August 04, 2015


It was slightly more than a routine trip to the vet, but it was not supposed to be a big deal. Our dachshund, Miss Lucy Bristow, was going in for her five-year dental cleaning and some X-rays. Sure, it wasn’t a “normal” visit, but I wasn’t ready for what was coming my way. I wasn’t prepared for the financial question on page two of the obligatory paperwork. It read something to the effect of:

Should your pet experience a life-threatening injury or illness, every effort will be made to reach you. However, if you are unable to be reached, you authorize $__________ worth of treatment/services/materials to be performed/used by the veterinary practice in an effort to save your pet’s life.

Woah! What a question! I may help people with their finances for a living, but I’ll be honest with you, at that moment, with an unexpected question like that, I didn’t have a clue. I was stumped! To make matters worse, I knew my wife was tied up in a client presentation. This decision would be mine and mine alone.

In my efforts to stall so I could regain some composure, do some soul searching, crunch a few numbers, and consider what my wife might do to me if something were to happen to Lucy and I didn’t put quite a big enough number in that giant blank space, I asked one of the nurses what people usually put. She laughed and said, “It’s a tough question, isn’t it?” I nodded. She said she had seen everything from $0 to $15,000! Woah again! Still, I was relieved to hear her words as the number I was considering was definitely between the two she offered.

I tell you this story for two reasons: 1) So if you are a pet owner you can go ahead and be thinking of your answer should you ever be asked that question and 2) To make the point that there are some really hard financial questions out there that you need to be able to tackle. Questions such as:
  • Can you afford that bigger house?
  • Can you afford for one of you to quit working?
  • How much auto, home, life, disability, long-term care, and liability insurance do you need?
  • Are you saving enough for retirement?
  • Can you retire?
  • How much can you afford to spend?
  • Who should be your Power of Attorney?
  • How would your assets be distributed if you passed away tomorrow?

Sometimes life throws you a financial surprise (like a blank space on a veterinary form), and it’s okay to be temporarily stumped. Take a deep breath, think through your options, talk to a clear-headed, neutral third party if need be, and figure it out. Other tough financial questions are the “five-hundred-pound gorillas in the room” until they are answered. I’d suggest you go ahead, bite the bullet, and answer those. Knowing how you are doing is important. Knowing what you can afford to do and not do is important. Knowing all would be financially okay for your loved ones if something happened to you is important. Those questions can and should be answered.

I finally gave the nurse a number. Later, when I was telling this story to my wife and asking her what she would have put, I found out that our numbers were actually really close, but mine was a little higher. Whew! Either way, I’m happy to report Lucy came out just fine, and that’s what matters!


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