How To: Pets and Your Budget

Having a pet can be a really special experience for the whole family. Pets become best friends and family and they depend on us to care for them, despite where our finances might sit this week. That’s why I believe it’s so important to first and foremost make sure you can actually afford an animal before you take one in and, carefully plan for the monthly and yearly costs associated with the life of your pet. You don’t want to get to that point where that beloved cat, dog, snake, or gerbil has to be given away because you can no longer afford to take care of its basic needs.

To do so, I’ve created a printable worksheet for you to use to determine if getting an animal is the right choice for you. Already have one? Not to worry! This process will help you to effectively budget for all of the needs of your furry friend in the future. Find the FREE Printable HERE.

Pet Start-Up Costs

If you are just in the consideration phase of getting a pet, it’s important to start by determining how much that animal is going to cost you up front. Some of the expenses to consider include:

  • Cost of the pet itself
  • Habitat (for snakes, lizards, gerbils, fish, etc.)
  • Litter Box
  • Dog Bed
  • Dog Training
  • Toys
  • Spay/Neuter

Take a few moments to search Amazon or Google for the average price of these items. Additionally, when it comes to spay and neuter of dogs and cats or any initial shots your animal might need, call around for some quotes from veterinarians in your area.

Long-Term Feasibility

Of course, once you have decided to bring that special animal into your home, it’s important to make sure that the monthly and yearly costs will remain feasible in your budget. If you think you will just be able to absorb those costs in with your own grocery budget or take Veterinarian bills out of your emergency fund, I’d like you to think again. While it might work for a while, eventually you will find yourself scrambling for money to cover it all and might even start to resent your cat for needing to eat.

Monthly Cost

When we got our cat, Oscar, eleven years ago, we lumped his food in with our grocery budget because it was easy to get all of it at the grocery store at one time. What we didn’t think about in doing this was that some months he wouldn’t need food until the end of the month when, if we hadn’t planned carefully, there was no more money left in our grocery budget. Each time this happened (and it did happen a lot), we would find ourselves frustrated and trying to pull money from other areas of the budget to make sure he’d be fed. It was a terrible system, and yet we hung onto it for a long time.

Fast forward two years and we found out that Oscar had an autoimmune issue that required him to have special food. Not only was the food harder to come by, but it was more expensive. It became clear that lumping his food in with ours was either going to require us to plan more carefully with our food budget, or we would need a line item just for cat expenses.

Trust me, friend, breaking it out into a separate line item in our budget was the best decision we could have made. Now, each and every month, I put the exact amount we need for cat food into the cat “fund” and no matter when we need it, the money is available.

Be Specific

How much money do you need for the monthly expenses of your pet? If you already have a pet in your home, then take a careful look at the last few months’ expenses for your animal and plug that amount into the worksheet in the respective sections.

If you haven’t taken the leap with your dream animal just yet, then take a look through your local pet store for average food prices, and consider treats, litter, nail clipping, and anything else that might need to be done on a monthly basis. Not sure what to include? Ask someone else you know that has a dog or a customer service representative at the pet store itself.

Yearly Costs

In addition to the typical monthly cost, there will also be yearly costs involved with taking on a pet. For example, dogs and cats are supposed to be seen by a veterinarian at least once per year for a general checkup and to have their shots updated. These costs will obviously vary due to your location and the availability of veterinarians in your area, so it might be a smart idea to call around and get an average.

Personally, we’ve lived in five different cities with Oscar and the average visit for him (he’s really ornery), has ranged from $60 to $400 and has rarely involved any major procedure. Knowing that I try to make sure I’m budgeting about $400 per year for his veterinarian care, in addition to the monthly amount we pay for his prescription.

Also, depending on where you live and whether your animal is inside or out, you may have other expenses including flea and tick medications or the cost of replacing a litter box that’s become smelly. Cat trees and toys that you don’t purchase monthly should also be included in this category.

Special Instances

There are also times throughout a pet’s life when some special costs might arise. It could be as simple as you needing to hire a dog walker because you work late nights or boarding your animal while you take that trip to Detroit you’ve always dreamed about. Of course, these costs will be different for each individual so, whatever it is, make sure to include that cost in your budget as well.

Calculating the Cost

Much like any line item in your budget, it’s time to determine what the total amount is that you will be putting into your “pet fund” each month so that you don’t have to rely on your credit card or emergency fund to cover the basic costs.

To do so, go ahead and add up each and every monthly cost that you came up with. In our case, I know that Oscar’s cat food and prescription will cost us, on average, about $50 per month.

Next, add up the total yearly expenses and divide that number by 12 (the months of the year). In our case, I put aside $400 for Oscar for the vet, as well as about $50 for a new litter box, cat tree, and toys. (Turns out my cats are just as entertained by a piece of string as they are by an expensive toy.) After reaching that yearly total of $450, I simply divide it by the 12 months to reach a more reasonable monthly amount of $37.50.

Finally, when I add those monthly costs of $50 to the yearly costs (broken down into monthly) of $37.50, I know that I need to put $87.50 in my fund for Oscar each month and can add that as a line item to my budget.

Sticker Shock

Now, before you start to panic about how much money that is, I’d just like to remind you that I’ve used the high end of what it has cost me in the past to take Oscar to the vet. It doesn’t mean that I spend this amount each and every year, although, sometimes I do, it helps me to keep from tapping into our emergency fund or using a credit card if we do have a more expensive vet visit.

Of course, if you are calculating the expense that an animal involves and recognize that there is no way that you’d be able to fit it into your budget each and every month, then it’s probably a good idea to put off bringing an animal into your home at this time. It doesn’t have to be a forever decision but, truly, you don’t want to get to the point where you have to choose between feeding your family and paying for your necessities OR feeding the cat. It’s not fair to you or to the animal.

Update the Budget

Whether you’ve decided to take in a new animal or simply add that line item for your existing pets, make sure to take the time now to readjust your budget, accounting for any additional expense you might have considered. If you need help to do so, you can find my post on that very subject HERE and, when finished, get back to playing with your new family member.

Have an awesome day!

Tip: Don’t forget to grab my FREE Pet Budget Template. It’ll help you get (and stay) on track with your budget, so you never have to worry about your furry new friend going hungry.