Companionship, unconditional love, entertainment. These are just a few of the benefits pet owners worldwide enjoy because of the impenetrable bonds they share with their nonhuman counterparts. Pets provide their human companions with opportunities to exercise and socialize, medical and emotional support, respite from loneliness, boredom, or depression, and lots and lots of laughter. With the tremendous value they bring to our lives, pets are a priceless addition to our families, or so we thought. The true cost of pet ownership is often something we remain willfully blind to until we have already brought our furry, scaly, or slippery companions into our hearts and homes. Though they may be worth every penny, pet ownership is often an expensive commitment, but financial counselors can help their clients gain control of this area of their finances. Managing the true cost of pet ownership necessitates helping clients anticipate and prepare for the known and less obvious expenses. 

Pets are living beings. Like humans, they require basic necessities for survival, including food, water, and shelter. These common expenses vary depending on the type and size of the animal. A Great Dane may require premium dry dog food or a raw food diet as well as costly supplements that support the gut, heart, and joints. Alternatively, a Syrian hamster’s diet consists of small portions of various seeds, fruits, and vegetables at a significantly lower cost. Indeed, these are known expenses that rarely catch us off guard. We know that fish need an aquarium, birds require a cage, and chickens must have a coop. But what about the hidden costs associated with the homes of each of these pets? Not only do fish need an aquarium, but that aquarium performs optimally when it is equipped with a filtration system, an air pump, a kit to test the chemicals in the water, and a water heater. It may also need live coral rocks, lighting, plants, and gravel. As the accessory list grows, so too do the expenses. Optimizing a pet’s habitat is just one example of the expenses our clients often fail to consider. 

In addition to creating a safe space and providing delicious food to our furry pals, it is important to help clients understand that there are many other pet expenses to keep in mind. Pets often require accessories such as food bowls, water bowls, and toys. They may need safety equipment, including leashes, collars, and microchips, or cleaning and potty supplies. Training, boarding, and quarantining are services that may potentially exacerbate an already strained family budget. Likewise, monthly or yearly medications, annual checkups with the accompanying vaccination fees, and grooming services can be expensive financial obligations that are often overlooked. Pet owners sometimes consider modifications to their homes, such as adding a fence or installing cat doors. Furthermore, pet insurance is an additional expense that helps mitigate the financial stress of unexpected medical emergencies. Policies vary according to the type of animal, breed, age, and services offered. For example, dogs prone to breed-specific diseases and illnesses may be excluded from certain policies or may require additional coverage, and monthly premiums increase annually as the pet grows older. Additionally, renters usually pay pet deposits and a monthly pet fee, while homeowners must ensure that their pets, especially those that have the potential to cause significant damage or bodily harm to others, are covered under the liability limits of their homeowner’s insurance. Alternatively, these homeowners may need to add an endorsement or supplemental coverage to their policies to protect their assets. Purchasing a pet or paying the fees associated with rescuing an animal is only the very beginning of a lengthy financial commitment to these vulnerable creatures, and collaborating with clients to create a comprehensive list of expenses raises their awareness of what they should be prepared to spend. 

Financial counselors are tasked with helping clients understand that, like other major purchases, the cost of owning a pet is manageable. Encourage your clients to track their spending for thirty days by recording all of their daily transactions. They can then use the data to total up their monthly pet expenses so that they have an accurate figure to include in their spending plan. It may be helpful to emphasize the sense of control that gaining insight into their spending habits will provide, allowing them to proactively make changes that support their financial goals. Clients should also be encouraged to prepare for irregular expenses that are not captured in a monthly budget. These may include annual veterinarian exams, preventative medication, grooming appointments, or unexpected medical emergencies. Have your clients consider creating a pet sinking fund to ensure they have the money available for these less predictable expenses. With a small savings account dedicated to their pet, they are less likely to be ill-equipped for those uncommon expenses.

In addition to tracking their spending and creating a sinking fund, have your clients brainstorm other ways to stretch their dollars. Many pet stores offer loyalty programs to their customers. Pet owners are rewarded with points that are accumulated for future discounts after purchases are made from the retailer, or they are eligible to partake in promotions specifically for members of the loyalty club. Additionally, spending a little extra to buy items in bulk ultimately saves money in the long run. Medications such as flea and tick treatments, food, and potty supplies can be purchased at discounted rates when bought in large quantities. Local thrift stores and consignment shops, flea markets and garage sales, and online second-hand marketplaces offer additional ways to purchase pet necessities at a significantly lower cost. Likewise, low-cost clinics offering discounted spay and neutering procedures, microchipping, and other services provide another path to reducing expenses.

Along with taking advantage of discounts, clients should be urged to consider repurposing items and completing do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. These empowering options for clients are often far less expensive than the alternatives. For example, instead of buying high-priced pet-safe bone broth to add collagen to a dog’s meal, dog lovers can make their own by purchasing animal parts from a local butcher or farmer’s market and slow-cooking them in a crock pot at home. This gelatinous substance will not only add tons of nutrients and flavor to otherwise bland food, but it will also last longer as it can be divided into silicone molds and frozen for later use. Moreover, pet owners can DIY their pet’s toys and accessories to provide hours of fun and entertainment. A flirt pole is created with a portion of a PVC pipe, a bit of rope, and a toy tied to the end, and it performs as well as the store-bought versions, entertaining energetic pets for extended periods. Similarly, aquatic and reptilian habitats can be enhanced with items found in nature, and hammocks can be fashioned out of small pieces of fleece to keep rodents occupied for hours. Furthermore, pet owners can eliminate or significantly reduce grooming fees by trimming their nails, cleaning their ears, and cutting the fur of their pets at home. And repurposing items, such as using plastic grocery bags to collect waste or transforming a discarded crib mattress into a dog bed, also helps pet owners save money. Clients may eventually see that the cumulative impact of DIYing or repurposing pet products frees up funds for other financial goals. 

Likewise, explain to clients that preventative measures provide an additional layer of protection to personal budgets. Purchasing pet insurance is simultaneously an added expense and protection against uncertain financial loss from unexpected medical emergencies. Pet owners are typically responsible for paying monthly premiums, a deductible, and their portion of the coinsurance in exchange for coverage for expensive medical procedures. Other preventative measures include maintaining a clean and safe environment so that pets are not able to ingest dangerous items or injure themselves and ensuring that the animals are properly groomed. Regular teeth brushing for certain pets prevents decay and gum disease, which may otherwise require expensive corrective procedures. 

For many of us, pets are an integral part of our lives, but they are not free. Properly caring for them involves gaining a full understanding of the true cost of pet ownership and learning to effectively manage these expenses. Collaborating with clients to help them plan and explore creative ways to reduce spending ensures that their cuddly companions live healthy, happy lives.  


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