Some comments that My Life ROI made on my last Thoughtful Thursday post got me thinking about pet ownership. ROI has argued that owning a dog has many financial benefits, including health advantages, socialization, and security. (Although, as I noted in my response to his post, a yappy little poodle is unlikely to scare off any potential robbers.) On the other hand, Free Money Finance, for one, has been decidedly negative about pet ownership, noting the yearly and one-time costs associated with owning a pet.
My view? I think both views, while valid, miss the point. The main benefits of pet ownership are psychological; if you are someone who loves pets, there’s little chance you’ll be satisfied without owning a pet. It’s a quality of life issue, first and foremost. You need to look at your interests, and if owning a pet is something you want in life, you will just need to integrate pet-ownership into your other household expenses. Going broke in order to own a dog won’t be good for either of you. (And if you don’t have your finances properly in order, you might find yourself facing some hard choices if your financial situation worsens.)
But as with most things in life, it’s not an all or nothing proposition; if you treat pet ownership like any other ongoing expense (similar to car ownership), plan ahead, and budget for your cuddly puppy or adorable kitty (or other non-exotic pet), you’ll be able to handle anything that owning a pet can throw at you. Some things to consider:
1) Know the costs of your pet before you adopt it. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) lists the costs of owning several common pets. There are ways to cut down on some of the expenses (for example, by getting the equipment you need to care for them second-hand), but some expenses like food are inevitable. If you can’t afford the costs of the pet, you need to (a) cut other household expenses, (b) find ways to earn more income, or (c) consider a cheaper pet (or even no pet, at least until your finances improve).
2) Set money aside for emergencies. Even if you know how much your pet will cost each year on average, there can be problems and unexpected events that exceed the normal pet budget. Having an ample emergency fund, enough to cover expenses for you, your family, AND you pet, is invaluable. (And can help you avoid situations where you have to put your pet down because you can’t afford to care for him or her.)
3) Be aware of your life situation, and have a back up plan. Life happens, as we know; you need to know how likely it is that you will be unable to care for your pet through its whole life. If you have a puppy, it’s possible that it will live another fifteen years, or longer; for cats, the maximum life is even longer. Are you going to be able and willing to care for your pet more than a decade from now?
If not, or if you are not sure what the future will hold that far in advance, you need to have a back up plan for your pets. You could arrange for a relative to take your pet or make sure that your local shelter will be able to care for your animal if you cannot do so yourself. As with any life-altering change, adopting an animal should not be undertaken lightly; you need to provide for your pet should something happen.
4) Adopt an older pet. There are multiple benefits to having an older pet. You usually find pets that are well trained, friendly, and have all their shots, cutting down on out-of-pocket expenses to get them ready to live with you. You can also get the mental boost of helping organizations like the Humane Society and ASPCA to adopt animals that might be put down or spend the rest of their life in a kennel. Older animals are also less likely to be hyperactive, which can be an advantage if you are a more sedate person by nature.
Follow these suggestions, and you should be able to integrate owning a pet into your financial plans without a problem.