As a longtime pet lover, dog mom, and Rover sitter, it's safe to say that I adore animals. Throughout my debt-free journey, I've picked up tips and tricks on saving money while owning a furry companion. Put simply, pets are expensive. Which is why budget pet care is important for anyone not trying to keep up with the Joneses.
If you're considering adopting a pet, or if you're a seasoned pet-owner veteran, take a look at these tips.
They're pawsitively useful!
1. Don't Overdo It
I love animals more than I love humans the majority of the time. In a perfect world, I'd own a 10-acre farm in Colorado with 30 animals. Including a cow – which I have hypothetically named Mary Belle. The reality, though, is that I:
- Don't have that space
- Don't have that income
- Can't own 30 animals
- Am only one person who wouldn't be able to handle that many animals
- Likely won't have a cow named Mary Belle
- The travesty is real with that last bullet point
When you're an animal lover on a budget, you have to be realistic about how many pets you can afford AND how many pets you can give your time and energy to.
Animals are expensive. If you want to give your pets the best life, you have to care for them like they are your children. That means vet visits, healthy food, personal care, exercise, and an over-abundance of love.
If you have five animals shoved into a tiny apartment while you work 10 hours a day and are stretching your income as it is, you are not giving those animals a good life. Period.
The best way to save money on pets when you're on a tight budget is to have 1-2 pets only. Budget pet care doesn't mean cutting corners. It means providing amazing care to your pets without overpaying.
Take a good look at your situation. Ask yourself these questions:
- Can I afford the yearly average of $1,500 per pet?
- The average amount that American's spend on one pet per year is around $126 per month.
- How long am I away from home each day?
- If It's 6-8 hours a day, you need to factor in a dog walker
- Do I live in an apartment or house?
- This will be an essential factor purely due to square footage
- Do I have an emergency fund?
- If your pet ingests a pound of chocolate on a Saturday, do you have the cash on hand to pay for that emergency off-hours vet visit?
The number of pets you can responsibly and comfortably sustain will depend on those four questions.
If your budget only allows for 1-2 pets and you're craving more animal love, look into volunteering at your local humane society or no-kill shelter. They need the extra hands, and YOU need to satisfy your want for new puppy kisses.
Another alternative that I do is use Rover to make extra cash, but ALSO to get additional pets and animal cuddles.
2. Skip The Subscription Services
When I lived in Columbus, Ohio, I'd occasionally pass the BarkBox headquarters downtown. While I love this company, and others like it, they make it easy to justify spending more than you can afford on your dog.
Millennials are indeed spending more money than ever on their pets.
Due to crippling student loan debt, the climate crisis, the rising cost of living, and career priority over family obligations, most of us are having babies later in our lives.
Or we're opting out of child-rearing altogether. That's what I'm doing.
When you consider these things, animals start to look more like fur-babies instead of merely pets.
That's why companies and entrepreneurs alike are jumping on this $72B industry.
With that perspective, spending money on your animals seems like something you shouldn't even have to think about doing.
I'm here to tell you that the BarkBox you order isn't going to make Spot love you any more than he already does.
You can just as easily go to the dollar store and pick up cheaper plush toys and dog treats.
TJ Maxx, Marshalls, thrift stores, or Facebook Market also has great deals on toys, supplies, and other pet-centric products.
If you have an aggressive chewer, it's more cost-effective to invest in one expensive Kong toy instead of going through multiple cheap toys. Here's Ted's favorite Kong toy as of late.
There is no need to spend between $264- $348 per year on this service if you cannot afford it.
3. Look For Deals On Food
With my subscription rant being said, there is ONE subscription for pets that I advocate for. That is food subscriptions.
With Chewy.com and Amazon.com, you can sign up for monthly food delivery and save money. A 5% savings may look minimal at first glance, but over time, that's a chunk of change!
If shopping online isn't your thing, I suggest going to your local pet shop. We really enjoy ours here in Longmont, Colorado, Chuck and Don's. Local shops may have membership deals or food subscription services, plus your money is going back into your local economy, which is always a positive!
Another quick tip on dog food is that you can typically save more money if you purchase in bulk! Upping the weight can up the savings.
One more thing on dog food and finding deals:
Please, please, please, don't cheap out on quality food for your animal. There are harmful fillers and chemicals in cheap dog food.
Do your research, ask your vet, and go with the food that will elongate your dog's life.
We use Nutri-Source Super Premium Pet Foods by KLN – Trout and Rice Formula. A 30lb bag is $50, and we purchase an average of 2 per month.
Clearly, budget pet care isn't simply about paying as little as possible for everything. It's about prioritizing the things that actually matter.
4. Groom At Home for Budget Pet Care
This is one of the biggest tips I have for any pet owner. Grooming at home has easily saved my family thousands of dollars.
I have two Australian Shepherds and a Pit Bull Mix; Grooming all three of them at retailers like PetCo or PetSmart would easily cost over $100 each month.
Instead, we specifically searched for apartments in our area that had ‘dog spas.' We invested in great nail clippers, double coat brushes, and breed appropriate shampoo.
Where we live has a HUGE tub for easy washing. The complex even offers treats so that you can distract your pet while you blow-dry them off with the large dryer provided.
I don't want to fool you, though. You can get your dog in your bathtub or with the hose and save just as much money.
You don't need a bougie apartment complex dog spa to save money!
- Put Away Money In A Pet Specific Sinking Fund
You'll never regret saving money for a rainy day, especially if your idiot dog gets stung by a bee in the mouth.
Life will happen to you, no matter how well you plan. That's why it's never a bad idea to send $20-30 per month to a designated pet sinking fund.
Unexpected vet bills have a way of draining a savings account very quickly – that's why having a financial cushion readily available is a good idea.
For the cost of a BarkBox subscription, you could save money for an emergency vet visit – which is way more useful than disposable toys!
Open a high yield savings account, and put an allotted amount in that account each month.
Don't touch it unless it's for the pets! Here's everything you need to know about High Yield Savings Accounts.
Pet Care Budget Bonus Tip: Pet Health Insurance
If you have a healthy, young pet, I recommend a sinking fund to finance any emergencies or health issues.
Do you have an older dog? I would consider investing in pet insurance.
I have heard horror stories about unfortunate circumstances where there are expensive pet emergencies, and owners can't afford the proper care. Care Credit, or the pet emergency credit card, is an option you will be asked about.
If you cannot open up a credit card and/or don't want to do that, your animal may not get the care they need.
I never want ANYONE to be in that situation. It's already a scary event without money being brought into the equation.
This is why I recommend SAVING money every month towards a pet fund OR getting pet insurance.
My friend, Amanda Williams over at Debt Free In Sunny CA, suggests Trupanion, a pet insurance service that covers unexpected medical expenses. This can save you thousands of dollars in the event of unexpected pet emergencies.
I believe the joy of owning a pet far outweighs the cost of owning them. My three dogs are a large part of my life and daily happiness.
If you're on a tight pet care budget, owning and loving a pet isn't unreachable. Be realistic about what you can do and be wholly prepared to care for them and their needs.
Remember: Your pets are a part of your life, but you are their entire life!
Vee Weir is a 27-year-old dog-lover living with her fiance in Longmont, Colorado. In 2015, Vee graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in Communication Studies. After her student loan payments hit, she realized she had to change her financial situation. From 2016-2018 she began Vee Frugal Fox, fell in love with the Instagram Debt-Free Community, and paid off $60k in debt. Now, Vee is the proud owner of Weir Digital Marketing and spends her time working with clients in the personal finance industry. When she’s not writing blog articles or tweeting money stats, she enjoys hiking and eating her way through CO.