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The Puppy vs. The Porsche

Author: Sam Maness JD CFP®

Most of us have picked out a “dream car” for ourselves at one point or another – the car we would drive after hitting the lottery or making it big. For me, as a kid, it was always the Porsche 911 Turbo. They looked fast, fun - and who wouldn’t live a great life in one of those?! But instead of buying a shiny new sports car last year, we bought a puppy. This is a short story about money, happiness, and the choices we make in pursuit of both.  

Last summer my wife Hannah was studying for her pharmacy boards and caught puppy fever. Stage 5. I knew it was bad when she started sending me photos of rescue dogs. I was hoping, mostly in secret, that we could postpone the decision until – until we had more free time, more money, more whatever it took for things to be just right. But she usually knows what’s best and how to nudge me in the right direction – this was no exception. It wasn’t long before we were prowling the halls of the humane society looking to pick up a new family addition. I tried to quickly pass over the real winner in the group, Murphy, so as not to draw attention. After being returned by his first adoptive family, he was the biggest dog in the puppy pen, a dark lab mix with oversized paws and sad, soulful eyes. In another life, you could just tell he would’ve made a great blues musician.  

We left the shelter that day without him, but about 24 hours later, just as I was getting comfortable, Hannah called me: “I went back to the shelter… guess what!? They let you reserve a puppy for a $20 donation. I found the best dog; he is so sweet. His name is Murphy.” I couldn’t believe it. By some twist of fate, and without me giving a hint, she had picked the exact same dog I had already fallen for. “This is your decision, Sam, but I went ahead and bought a crate and some toys, because we will need them sooner or later, right? Let me know what you decide!” I’m not sure if my writing adequately conveys how this call went, but I can assure you the decision was well out of my hands at this point. Later that evening after work, I had Murphy riding next to me on the drive home, both of us starting out on a new adventure.   

Next, I had to put my financial planner skills to work and draft up a budget for what this was going to cost us. Food, water, and a couple of cheap throw toys – I mean, how bad could it be? Safe to say if it was based on this projection alone, they would pull my Certified Financial Planner™ designation immediately. I failed to account for the unexpected vet visits, training sessions, medications, dog walkers, treats, even doggy day care. And despite hearing enough stories to prove it out, I failed to consider just how much a new puppy can chew up and destroy. Looking back now on these expenses, I’m certain that our pup costs about as much as any Porsche.  

I wouldn’t trade Murphy for any car on the lot. He brings so much good to our lives with his energy, attention, and unconditional love. This much I sort of expected, but nobody told me he would also bring invaluable lessons on how to live well: Be patient when things don’t go as planned. Devote more time to having fun. Be clear with how you communicate. Take more naps. Get outside. Celebrate the little things. Appreciate the food on your plate. Be interested in others. And to steal from a client’s signature line: “If someone you love walks through your door, even if it happens 5 times a day, you should go totally insane with joy.”  

Life is too short not to take this message to heart. New studies keep showing that we humans are not very good at identifying what makes us genuinely happy. Looking out in the world, you’d think it hinges on a big house, nice cars, fancy vacations, and a full social calendar with good-looking friends. But for most of us, it turns out that happiness looks a lot different. A few common themes include gratitude, nature, learning, community, and the pursuit of meaningful goals. Every version is unique to the individual, so it is paramount that we identify, and then emphatically pursue, the sources of our own happiness.  

Advisors work hard to make intelligent investments and help to improve your taxes, but the deep work often lies in the planning – in finding ways to help you make meaningful contributions to others and live out more of your days in the care-free exuberance I see so often in my dog Murphy. One thing seems clear, and that is money will only get you so far. It can serve as the fuel that powers the engine, but it is up to each of us to decide the road to travel – and maybe most important: to enjoy the ride. If you or someone you care about is approaching a fork in the path, or just looking closer at what comes next, please reach out – it would be great to have a conversation.