Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Two housekeeping notes: First, the Financial Tip of the Week is taking Thanksgiving week off. Second, I am currently at the AFCPE 2010 conference in Denver, so if you are in Denver for the conference and would like to meet, give me a call: 573-234-4268.

This week, I want to try something different. I want to try sharing a short video I thought was very useful in exploring a difficult economic concept: altruism. Specifically, the video highlights the authors of Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, and their discussion of Levitt’s colleague, John List, and his experiments concerning altruism.

I also want to introduce you to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Art, and specifically, their RSA Animate videos. Their video productions combine audio from prominent lectures with animators who take the difficult ideas and create a visual explanation as the audio is played. My explanation does not do the video justice, so the link is below with some contextual links at the bottom if you’re interested in learning more.

The Video:

(Note: We are using a link to measure the number of clickthroughs; if this is popular enough, we may consider suggesting another video about economics of personal finance that we think is worthy.)

Contextual Links:

Dictator Game

Ultimatum Game

Homo economicus

List, John A. “On the Interpretation of Giving in Dictator Games,” Journal of Political Economy, (2007), 115(3): 482-494.

Andrew Zumwalt, M.S.
Director of the MoTax Education Initiative
162 Stanley Hall
University of Missouri
Columbia MO 65211


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Demise of Liberty

A week ago, our 14½ year old golden retriever, Liberty, passed away.  That is 100 years in “dog-years”.  It did not come as a surprise, as her health had been in decline.  While she was ailing, I was talking to one of my students who informed me that she, the student, was thinking about self-gifting herself a dog as a reward for graduation.  (I did the same thing, when I was twenty-two.)  Of course, the academic in me asked her to consider the costs of pet ownership on a young person’s budget.  Although some would argue that costs are not a consideration to this decision, I believe them to be wrong.  Carefully considering our decisions in a cost-benefit manner is always important.  Moreover, veterinarians will always tell you that they constantly examine pets where their owner cannot afford to adequately care for the pet.  So, what are the costs of owning a pet?


In terms of time you must “spend” in care, cats take less time than dogs.  Cats pretty much take care of themselves and, please, don’t waste time trying to train them.  Purchasing a cat can be as inexpensive as taking that cute kitten from the box at the shopping center to buying a purebred cat for over $1,000.  Regardless of the cat, you need to have vaccinations for feline leukemia and immunodeficiency virus and have them neutered.  A litter box, replacement litter, food, food bowls and, if you like, a collar and cat carrier and your cat is ready to rule your home.  Of course, a cat without toys is a chair needing to be reupholstered, so plan to spend $20-$30 per year on toys.  If you rent, expect some greater difficulty in finding a place to live that allows pets and, when you do, be ready to pay an additional damage deposit.  In total, estimates range from $200 to $700 per year for basic food, routine care, vaccinations and boarding for your cat.   Over the life of a cat, expect to pay from $7,000 to $15,000 for your feline friend.  If you want more information, check out the website .


Dogs are quite expensive, in terms of time - especially when they are young.  They need to be housebroken and lovingly trained to not eat your shoes, chairs, socks, or just about anything you own.  You must give them exercise which means you have to walk and play with them, as well as train them to be obedient.  This takes time, patience, and lots of love.  It is not an option in the first year to eighteen months.  You must take time to give them the opportunity to please you with their behavior.


Purchasing a dog is similar to a cat.  Great dogs can be adopted for the cost of vaccinations and neutering, while purebred dogs can cost as much as $1,000 and, if specially trained, several times more. The first year of a dog’s life is quite expensive, as dogs require many more vaccinations.  Small to medium sized dogs can cost from $700 to $1,300 in their first year; while the diets of a large dog can raise this price to as high as $2,000.  Smaller dogs live longer than larger dogs.  (Liberty was an exception to the usual life span.)  The longer the dog lives, the greater the lifetime costs of ownership.  If we assume no large unexpected costs, smaller dogs have lifetime costs ranging from $7,000 to $13,000, while larger dogs may top out at $10,000.  Moreover, if you are the type of owner that wants to indulge yourself in your dog’s appearance, groomers will gladly agree to provide the service for as much as $150-$200 per visit.


Now, let us consider the opportunity costs.  We will be conservative and assume an $8,000 total cost of ownership and assume it is spent over ten years, or $800 per year.  Do you remember that a 22 year-old student asked me the question?  So, we’ll use her as the example and we will answer the following question: “What does it cost her, in terms of her retirement savings, to own a pet?”  We will assume she chose to save the $800 per year by making $66.67, beginning of the month, deposits to a mutual fund earning 8% per year.  After ten years, she will stop making the deposits and let the balance continue to grow until she is seventy.  What would be the balance?   In ten years, she would have $12,278 in the account. By the time she is seventy, the $12,278 would grow to $228,687. Stated like this, that dog or cat seems pretty expensive….but so are lattes, concerts, football games, and clothing.  Everything we spend money on today will reduce our savings for tomorrow. 


Yet, is financial success about wealth?  Or, is it about the satisfaction we receive from managing our resources?  I loved Liberty, just like I loved Tawny, Jessica, Wendy, Lucky, and Jigs – the other dogs of my life.  Yes, the costs of pet ownership are real.  Yet, so is the love expressed by that wagging tail attached to your lumbering best friend when you come home from work.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Can Using Cash Help You Be Healthier?

The answer, according to a new study, may be “yes” – using cash can help you eat healthier foods.  Authors Thomas, Desai and Seenivasan researched “How Credit Card Payments Increase Unhealthy Food Purchases” in a recent issue of The Journal of Consumer Research.

The authors analyzed 1000 households actual food purchases over 6 months and found that those who bought food with credit or debit cards were more likely to buy unhealthy foods.

"Two factors contribute to this intriguing effect," wrote the authors. "First, there is a correlation between unhealthiness and impulsiveness of food items: Unhealthy food items also tend to elicit impulsive responses. Second, cash payments are psychologically more painful than card payments, and this pain of payment can curb the impulsive responses to buy unhealthy food items."

Financial author Dave Ramsey says, “When you pay cash, you can "feel" the money leaving you. This is not true with credit cards. Flipping a credit card up on a counter registers nothing emotionally. A study of credit card use at McDonald’s found that people spent 47% more when using credit instead of cash.”

My wife and I occasionally watch the show The Biggest Loser and I have been intrigued that not once, but twice, author Suze Orman has correctly predicted the winner based on credit score (Season 8 winner Danny and Season 9 at-home winner Koli, who actually lost more weight than the show winner).  While Orman hasn’t conducted any research in the area, she says, “If you're not balancing your checkbook and you don't know where your money is going, chances are you're not disciplined about what you put in your mouth either.”

Orman talks about Season 8 winner Danny and said “He had $45,000 in credit-card debt, much of it from gambling—and he had hidden a lot of it from his wife. However, he got out of debt before becoming a contestant on the show. He went on to lose 239 pounds. When Danny came on my show after he won The Biggest Loser, he said he couldn't have gotten rid of the weight without first getting rid of the debt. And he wouldn't have been able to keep the weight off without being debt free because it changed how he felt about himself.”

Having financial problems causes stress – just ask anyone who has had a decrease in their income.  It turns out that financial stress, according to research and observations, may be contributing to larger waistlines.  If nothing else, try purchasing your groceries with cash and see if changes your buying habits.


Ryan H. Law, M.S., AFC
Department of Personal Financial Planning
Office for Financial Success Director
University of Missouri Center on Economic Education Director

239E Stanley Hall
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211