Puppy Training and Financial Planning

If you haven’t already been introduced, meet Mac Wright. I joke with my husband that his middle name is Miller, as in Mac Miller, but I was told dogs don’t have middle names. I digress.

Anyway, we’ve had Mac for over a month and in some ways it has been the longest month of my life and in other ways the time has slipped away so quickly. He is ever growing, a fact I am constantly reminded of by neighbors when we are with him in the elevator getting ready to take him on a walk.

This past month has been full of highs, lows and countless lessons on how to care for and train a puppy. For those of you who haven’t read about Mac’s adoption story, Mac is my first ever pet! My husband grew up with a dog, but having Mac in our life has been a whole new ballgame and I am slowly learning the rules.

There is one game that I am very familiar with, and that is financial planning. This past month has shown me that there are so many parallels between raising a puppy and financial planning.

Waiting Period

One of the biggest surprises of getting a puppy was learning that we had to wait until Mac was 16 weeks and done with all his adult shots before we could take him to the park and let him interact with other dogs. Our visions of taking Mac to the puppy park down the street and seeing him interact with the other dogs in our neighborhood quickly went out the door.

We are still three weeks away from getting the “all clear” from our vet and are counting down the days. We are especially excited to let him use the dog run in our building in lieu of going potty on our living room rug in the middle of the night… While the waiting part isn’t fun and can be brutal after cleaning our rug for the 4th time that day but we do all of this because the end result will be a healthy pup.

There is a similar waiting game that comes with financial planning. Sitting down with a professional to create a financial plan does not automatically translate into being financially independent. There is a waiting period, especially when the some of the financial goals are set for a future date. In some cases it will take decades of diligence and patience to achieve some financial goals. But much like the wait with Mac, if the end goal is meaningful enough, it will be worth the wait.

Disruption & Sacrifice

The second lesson I’ve learned this past month is that puppies are disruptive! My husband and I have had to make some sacrifices to our schedules to make sure Mac’s needs are met. I am going to be 100% honest and admit that he has done way more of the sacrificing that I have but overall our lifestyle has and will continue to change because of our little man. Besides the obvious disruptions of being woken up 1-2 times per night, my husband has been sacrificing his lunch breaks everyday to come home and take out Mac and together we have sacrificed the ability to make plans that take us away from home for more than 4-5 hours at a time.

Nothing defines financial planning more than disruption and sacrifice. To accomplish a bigger financial goal like buying a home or being in the position to retire in the future takes sacrifice. Earning the right to invest in your future goals each month could mean that you are sacrificing dinners out, the ability to spend hundreds of dollars a month on your clothing budget or forgoing that trip you wanted to take.

In the short term these sacrifices will be disruptive to your old way of living but I promise you it will get easier. Over time the disruption will become the new normal and eventually it will be part of the new routine. Short term pain for long-term gain.

Consistency

Effective puppy training comes from consistency. We were coached early on to get Mac on a schedule which would help him with sleeping through the night and potty training. His schedule has proven to be very disruptive… waking up at 3 am to take him out… but we have begun to see the rewards of getting him on a schedule and sticking to it. There are days where we take steps forward and others when we take steps back, but the overall momentum is positive. If there are accidents, likely its the result of us not sticking with his schedule…Oops.

Consistency is also very fundamental in financial planning and the ability to hit long-term goals. What jumps to mind is consistency in saving and spending habits or said differently, budgeting. Understanding where your money goes on a monthly basis creates awareness that ultimately translates into finding opportunities to shift spending in one category into savings.

A practical application of consistency is setting up automated savings for each of your financial goals. I find it much easier to be consistent with our savings when the funds are automatically pulled from my banking account, or in the case of my 401(k) my paycheck.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a concept I was first introduced to in my Senior Year psychology class but not something I put into practice until we adopted Mac. For those of you not familiar with this concept, it’s rewarding good behavior and continuing to reward good behavior until it becomes second nature.

Lots of positive reinforcement happens for us during our walks with Mac. We treat him when he sits in the elevator on the way down for our walks, treat him when he goes to the bathroom outside, treat him when he doesn’t bark at the other dogs, etc. Basically its going to be a difficult walk if we forget the bag of doggy treats in our apartment (guilty).

We have quickly seen the results of rewarding Mac for the positive things. We still have a ways to go but we’ve been able to get him crate trained and he now sits for us in the elevator without being prompted. The little wins are so important!

As I mentioned, I have not practiced intentional positive reinforcement until we adopted Mac but could see how it could have a place in financial planning. It can be very hard to to change your relationship with money and go from spending freely to sticking to a budget. Celebrating the little wins along the way and reinforcing positive change can help ease the transition.

The main objective it to be more thoughtful with how to use your resources, so celebrating change with a trip to the store would be counter productive. One way to add positive reinforcement to your financial planning is to identify an accountability partner. This could be a parent or spouse that you share your goals with and will celebrate and acknowledge the wins with you.

An accountability partner could also be a professional like a financial advisor or CPA that will meet with you on a consistent basis to review progress and give praise when appropriate or alternatively feedback if needed. I try to incorporate positive reinforcement into all my client meetings and find an opportunity during the meeting to acknowledge the client’s positive momentum towards their goals.

Mistakes Happen

If I had a dollar for every time Mac has messed up and peed on our rug, I would be able to pay for our upcoming vacation. Unfortunately, life does not work in that way and mistakes are bound to happen, especially when he’s a puppy. It’s important to remember that he is just a puppy and is still learning the world, just like we are learning how to be better puppy parents. Mistakes happen but its important to stay positive and show grace.

The same perspective applies to financial planning. Mistakes are going to happen, whether it’s overspending one month and missing the opportunity to save or an unexpected expense that arises and has a major impact on your emergency fund. The important thing is to keep in focus the bigger picture.

To do this, I like to reflect on all the forward momentum that has happened thus far and find the opportunity to give myself grace. Nobody is perfect and mistakes will be made. What’s more meaningful is how you chose to move on from those moments.

My husband and I have learned a lot this past month and its just the beginning. The lessons we’ve learned, to date, have helped us reevaluate our priorities and have provided us with a new perspective on what is important in life.

I hope you found this post helpful whether you are in the midst of raising a puppy, defining your financial goals or embarking on a new chapter in life.