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Suburban Farm Life Takes Work

But the Benefits Outweigh the Cost

That’s me in the picture, and those are most of the animals on what has become our backyard “farm.” Actually, there are more, but you get the point. This all started when my wife and I lived in married student housing at the University of Tennessee. One evening I was reading the paper (yes, people did that at some point) and a commercial came on TV for an animal shelter. I could feel my wife’s eyes burning holes in the paper. I played the card that we lived in an apartment where animals weren’t allowed, and within 48 hours, we had our first dog. Over the next few years, we had four children and began to weave a tale of kids and animals.  

So what do kids and animals have to do with money? Kids and animals are big business. In 2017, the American Pet Products Association reported that Americans spent $69 billion on animals. That dwarfs the toy business ($28 billion in 2018 per the NPD Group) and the candy business ($34 billion per a Packaged Facts 2018 report) combined. There is also a clear behavioral element to the interaction of the two. I’ve found that our animals have supercharged the curiosity of my children, helped them learn responsibility, and encouraged them to become more empathetic.

Animals arouse our curiosity. Some of their actions make no sense to us. Sometimes they can find a way to communicate with us, but often not. How do you get an egg from a chicken without a rooster? How do you get a pig to drop a bag of chips they robbed from the pantry? Can goats figure out how to unzip a trampoline net? What happens when a golden retriever eats half a baseball glove and broken glass on the same day? Those are all questions I can answer because I have animals. 

Let’s be honest: Animals (and kids) take work. Most parents have strategized assigning the care of pets to their kids as a way to teach them responsibility. Who fed the goats, who scooped the deposits left in the yard, who will clean out the coop? Not exactly the fun parts of animal ownership, but it’s the honest side for sure. Kids and work are great things around our house. Not necessarily appreciated at all times, but important lessons to pass on for the future.

Animals also help us develop a sense of empathy. Kids form strong bonds with animals. Pets may also provide a child’s first tangible glimpse into the fact that we don’t live forever. Our 11-year-old golden retriever hates storms to no end. Our kids strive to comfort him every time. I wonder if he’s just outsmarted us all and feigns fear to get extra attention. I guess ownership equates to empathy in some manner.

Our neighborhood farm takes work. It has also provided us with loads of joy and plenty of true-life lessons to share as a family. We might have a renegade pig in the pantry or a goat on the lam, but the laughs and randomness of animals have helped us live richly. At PYA Waltman, we work to help people live their best financial lives. We have a unique process powered by technology and a team of experienced, credentialed advisers. If you are looking for serious planning, give us a call. We can even arrange a cameo from a pet pig.

PYA Waltman is an investment adviser registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. More information about PYA Waltman’s investment advisory services can be found in its Form ADV Part 2, which is available upon request.