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Budgeting for Your Bulldog or Budgie

Why it makes sense to have a financial plan for your pet and 9 ways to keep your budget on a leash

By Christine D. Moriarty

Animals are endearing and a source of comfort to humans. They can make us laugh, share our tears, and slow down to cuddle. Whether you have a fish, dog, cat, horse or exotic animal, there is no doubt that pets are an important part of your life.

Two large dogs wearing bowties. Next Avenue, budgeting for your pet,
Jameson (left) and Hennessy  |  Credit: Lance Ladue

Many owners say their animal companions are priceless, but they do come at a cost: $50 billion for food and treats alone in 2021.

No doubt pets are popular. In the U.S., 90.5 million households — close to 70% of the total — have at least one. Many owners say their animal companions are priceless, but they do come at a cost: $50 billion for food and treats alone in 2021; $123.6 billion after adding veterinary bills, crates and pet services such as grooming, dog walkers and pet sitters.

On average, the cost to a family is between $700 to $1,200 per year depending on the size of the animal — the bigger the animal, the bigger the bills.

With inflation accelerating, it is important to your own financial well-being to pay closer attention to pet expenses. Trimming some spending is possible while maintaining your pet's health and quality of life.

9 Ways to Rein In Your Pet Budget

1. Start a local pet-sitting exchange. Professional pet sitters hate the idea, but you can save a lot of money by organizing some friends and neighbors to take turns caring for one another's pets when their owners are away from home. Track how much time each member contributes to make sure work is fairly shared.

2. Ditch doggy day care. Take your dog for a run at a local dog park before you leave for work. When dogs get enough exercise and companionship, they are better off while you are at the office or running errands — and you can save the cost of care. Gone for the day? Have someone from the pet exchange come over and let them out even if just for a short walk or visit to your yard. No long walk needed.

3. Don't forget to brush. Most pets need their teeth cleaned as much as human do. This process helps clean their mouths and prevent gum disease and tooth decay. Dental chews work but you will still need to brush their teeth regularly. In addition, there are all sorts of mouth sprays available for your cat and dog. Taking the time to care properly for their teeth will prevent larger vet bills. Besides, who wants a pet with bad breath?

4. Buy in bulk. Cut the cost of store-bought food by purchasing in bulk. Storing food is easy. Don't have the room? Consider splitting a purchase with another pet owner.

5. Make their food. A friend of mine would cook a healthy concoction for her dog once a week. This not only cost less, but it also meant fewer trips to the pet store for factory-made food. Before checking out the recipes on-line, learn the importance of a balanced diet.

6. Create a personalized pet bed. Time for a new pet bed? Before you go out shopping, consider making one with what you have handy. Cover old pillows with flannel or one of your favorite old shirts. Your pet would be comforted by your scent and be more restful, to boot. Recycled bedding is more ecologically sound as well.

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7. Seek health service discounts. Veterinarian schools are typically cheaper than vet clinics and animal hospitals. While students perform procedures, they are supervised by an experienced vet. To find a veterinary college near you, the American Veterinary Medical Association has an online directory of accredited institutions. Alternatively, you could consider joining a veterinarian discount program. The largest one, Pet Assure, gets members 25% discounts from participating vets in exchange for a monthly fee.

8. Insure your pet. Almost 2.5% of the 160 million pets in the U.S. are covered by pet health insurance, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. Dogs account for 81.7% of insured pets; cats are second, at 18.3%. Average annual premiums range from $350 for cats to just under $600 for dogs. Like human health insurance, pet plans do not cover all expenses, so understand the plan you purchase.

Planning for inevitabilities, such as veterinarian bills, can help reduce financial anxiety.

9. Create a pet account. Planning for inevitabilities, such as veterinarian bills, can help reduce financial anxiety. Squirreling away some of the savings from tips shared above is one way to prepare for an emergency — and the vet bill that follows. In the heat of the moment, folks may decide to pay whatever it takes to keep a pet alive. But unless they have the money, they could be left short in other critical areas. A financial set aside will provide some perspective and help prevent emotions getting the best of you and your wallet.

Each year, about 6.3 million pets enter shelters, and about 920,000 shelter animals are euthanized. The number of deaths has declined from approximately 2.6 million in 2011, which the ASPCA attributes to more adoptions and more success in returning strays to their owners.

However, research suggests people adopt fewer shelter animals during an economic slump, and fewer welcome back strays — especially if the strays are old or in need of expensive veterinary care.

With that in mind, these uncertain economic times — with the stock market almost 30% below its recent peak and inflation near 40-year highs — warrant close attention to your financial choices.

Whether mammal, bird or reptile, an animal companion that brings you joy is important. Understanding the cost of keeping a pet and keeping its cost under control will help your pet's future — and yours.

Christine D. Moriarty
Christine D. Moriarty 



Christine D. Moriarty, CFP, has over twenty-five years of experience coaching individuals, couples and business owners on their finances.  Her focus has been the intersection of emotions, behavior and money. She is living her dream in Vermont and delights in sitting down with a cup of Irish tea and a good book. Find more at Moneypeace.
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