Financial Animals: 8 Pets Who Can Teach Us Money Lessons


What Hamsters Can Teach Us: Stop Running on That Wheel to Nowhere

Don't throw good money after bad. Cut your losses. We've got all of the aphorisms we need to tell us that sometimes we should stop following that same, old path. But even if, like the proverbial hamster on the wheel, we're clearly getting nowhere, it can be tough to quit. We've run so far already, so surely we're about to get somewhere. And if we give up now, doesn't all that time/money/effort go to waste?

Experts say that you need to learn how to recognize what they call a "sunk cost," which is the economic principle that what you have spent is already gone. To identify a sunk cost, you need to ask yourself two key questions: Are you sticking with the program simply because you've been doing it for so long? Would you still make the same commitment if you weren't in this deep? If you answered "no," it may be time to finally make the break.

And remember that when you persist with something that's not working out — be it a job, a relationship or an expensive purchase, like that gym membership you never use — you may be missing out on other opportunities. So sticking with the plan doesn't come for free, either.

What Goldfish Can Teach Us: Don't Overindulge Your Kids

That terrible thing people say about goldfish? Well, it's a myth. "A fish will stop eating before it gets sick or explodes," explains Jon Sander, operations manager at the Lilypons Water Gardens.

That said, being overgenerous with food is still a big problem with pet fish — but it's for a different reason. The leftovers left floating around in the tank can create a toxic environment, which has nothing to do with goldfish gluttony. It's the owner's fault for providing more than the fish need.

The lesson here? Beware of the dangers of showering your kids with everything they want — and then some. Even giving them an allowance can be a mistake if you don't do it right. Children need to learn how to make hard choices about actual needs versus wants, as well as understand the importance of delayed gratification.

It may be hard to hold back, but it can be for the best. Case in point: One study found that kids who have to pay part of their way through college take their education more seriously — and tend to have higher GPAs — because they understand the value of what they're getting.

What Gerbils Can Teach Us: Diversify!

Gerbils hail from the desert, where food can be hard to come by. So you really can't blame them for being hoarders — even when you're there to feed them every day, they can't let go of that instinct to save for hard times. They also know that it's risky to put all of your eggs in one basket — or, rather, all of your seeds in one burrow. So it's not uncommon to find little food stashes in every nook of their cages, a behavior that they exhibit in the wild. This way, if another critter stumbles across one of their stashes and has a feast, the family won't go hungry.

The same principle is at play when you diversify your investments: If one stock tanks, you're not completely wiped out because you haven't put all of your money in one place. This lesson can also be applied to banking: It's generally a good idea to keep your checking and savings accounts at different banks. You want different benefits for each account — for checking, it's low fees and lots of ATMs; for savings, it's the best interest rates — but those perks aren't always offered at the same bank.

And if you're lucky enough to have more than $250,000 saved, remember that the FDIC only insures bank deposits up to that amount per person, so it's wise to diversify and have more than one account.

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