My Chocolate Lab’s $4,300 Vet Bill: Why You Need An Emergency Fund

Here is why you need an emergency fund

Do you remember hearing when you grew up, “Never give the dog chocolate!?”

Guilty as charged. I remember hearing things like never give the dog a brownie and honestly I blew it off as some old folk tale older people made up.

I mean I have seen my dog eat a bone in under a minute, scarf her breakfast down in under 20 seconds and then go for a 2-mile run- so what could some chocolate really do to her?

Apparently eating chocolate can be a real death sentence for your dog, but also your wallet. In 2019 our dog decided that eating a bag of cocoa powder would be a good idea.

After four days in the vet, she was home healthy (thank God) but we had a $4,300 vet bill we were responsible for. Luckily, money was not an issue – because years ago we created an emergency fund.

Today, we will cover:

  • What is an emergency fund
  • Reasons why you need an emergency fund
  • How to start an emergency fund, and
  • How much you should have in your emegency fund

What is an emergency fund?

An emergency fund is self-explanatory, it is a savings account in case of an emergency.

Typically, most people keep a reserve or stash of money set aside in case life throws an emergency or issue that requires financial means.

2 Reaons You Need an Emergency Fund:

Who seriously would have ever thought that on March 7th, 2019 at about 5:00 PM my wife would call me to tell me there was dog poop and throw-up all over the house.

Not to be too descriptive, (The dog poop did smell like brownies) but it looked like a brownie bomb went off in our house.

Evidently, we left the pantry door open and she decided to go in for some afternoon snacks. Morgan, our 5-year-old chocolate lab, decided to start with some chocolate chips, followed by half a bag of cocoa powder.

I guess she really identifies with her breed because evidently, she ate enough cocoa powder to kill puppy friends. The vets were amazed she is alive. Apparently, cocoa powder is THE MOST TOXIC according to many publications including poison control and the AKC.

I didn’t know this, but chocolate contains theobromine. Humans easily metabolize theobromine, but dogs process it much more slowly, thus it can build up to toxic levels in their system. That combined with caffeine can be lethal.

At first, we thought it was no big deal, to be honest. Our initial vet call said that throwing up is a good sign, but that we might want to check with an emergency vet just in case.

After calling the emergency veterinary clinic, because it was cocoa powder and since we didn’t know exactly how much she ate, they recommended we rush her to the hospital.

Thank God we did because she wouldn’t have made it without immediate medical attention! I only say all of this because the doctors at the clinic were concerned about Morgan.

But they were also concerned and well aware of something else people have to deal with in times like these:

1. Most adults have less than $1,000 in savings.

Lucky for us it didn’t matter the amount of money it was going to cost to make Morgan better. Unlike 50% of American adults who have less than $1,000 in savings, we had created an emergency fund in 2016.

Note: If you are one of those people who doesn’t have an emergency fund keep reading, I will teach you how to create one below!

We weren’t sure when we would ever need it, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. Just the peace of mind knowing that when a vet asks if you can afford the treatment to save your dog's life without hesitation you can say YES!

2. Emergenices will happen.

Since we created our emergency fund separate from our checking we have had to use it for the following:

  1. Washing machine in 2017
  2. Car engine in the same month of 2017
  3. Morgan’s vet trip in 2019
  4. Hit a car in a parking lot 2019
  5. Oven, Dishwasher, Garbage Disposal all went out in early 2021

While depending on your personal needs, how you view each of these depends, but for all intents and purposes – these were emergencies for us.

Typically, most people have emergency funds in place for possible financial emergencies like:

  • Emergency medical or dental expenses
  • Job Loss
  • Unexpected home repairs
  • Car issues
  • Vet bills
  • Family emergencies
  • Recessions (you should always be prepared)

A financial emergency is something that is of the significant cost that wasn’t planned for… like a couple of thousand dollar vet bill.

According to U.S. Money News, an example of a financial emergency can include sudden job loss, a medical emergency, sudden car issues, sudden moves, and even natural disasters. A dog eating too much chocolate wasn’t on the list, but for us, it was a perfect example of why everyone should have an emergency fund.

An emergency fund is designed to counter those financial emergencies so that life doesn’t come to a screeching halt. An emergency fund is designed to allow someone who experiences a sudden financial need to simply deal with the issue at hand – not stress out about money.

Mental clarity and peace of mind is the number one reason to have an emergency fund. But if you don’t have one, how do you go about starting your emergency fund?

How to Start an Emergency Fund:

  1. Find out how much 6 months of fixed living expenses would cost you
  2. Open an online savings account
  3. Deposit money from your checking into your emergency fund until you reach your 6 month number
  4. Only access your emergency fund when there is an emergency! Overspending is not an emergency, it is an urgency.

In order to keep your emergency fund just that, there is a specific place you should put your emergency fund so that you don’t slide into it.

Where should you put your emergency fund?

The first step in starting an emergency fund is detaching your savings from your checking.

Sliding into your savings, transferring $15 into your checking so you can buy you pick two at Panera is not what savings are for. Especially not emergency savings.

Instead, I would recommend opening a simple savings account with Ally, who as of March 2019, was offering 2.22% (Almost covers the inflation adjustment of 2-3%).

The reason for separating your checking and emergency savings is that you don’t want to be tempted to use that money.

While a new couch sounds like a great addition to the living room if you want to get it- save for it in another checking account. Never touch your emergency fund unless of course, it is an emergency!

How much should you have in your emergency fund?

The question about how much you should have in your emergency fund varies from person to person. In fact, depending on who you ask you may hear you should have 30 days, 3 months, 6 months worth saved or amounts like $1,000.

Regardless of the differing opinions, most experts will say to have a goal of having 6 months saved in your emergency fund. Where people tend to disagree is which priority should come first (Pay off debt than save, or save then pay off debt).

But the emergency fund number you need really depends on where you are currently at.

The best way to figure out how much you will need to save is to use a simple emergency fund calculator or just grab your monthly budget.

Take your budget and add up your fixed expenses for one month (Home expenses, bills, food, cars, debt payments, childcare, insurance, and others). Using the fixed expenses number multiply it by three and then multiply it by six.

Follow these simple steps:

  1. Find out your monthly fixed expenses
  2. Multiply that number by 3
  3. Multiply that number by 6
  4. The first goal is to have $1,000 in your emergency fund.
  5. Once you have $1,000 – work to one month saved.
  6. Follow that by increasing savings to 3 months and then 6 months saved.

Emergency Fund Calculator

If you don’t have a budget and you want to simply go with a rough estimate (I personally advise against winging it) then you can use an emergency fund calculator.

Use this emergency fund calculator and fill out each of the 8 steps – which basically calculates your monthly expenditures and multiplies them by 6 to help you achieve that 6 months saved goal.

My Emergency Fund Take Away

you need an emergency fund for life's emergencies

First, an update on Ms. Morgan. She got to come home Sunday morning and she proceeded to sleep pretty much most of the day and most of Monday.

By Monday night she was back to herself and on Tuesday it was like she never ate chocolate!!!

So we are really happy she is OK and bounced back so quickly. We got a gate for the kitchen, moved all the edible bad stuff up a few shelves and we are making sure the pantry is closed.

Tip for dog owners: 😎 Make sure chocolate and dangerous food is high up!!

Had we not have had an emergency fund we would have still made sure Morgan was taken care of (Don’t worry if you were reading this and love dogs, we never would have considered some of the other options we were presented with).

The only difference is that had this chocolate lab/chocolate poison episode happened 5 years ago it would have been on our credit card and we would have had been stuck paying it off for the next few years… with interest.

Instead, when Morgan binged on cocoa, we put the medical bill on a credit card, transferred some money from our emergency fund to our checking, and paid off the credit card (having a few side hustles doesn’t hurt either).

By the end of March, we will have everything back to where it was before this entire episode occurred and it all just becomes a wild story to tell (And I hope for others if they were ever faced with the same predicament that they can say the same thing we said, which was YES).

To start an emergency fund ASAP, make sure it is in a separate savings account (Ally has great rates), and be sure to keep all chocolate higher in the pantry if you own a dog!!!

Questions: How much do you think someone should have in their emergency fund?

Why you need an emergency fund