Pets are a wonderful addition to a happy family. They can bring a sense of joy, peace, and contentment to any household, from single, career-driven individuals to larger families.
Pet ownership has increased significantly in recent decades. In 1988, 56% of U.S. households owned a pet. Now, in 2023, 66% of homeowners do so.
If you’re considering joining the over 86 million Americans who have a pet, it’s important to lay the groundwork first, especially when it comes to finances. Things like food, training, and other pet supplies can be expensive in both the short and long term.
Here are some effective budgeting strategies for families considering bringing a new pet — whether four-legged, winged, scaled, or flippered — into their home.
How Expensive Is a New Pet?
Before exploring strategies to budget for family pet costs, let’s address a key question: how much does it cost to pay for a pet in the first place?
Unsurprisingly, the answer to that question varies depending on your place, situation, and the kind and number of pets that you own. For instance, upkeep on a shorthair cat can cost as little as $20 a month, whereas similar care for a boa constrictor can creep north of the $350 mark.
The Anti-Cruelty Society offers a fairly comprehensive list of annual first-year costs associated with different kinds of pets. Fish, for example, come in at roughly $227 per year for yearly care, whereas a large dog can run the bill up to over $2,000.
Even then, it’s important to keep variable factors in mind. For example, the ACS’s yearly figures for a large dog include $408 for long hair grooming, which is only a factor for certain breeds.
In other words, there are many costs to consider here. Nevertheless, getting a ballpark idea of the answer is possible by asking yourself a few key questions.
Cost Questions to Ask Yourself When Getting a New Pet
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the potential costs of getting a pet, don’t panic. Understanding the number of ways a pet can cost you money is an important first step in making a wise financial decision.
From there, you can begin to narrow the window and understand how much the specific pet you’re interested in will cost. Here are three questions you can ask yourself to get an idea of what kind of expenses they’ll generate:
What Are the Upfront Costs Involved?
This is ground zero for family pet budgeting. What will it cost for you to get your pet in the first place? This will require some research, as there are likely multiple options to consider.
Initial adoption costs are the obvious starting point. For instance, if you adopt a dog from a shelter, this can be as low as $50. If you opt to work with a breeder, that number can quickly jump into the thousands.
Once you’ve chosen your pup, you need to consider other first-time expenses. First-time vet visits, spaying and neutering, buying leashes, collars, grooming tools, toys — these are all factors that can add up.
What Ongoing Expenses Can You Expect?
This is the area that can often catch owners by surprise. Everyone knows that there are consistent costs that come with a pet. But these include more than picking up a bag of kibble at the corner store once in a while.
Most pet owners are seriously invested in taking care of their four-legged friends. They want to invest in their happiness and livelihood, and that takes time and cash. Quality food subscriptions, treats, bedding, crates, gear, vet check-ups, pet health insurance, dog sitting — there are many expenses that never go away. Get these on your radar early.
What Common Yet Unexpected Bills Could Creep Up?
Finally, what unexpected bills could be a factor here? An emergency trip to the vet or surgery due to an accident are very real possibilities with most pets.
Do you plan on doing things like traveling with your pet? If so, you’ll probably need special traveling equipment, such as a plane-friendly dog crate. If you’re like a select group of ultra-wealthy owners, you might even go so far as to fly your pet around on a private jet. While some possibilities are more likely than others, it’s worth looking into some of the more common unexpected costs associated with the kind of pet you’re considering.
Paying for the expenses associated with your new animal friend is a long-term commitment. It requires significant financial resources both in the present as well as in the future. That’s why you don’t just want to save up for your initial costs. You want to budget for the long-term, too.
Budgeting Tips for Pet Owners
Okay, so you’ve identified the costs that come with the pet you want. Now, how do you budget for them? Many of these expenses are potential concerns. In other words, you won’t know what they cost until they take place.
Fortunately, there are ways you can get your pet costs under control even if you don’t have every price point worked out. Here are a few budgeting tips to create a predictable rhythm for your pet care costs.
Quantify Consistent Costs
You’ve already considered the approximate recurring costs that come with your pet. Now, it’s time to codify that data.
Let’s use dog food as an example. In the past, buying a bag of kibble was an easy recurring expense. However, nowadays, many dog owners are increasingly recognizing that this type of food may not be optimal for a dog’s well-being. As an alternative, they are opting to feed their dogs minimally processed foods.
While this is a great alternative for their canines, it can introduce inconsistencies in budgeting. Signing up for a dog food delivery service can restore a sense of predictability to feeding a dog. Brands like Nom Nom tailor portions to each dog and ship their gently cooked dog food out at a consistent price.
This is just one example. Putting things like grooming and doggy daycare on auto-pilot can also make it much easier to understand how much you need in the budget each month. All you need to do is factor it in as a recurring expense in your normal budgeting activities.
Save for Expenses That Can Sneak Up On You
Once you’ve integrated your predictable things into your budget, it’s time to think of those pesky unexpected costs. These come from two places.
To begin, you have to budget for the costs associated with getting your family pet in the first place. Once you have your new friend on-site, you want to consider unexpected expenses that come from things like emergency vet visits, switching toys, swapping worn-out bedding, training costs, and even replacing personal items destroyed from chewing, scratching, and similar activities.
While there’s no way of knowing the specifics here, setting aside at least some savings is important. Use your research on your specific kind of animal to get a ballpark range of how much it might cost if an unexpected event comes up every few months. A vet visit might average $200. A new bed could be $100. A training class could be several hundred dollars.
Once you have a rough idea of the potential costs, divide it by 12 and start saving to offset these expenses. You don’t have to be aggressive here. Instead, save what you can with the mindset that it will at least help you manage bills when they do pop up from time to time.
Consider Pet Insurance
Finally, consider implementing pet insurance into the budget for your family pet. This is something that you can do on a case-by-case basis. In 2023, for instance, 51% of pet owners reported that they had cut back on pet insurance to manage the rising cost of living.
While it is an added perk rather than a necessity, pet insurance can help those who are concerned about animal-related expenses find greater peace of mind. Odie Pet Insurance points out that it increases the options you have available when considering treatment and makes it easier to budget for the costs that come with pet care.
If you can afford to work it into your weekly or monthly budget, pet insurance is a great way to create more predictability for your pet-related expenses.
Budgeting to Relax and Have Fun With Your Family Pet
Remember, budgeting isn’t going to magically predict every expense associated with your family pet. There will be unforeseen items that creep up on you. You might make an unexpected trip to the vet, or your pet insurance premium or dog food subscription might increase.
Your budget helps you reduce these financial pressures. It ensures that when something does come up, you aren’t scrambling to pay for it. Instead, you can use your savings to help offset the cost and then integrate any new predictable expenses into your budget moving forward.
This makes it possible to effectively pay for your pet, avoid unnecessary animal-related financial emergencies, and focus on enjoying every moment with this fun new member of your family.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Elina Fairytale; Pexels; Thank you.