Anyone who owns a pet will know how beloved these animals come to be. They occupy a huge place in your life, and you would do almost anything in your power to keep them happy, healthy and alive. (For a better idea of the cost involved with owning a pet, read The Economics Of Pet Ownership.)
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
However, owning pets can be an expensive undertaking, and while there is no doubt that they are wonderful companions, they can play havoc with bank balances and savings.
According to the 2011-2012 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 62% of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 72.9 millions homes. For 2011, it estimated that a staggering $50.84 billion will be spent on our pets. Food is one of the greatest expenses, but visits to the veterinarian are also pricey, and can be an unexpected and essential expenditure.
However, you don't have to be rich to own a pet, and there are ways to make savvy financial decisions without compromising the quality of pet care that you're providing your animal. (For more helpful tips on personal budgeting check out Debunking 10 Budget Myths.)
To save yourself money right from the outset, you should seriously consider adopting your new pet from the pound. Firstly this will be give you a warm glow from giving an animal a much needed home. And secondly, this makes sound financial sense. Pets from animal shelters cost substantially less money than pure-bred animals, and you will find they have often already been spayed/neutered and have received their shots - thus saving you these expenses. A pedigree animal will not only cost more up front than one of less certain heritage, it could be more expensive to care for in the long term if it's a breed that is prone to ill health.
Check Out the Breed
If you are set on owning a purebred animal, then do plenty of research into the breed. Be sure to know if they have specific health conditions or behavioral issues. For example, if the breed you want is going to chew everything in sight, then you will know to dog-proof your home and invest in training at the start.
Consider if the breed you're interested in needs regular grooming. How regularly does this need doing and what might this cost? These costs could certainly mount up over the period of several years. Be certain to think of these issues before it is too late. (Making decisions is an important part of our lies, to help you make decision on your portfolio check out Asset Allocation: One Decision To Rule Them All.)
Shop Around Local Vets
One of the biggest costs to pet-owners is the vet bill, so ensure that you are not caught when an emergency strikes. Shop around three or four local vets, and inquire about their costs. What are the examination fees? Are these charged for every consultation, and what is the cost of overnight stays for your pet? This way, if the worst does happen and you need an emergency appointment, you will know which are the most reasonably priced vets in your area.
Spay and Neuter Your Pet for Less
Make sure you don't end up with more mouths to feed by taking steps to prevent your animal reproducing. The Humane Society or your local branch of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal may run cheaper programs than the vets. Some of these services are only available to those on low incomes, but others can be accessed by anyone. (To help you shop around, read 12 Ways To Shop Smarter.)
Prevention Is Cheaper than Cure
The most efficient way to avoid unwanted disease and the associated costs is prevention. Having your pet vaccinated, spayed, neutered and getting their teeth cleaned will prevent a host of health problems down the road.
Focusing on diet and exercise will also minimize the chance of illness. Ask the vet for dietary recommendations and ensure that your pet gets enough exercise on a regular basis.
Do You Need Pet Insurance?
Many people purchase pet insurance policies, which can cost in excess of $500 a year. While this can offer peace of mind against excessive vet bills, it could be money wasted. If your pet's breed or a history of illness has convinced you that you need to buy cover, shop around before committing and be certain that you know what exactly your policy covers. Some policies carry an excess charge and have maximum amounts that will be paid for particular procedures. Other policies require you to take your pet to approved veterinarians, and will not cover older pets or certain breeds - so be sure to ask these questions at the outset.
An alternative option is to start a pet fund with the money you would have otherwise spent on insurance. By stashing away $400 or $500 each year, by the time a few years have passed, you will have sufficient savings to pay for veterinary bills, and you will only have to spend this sum if there is a problem. (For more on pet insurance, see Protect Your Kids And Pets With Custom Insurance.)
The Bottom Line
Pets can be extremely expensive, even after the initial price tag, so it's important to know what you're getting into before you bring a pet home. By using the tips above, you can cut some of the costs and have an adorable and affordable addition to the family.