important if you have your pet groomed or need to board it, thus exposing it to other animals. Preventive care—including flea treatment and de-worming—can help avoid expensive vet bills later. Some veterinarians are now offering "wellness plans" that encourage pet owners to bring their pets in for regular check-ups. This is the same concept now being applied to humans; many insurance companies cover annual physicals and certain screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, at 100% to encourage people to get preventive care.

Feed your pet a high-quality diet. Tempting though it may be, most animals should not eat table scraps. Watch for sales and use coupons to buy the type of pet food recommended by your veterinarian. Some brands can also be purchased online for a discount.

As with any product recommended to you by a financial planner, contractor, or doctor, question major, costly treatment plans that your veterinarian may suggest. Certainly, you want the very best for your furry friend. But what is the return on investment? What are the consequences of doing nothing? Are there less expensive alternatives that might work as well, and/or provide a good quality of life? Don't let guilt force you to throw money at a problem that might not be fixable.

What are your thoughts on the costs of pet ownership? I would love to hear your comments.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Managing Credit Cards

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Managing Credit Cards: Several times in this blog, I have talked about the advantages and pitfalls of using credit cards. Credit cards offer convenience, purchase...

Managing Credit Cards

Several times in this blog, I have talked about the advantages and pitfalls of using credit cards. Credit cards offer convenience, purchase protection, and in some cases, valuable rewards points. Credit cards also come with high interest rates and unforgiving fees and penalties when you don't pay on time.

The best way to use credit cards to your advantage is to pay the bill in full, on time, every month. This is called the grace period. Most credit cards have this feature; don't use a card that doesn't.

You can sign up for email reminders so you don't miss a payment, and some banks will allow you to set up automatic transfers of the statement balance from your checking account to the credit card company on the due date. Just be sure you maintain sufficient funds in that bank account so you don't incur a "rejected payment" charge, which will then subject you to interest and late fees.

One pitfall I did not mention is the cash advance. Unlike regular purchases, which do not incur a finance charge if the full statement balance is paid on or before the due date, a cash advance incurs interest immediately, regardless of whether the account is current. Once interest has been applied, you are on "the interest train." Interest will be applied to any new purchases made after that cash advance, and interest will compound daily on the entire balance. Interest will accrue on interest, like a snowball rolling down a hill.

Once you are on the interest train, paying the statement balance in full on the due date will not stop additional interest from accruing. The only way to halt this runaway train is to pay off the entire balance, down to zero. And don't do this by mailing a check. By the time the check arrives and your payment is posted, more interest will have accrued, and your balance will be above zero. And still subject to interest on every charge made. So get online or on the phone and zero out your account as soon as possible after the cash advance is posted—before the end of the billing cycle.

My husband has a VISA card issued by his credit union, which doubles as an ATM card. Occasionally, when traveling overseas, what he thought was an ATM withdrawal from his checking account has been posted to his VISA card as a cash advance. As soon as this type of transaction is discovered, we have to go online and zero out the account to stop the bleeding.

So use credit cards responsibly and reap the benefits of this convenient form of payment. But check your statements promptly and beware of cash advances!

What tips do you have for managing credit cards? I would love to hear your comments.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Free Stuff From Charities

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Free Stuff From Charities: I donate regularly to several animal-related charities, but every time I give, I am inundated by solicitations from many other animal-relat...

Free Stuff From Charities

I donate regularly to several animal-related charities, but every time I give, I am inundated by solicitations from many other animal-related charities who most likely bought my contact information from a mailing list. Same thing happens when I give to an organization that fights cancer. Every other cancer charity, plus a few organizations that specialize in fighting other diseases, suddenly start asking for contributions. I'm sure most of these are worthy causes, but a person could go broke supporting all of them.

Often, along with the request for money, charities send me personalized address labels, note cards, note pads, or calendars. Some of them are quite pretty. I can't remember the last time I ever had to buy a calendar, scratch pads, or personalized address labels.

But then come the guilt letters. "Just checking to see if you received the new calendar we sent you. Here's another envelope for your donation, which we're depending on to...." Wait a minute! I didn't order that calendar. You said it was a free gift. I didn't even know you were sending it.

My mother-in-law and I used to discuss this moral dilemma. At first, she thought the solicitations would go away if she'd just send a check. Instead, they multiplied. With more "free gifts" for which payment was expected.

Still, she'd admonish, how can I ethically use something I didn't pay for? It's a beautiful calendar; it must have been expensive to produce. (So that's what the charity did with my donation?)

But what to do with all these "free gifts" with strings attached? Return them? Am I obliged to pay the postage, too? It would be insulting to return the items in the prepaid, self-addressed envelopes the organization sent in anticipation of a donation. (The ones that try to guilt you further by suggesting you affix your own stamp to increase the value of your donation.) And besides, what are they going to do with personalized address labels with my name on them? I'm not helping the charity by sending their stuff back.

So I use the items. Shamelessly. I make my grocery lists on their note pads. Excess address labels make great "low-tech LoJack" for cell phones, glasses cases, and Tupperware containers. If I receive more calendars than I can use, I offer them to others who might need one. And even if the charity didn't get a donation from me, I'm helping to increase awareness for its work.

I still donate as much as I can afford to the causes I believe in, but I don't base my decision on the fact that the organization sent me a calendar.

How do you feel about "free gifts" with charitable solicitations? I would love to hear your comments.