Money Metaphors (You wouldn't punch a kitten, would you?)


My boyfriend and I occasionally (at least weekly) argue over money. I like to spend it, he likes to save it. We have fundamentally different ways of looking at money. He carefully researches purchases and buys high quality goods. I like to buy the first thing that catches my eye. He spends money when he has some extra to burn on things he needs, I spend money to make myself feel better, regardless of whether I have the actual cash to blow. (See also: Relationships and Money: Two Sides of the Same Coin)

That's My Money!

Not that long ago, my boyfriend said something that really threw me for a loop. I was defending my spending habits, which aren't easily defensible, and we ended up arguing over something like a dental bill. It wasn't for much, but it was something I forgot to pay. And I was hit with a late fee. And then another late fee.

And I, as usual, casually brushed the fees aside with one of those "It's JUST money" type of comments that so infuriates the beau. If I accrue late fees, I pay them. Money, to me, is often something to just be tossed at problems. I don't look at my receipts after buying groceries. I don't worry about being charged too much, since I figure that carefully studying my receipts makes me look petty. In fact, this is an attitude that gets me nowhere. I don't protect my money.

"You don't protect your money!" my boyfriend exclaimed, clearly exasperated and in need of a drink.

"Protect? It's not an infant. It's money."

"Well, maybe it's time you start thinking of it as an infant."

He could see my wrinkling my nose, mentally picturing changing my money's diapers. "Ok, then, how about a puppy? Or a teeny weeny wittle kitty? Remember when the cat was small, like 4 weeks old?"

My heart melted, recalling the times when our cat was too tiny and delicate to shred the curtains or torment the dogs or knock vases off of shelves.

"Yes. She was just this little orphaned baby kitty...." my voice veered off into dangerously high-pitched territory as I pictured her teeny little claws and pink nose, and the way she would try to meow but ended up sort of hissing instead.

"Well, think of your money like that. Whenever you go to spend something, imagine that you are handing someone our kitten. And think about what the results are going to be. When you just casually lay your money down without thinking about it, you are putting the kitten at risk."

"You mean, when I get hit with a late fee, it's like someone punching our kitten?"

"Ok, that's just sick." He walked out, and I found him 20 minutes later, curled up on the couch with a purring cat on his lap, both of their eyes directed at an episode of The Sopranos. They both turned to glare at me as I walked in. No doubt the cat had been filled in on abuse-by-proxy and was already planning which of my shoes she would leave her next hairball in.

Alright, kitten-punching is a little sick. But it was powerful for me, because I hate the idea of animals being mistreated (so much so that I refused to finish watching The Brothers Grimm, an already awful movie that stupidly features a cheap, obnoxious "tragic gag" in which a small white Persian kitten is chopped to pieces). In fact, I once got angry at a friend who had a virtual pet, one of those Japanese toy-devices that has a digital puppy on the screen. My friend thought it was hilarious that if you "kicked" the "puppy", it would "squeal". I wouldn't talk to her for about a week after that.

So I've got issues. But let's say that I can turn those issues to work in my favor. If I really manage to equate my money, emotionally, with something that I find dear and worthy of protection, I might be able to force myself to treat my money with the respect it deserves, thereby giving myself the kind of financial security that I deserve (and need).

Save Me!

I don't have a lot of money in savings, even though I know I should. I haven't become adept at saving money yet. Better than I used to be, but still not good.

But there was a brief period a year or so ago, when I saw the light when it came to the benefits of saving. And it was a bright light indeed.

You already know that you earn interest on the money in your savings account. You probably know that you should shop around for an account, be it savings or money market, or whatever, that gives you a good interest rate. But I never appreciated with this meant until I saw the results.

Last March, I was in the process of buying a home. Not being the saving type, I was using my inheritance from my grandmother, along with a loan from my parents, to put the necessary money down on the house. The money had all been transferred into my savings account, and it sat there for a while as we signed papers and secured inspections and fretted over the neighborhood (too close to the freeway? safe to walk at night? etc.).

It was only a while later, when I was in the process of transferring the down payment from my savings to my checking account, that I noticed the interest that I was earning on it. I generally earn about $0.11 per year on my savings account. I'm not going into detail about how much was in there, but it was a really good sum. And I don't even remember how much interest I was earning, but I know that it was enough to pay for lunch every day for a month and then some.

And that's with a not-so-high interest rate at a not-so-incredible bank. I wish I had put it into my credit union, because I probably could have had dinner every night for a month with THAT interest rate.

So, with savings, I have to think of the money I put in there as my lunch program. The phrase "make your money work for you" doesn't mean that much to me, but the thought that I end up with a free lunch everyday does mean something to me.

It's with that in mind that I've started squirreling away a bit of money. Nothing to brag about at this time, but I'm glad I'm doing it. And while my interest rate is nothing to crow about, it's nice to see the money ad up like that. Whenever I feel like I'd rather take the money out and, say, buy dog sweaters or something, I remember that that money can earn me a free lunch, and carelessly spending it is like punching my kitten.

Odd as it may sound, that helps.

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Guest's picture

i have the same spending problem you do! this is so perfect! its sad but amusing at the same time but it makes so much sense!

Will Chen's picture

I remember once seeing a movie where a guy said "when you steal from me you are taking food from my family" or something to that effect.

That stuck with me. Whenever I think of money I always think about how that money can be used for important family things, like insurance, healthcare, healthcare, bailing Greg out of jail, etc.

P.S. It looks like you worked over the kitty pretty good!

Andrea Karim's picture

But as she recently shredded the carpet at the top of my stairs, requiring actual carpet replacement, I don't feel THAT bad.

Is Greg in jail AGAIN? Let me know if you need some extra dough to pay for the lawyers. The backend code won't write itself, you know.

Guest's picture

i think money really is money... the dissonance only comes in on how much work it takes you to live frugally and save that money that can be wasted at one time just because of a stupid late fee. you forget something or you screw up, then you have to start all over again it seems. i don think that develop emotional attachments to money is a good thing... i think it will lead to more problems and unhealthy choices in the long run. judging from this site, however, it seems that you are actively thinking about how to spend money wisely so i dont think you have much to worry about. you live and you learn, just dont forget to pay things on time.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

I, on the other hand, can tend to protect my money too much.  It's like walking a tightrope--I want to be able to spend money on things I want without feeling guilty or wondering if it would just be better for me to save it, while still making informed, researched decisions and not spending to make myself feel better.  In Andrea-speak, I want to be able to protect my kitten but still leave her with friends or in a good kennel when I go on vacation. ;)

Andrea Karim's picture

I hope I can prevent myself from becoming overly attached to my money. I don't want to weep big, kitten-loving tears every time I pay a bill. But since I currently have NO emotional attachment to my money, I don't think it could hurt to form a little bit of one.

Guest's picture

This is a great article - and it actually resonated with me in a way that money articles never normally do! As it is about punching kittens I wonder what that says about me...

But I also loved the lunch money example - really good stuff. Thanks!!

Guest's picture

I have a different way of looking at money. Money is your life force. Why? Well, think about it. There are only so many years that you can work and make money. When you have a full-time job, you're giving up a third or more of your life in exchange for money. So when you spend money, that's part of your life that you're spending. Make it count.

Guest's picture

I think of money as time, literally. I figure out my "real hourly wage" (after you factor in commuting costs, clothing, eating out, etc), and then figure out how many minutes or hours or days any individual thing is going to cost me. That late fee may cost me two hours of my time. Do I really want to spend two hours working for a late fee, because I can't write myself a reminder to pay the bill on time? Do I want to spend half a day slaving away for (insert your favorite waste of money here)? Putting it into "how many minutes do I have to work for this" really helps to spend a lot less.

Guest's picture

You guys have your share of really awesome guests.

Guest's picture

My husband and I have an ongoing debate as to how to manage our checking/savings accounts.

Currently, I am supposed to transfer money from our savings account to our checking account after every debit purchase or check I write. Of course, I am imperfect and don't always do this in time.

I'd like to put a certain amount of money on the checking account each month or each week, but I'd like to know how other people do it. After reading this article, it doesn't seem worth the interest to try to keep money in the savings account so carefully.

Guest's picture

I get more interest off my saving account then I do my Checking, so when I have large deposits, I'll place the money in my savings account. Then when I make some large purchases or when I know need to make those purchases, I'll transfer the money over to my checking account.
Saving accounts have a limit on how many transfers you can make by either online withdraws, phone, or web. So this limits the amount I can transfer and makes me be more aware of when I'm spending my money.
I look over all of my receipts I make sure they are charging me the right amount. I also price match when ever possible. Every bit of money saved is more money to do something fun.
I look at when I spend money. How long did it take me to earn that much? $50 on a shirt is how many hours worked. $100 on dinner is how many hours worked. I enjoy my time not working, so do I want to work more or less? How much easier is it to take that nice vacation if I took leftover for lunch to work the next day and didn't spend that $5-10 on lunch. That's $25-50 a week which is $1,300 - $2,600 a year simply by saving $5-10 a day/5 day a week for an entire year. Is that REALLY such a a small amount or does it add up quickly. most people don;t realize how much they can save simply by cutting one small thing out of their lives and saving that money instead.
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Guest's picture

I have the same problem with spending money. I never stop to think about it and the next thing I know, my entire paycheck has vanished and I feel like I didn't benefit from it vanishing at all. But I have to say that I have never thought about comparing my wasteful spending habits to punching a kitten. I will have to try this the next time I'm out shopping or late paying a bill.

Guest's picture

Loved your beau's tactics for helping you get in the right mindset on money. Poor little kitten. I recently posted about a similar experience as you had when I realized that my high interest savings account wasnt as high interest as i thought it was. Thanks for the post.

Guest's picture

Thanks for this article. I have recently raised a kitten so this is a pertinent metaphor for me. I believe I can use your ideas to help me be more careful, especially if I think of what the kitten grew to be.

One respectful suggestion - have someone proof your writing. There were a lot of typos or grammatical errors. It can be distracting.

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