How to Save Money While Welcoming a New Pet to Your Home

How to Save Money While Welcoming a New Pet to Your Home
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Whether it’s a dog, cat or another type of furry (or scaly) friend, many people have pets who are more than just animals — they’re part of the family.

Pets can be friends, they can offer nonjudgmental companionship when you’re feeling down and they can put a smile on your face with their unique characters. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even writes that a pet can decrease your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In other words, a pet is good for you.

When you’re ready to take care of a pet of your own, you may realize that it’s a lot of responsibility. They can also be quite expensive. Americans spent $66.75 billion on their pets in 2016 according to research from the American Pet Product Association, which estimates that number will rise to $69.36 billion in 2017. [LD1]

To provide the best care for a pet, you’ll want to be able to afford their needs, including the basics like food and healthcare. With this in mind, think carefully and review your budget before deciding to welcome an animal into your family.

Choose a pet that you can afford. While the initial cost of adopting or buying a pet is relatively small compared to the long-term expenses, the type of pet you choose will have a direct impact on the cost of care.

Admittedly, you might visit the pound and fall in love with a dog or cat. What can you do? The heart wants what the heart wants. Research is a must if you want to take cost-saving measures when choosing a pet, though. For example, some cat and dog breeds are more prone to health problems. Larger breeds may also be more expensive to care for, partially for the simple reason that they eat more food.

There may be other costs to plan for as well. Some insurance companies will charge higher premiums for renters or homeowners insurance, or deny coverage altogether if your dog’s breed has a history of biting or aggressive behavior and is on the insurer’s “bad dog” list.

If you’re taking in a dog, you should also consider the cost of training. Some pet stores and nonprofit animal services organizations offer basic classes for free. Otherwise, a series of classes can set you back several hundred dollars.

Lifespan is another consideration. Hamsters, gerbils and some types of fish may only live a couple of years. A pet turtle, on the other hand, could live several decades.

Keep your pet healthy and happy. Health care can be one of the most expensive aspects of pet ownership. As with humans, it’s often best to invest in preventative care rather than treat emergencies.

Follow your pet’s recommended vaccination schedule and treatments, spay or neuter cats and dogs and visit the vet at least once a year for a checkup. Finding and dealing with health problems early on isn’t only less expensive, you may be able to prevent serious problems and improve your pet’s quality of life.

Veterinarians may be able to recommend cost-saving options, such as generic rather than name-brand medications. Also consider comparison shopping before buying medicine, as the price for the same pill or treatment can vary greatly. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has a list of accredited websites that sell prescription pet medications. If your pet only needs a small dose, ask the vet if there are any samples available.

Some types of preventative care don’t require a visit to the vet, although you can still ask for recommendations and advice. For example, brushing your dog’s teeth (with toothpaste for pets) can help prevent teeth and gum problems. Cats and dogs alike can benefit from flea and tick treatments as well.

Consider pet insurance to cover emergencies. When a pet is part of the family, you’ll do anything to help him or her. You may want to have an insurance policy to help cover emergencies that you might not be able to afford otherwise. Particularly if you have a high-risk breed, a pet that tends to escape or you live in an area with a lot of other animals that could be aggressive.

Before buying a policy, read up on how pet insurance works. There can be some important differences between pet and human policies, including a lack of coverage for pre-existing conditions and annual or lifetime limitations.

Save money on nutritious food. Once you’ve brought a pet home, it’s your responsibility to provide for them. In part, this means ensuring their food is giving them the nutrients that they need. You can ask your vet for pet food recommendations (and free samples) based on the pet’s type and age. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has general nutrition tips for dogs and cats, including age-based diet recommendations.

Also, ask your veterinarian about recommended feeding amounts and schedules. Overfeeding your pet isn’t just bad for your wallet, it can lead to obesity and cause serious health risks.

Once you’ve found a food that you and your pet likes, you may be able to get a discount (and avoid the hassle of carrying the bag home) by signing up for a subscription delivery service online. If you don’t mind the workout, consider buying in bulk at a warehouse club.

Have a plan for when you’re unavailable. Another responsibility pet owners take on is making sure their pet has somewhere safe to stay while they’re at work or out of town. The least expensive option may be to find a neighbor or friend who also has a pet. You can offer to exchange free pet-sitting services when either one of you leave town.

If that’s not an option, look for a well-reviewed doggy daycare center or boarding service. You could try one of the several apps that connect you with someone who can visit your home to feed, walk or play with your pet. If you’re away for several days, the apps can also help you find someone who can spend the night so your pet will be looked after in the comfort of their own home.

Bottom line: Taking a pet into your home and caring for them can be a rewarding and wonderful experience. It can also be life changing. Review the potential immediate and long-term costs to help ensure that you’ll be able to provide for a pet once they join your family.

Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter:

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.

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