Using an Emergency Fund: How a Piece of Yarn Cost Us $1,300

A couple of weeks ago, I was playing around with our cat Bruce. He was sitting on our couch looking at me weirdly like cats do. I walked into our kitchen for a minute and when I came back into the living room, I noticed Bruce had some yarn hanging out of his mouth. Before I could get to him, he had slurped the yarn down like a piece of spaghetti. Guess it tasted good…

I knew this wasn’t good, and when I told my wife, she panicked a bit. Turns out, the piece of yarn was about 2 feet long!  My wife crochets, and Bruce has never tried to eat the yarn before. I guess he just wanted to experiment. Since this had never happened before, we didn’t know what to do at first.

We googled it, and found that when animals swallow long stringy things, it can be life threatening. The stringy object can get caught in the intestines and cause blockages as well as cut into the intestines. Not what we wanted to hear.

He was acting normal the next day, but we decided it would be best to take him to the vet just to be safe. They x rayed him and everything looked fine. This was a bit of a relief, but we knew he still hadn’t passed the yarn, so the true test was still to come. That night, he start throwing up the yarn. The worst thing that could’ve happened. A couple of pieces of the yarn came up, but nowhere near the full length.

The Fun Begins

We took him to the vet the next day and she said we had three options.

  1. Take him home and watch him (with the possibility that he could die).
  2. Start a giving him a treatment that enables the vet to do a much more visible x ray.
  3. Exploratory surgery.

 She gave us a few minutes to think over the options.

My wife and I talked it over and decided option one was out of the question. We had a feeling that he wasn’t going to be able to pass the yarn, especially since he had already thrown up. Option two was a little better than option one, but if they did the x ray and found that he needed surgery, then we might as well just go with option three. So that’s what we did. We let the vet know our decision and she went ahead and gave us the bill so we’d have an idea of the cost.

The first draft of the bill was over $1,200. I found that it’s important to look over every line item in the vet bill because they had two catheters on it and he only needed one. I didn’t know if they needed two catheters or not, so I asked the technician about it and she said that it was a mistake. That would’ve been an extra $40 down the drain had I not caught it. They also had a $200 miscellaneous expense added to the first draft in case anything unexpected came up.

Life Didn’t Like Us That Day

We went ahead and left Bruce for surgery. On the way home, life happened again. We got a flat tire on the 55 mph highway to our house and ended up parking in the ditch next to the road. The ditch was too steep for me to jack the car up, so we attempted to get out of the ditch and search for a flatter spot. The ground was wet though, so we were stuck. Thankfully, someone stopped and helped push the car out and we were able to pull into a driveway and put the spare on. Thank you nice person!

Emergency Funds Make Hard Decisions Easier

We were not expecting to spend an extra $1,200 this month, but since we have an emergency fund, we decided to go ahead with the surgery. While we wouldn’t have paid $1,200 to buy Bruce when we first got him, he has become a part of our family. I think this situation is a perfect time to reflect on what money actually is. It isn’t something to just store away and hoard. Money is supposed to be used. We can easily restore the emergency fund over the next month or two and not have any grief.

If Bruce were to die from this, it would take months, if not years, to get over it. He’s been a great cat! Never in the two years we’ve owned him has he went to the bathroom anywhere other than his litter box. He also only scratches his scratching post. The only thing he’s damaged in our house is one or two things he’s knocked over. He’s always hanging out with us when we’re watching tv and has been a great companion.

Even if he wasn’t a good cat, he’s still a living being. Money isn’t. Money is just a tool that allows you to do the things you want. Sure, if the surgery was going to cost $10,000 then we probably wouldn’t have done it. But since it was a small percentage of our emergency fund, it was a no-brainer.

using an emergency fund

He has DESTROYED this cat tree but hasn't done anything to our furniture.

Money Allows You To Do the Things You Value

Some people may think we’re crazy for spending the amount of money we did on an animal. Others might think we’re crazy for even thinking this was an optional expense. That’s the great thing about being a free individual with some money saved up, you get to decide what’s valuable to you.

I think that’s part of the reason why people don’t pursue financial independence. They think you have to do things a certain way. That couldn’t be further from the truth though! You can pursue financial independence and still spend money on the things you value. As long as you optimize the things you can and save a decent amount of your income, you can design the life you want while in pursuit of financial independence.

Was Pulling From Our Emergency Fund Necessary?

Looking back on the situation, there were a couple of options we could’ve went with other than our emergency fund. We could’ve used the money I’ve accumulated from my eBay business to cover the expense. We also could’ve put the bill on a credit card and try to pay it off quickly.

I think if I could have seen this coming, I would’ve applied for a credit card with a good travel rewards bonus incentive and put the bill on it. You usually have to spend a few thousand in the first couple of months to get the bonus, so this would’ve been a great way to get that knocked out quickly. We could’ve opened a credit card and pulled money from the emergency fund to pay it off.

I only had a day to think this over, so I just used a credit card we already had and paid it off with the emergency fund. I’ll still get a decent amount of points for putting the bill on the card, but it wasn’t as optimal as getting a new one.

I don’t keep a lot of extra cash sitting in our regular bank account, so using a credit card and our emergency fund was the best option. I haven’t decided what I want to do with my eBay profits yet, so I’m just letting them build in a separate bank account. I’m sure I’m going to have to pay a little tax on my eBay income, so having money set aside for that is a good idea.

All’s Well That Ends Well

This wasn’t the greatest way to start out 2019, but if it’s our biggest emergency, then it should be a good year. Bruce came out of surgery fine, and the vet said we made the right choice. There was still a lot of yarn in him when they did the surgery, and it was all bunched up. I think he probably would’ve died if we didn’t do the surgery.

The surgery bill turned out to be $1,121.31 and the x ray from the first vet visit was $143 for a total expense of $1,264.31. Bruce had to wear the cone of shame for a week, and got a funny haircut on his stomach. Now he’s running around like nothing happened and all of my wife’s yarn is safely put away! If you’ve got pets, keep stringy things in a place where they can’t get to them.

A situation like this might cause someone to think about getting pet insurance. I don’t think we’re going to do that though. Hopefully this was a one time thing and we’ll have our emergency fund to cover anything in the future. This has caused me to value our emergency fund more though. I think I’ll add more to it than we had before this incident and possibly move it out of Betterment into a plain old savings account. It’s currently in a 60% bond 40% stock account and has lost a little money since I first moved it to Betterment.

If you don’t have an emergency fund, I highly recommend them. Here’s some further reading on how you can save money:

using an emergency fund

Back to normal 🙂

Nathan has been a personal finance writer since early 2018. He and his wife reached a net worth of one hundred thousand at the age of 25 and are on their way to financial independence. His favorite way to make money is selling things on eBay and has grown his eBay business to earn five figures selling part-time. He loves sharing what he learns about finance and any eBay tips he comes across. If you’re interested in becoming an eBay seller, check out his reseller Facebook group.