Financial Planning for the Responsible Pet Owner

There’s so much advice that you could give a new pet owner.  What kind of diet to feed, how to crate train, proper enrichment and the list goes on and on.  One of the things that I wish could be conveyed completely is the financial responsibility that a new pet owner needs to be thinking about when they get this pet.

Most of the problems that I feel like I run into are from people who are sent into a tailspin when something happens with their pet and they aren’t able to pay for it.  It’s almost like they never thought anything at all would happen and are completely taken off-guard when it does. I won’t get into the debate how much money you should spend on your pet.  That is a conversation a mile wide.  I can’t even give you actual monetary figures since it will vary depending upon where you live and what your personal budget is.

The way I want to organize it, is to orient this like I am talking to a new pet owner for the first time.  Established pet owners can definitely learn a thing or two since I will be talking about financial planning through the entire life of the pet 😉 – I just want to be thorough and encompass everything. Unfortunately, there aren’t great tools out there.  The pet ownership calculators that I’ve found have some gross errors and may lead to misconceptions with pet ownership.  A lot of it is going to come down to how self-motivated the pet owner is to be responsible.

Anything can happen...

Anything can happen…

Part I – The essentials

The easy part is planning for a new pet.  Most of the “extras” you will need can be priced at pet stores or your veterinarian’s office.  These things include bowls, carrier/crate/cage, collar/leash, bedding and toys.  Before spending money on a high quality diet, I would give your veterinarian a call, explain that you are thinking of getting <puppy/kitten/bird/small mammal/ferret>, and ask what diet they recommend.

If you have questions over the integrity of the diet, the ingredients or why they recommend that, speak up!  Google is not your friend here unless you have some reputable direction to lead you first.  There’s so much information on the ‘net about diet that the validity of the sources can make things confusing.  Also, don’t speak to the employees at the pet stores.  Most of them don’t have the training for nutrition that is necessary to make a valid recommendation.  You can also get diet pricing when you call your vet.

While you are calling the veterinarian, you can also get an estimate of what the initial cost of what the first visit (or series of visits) will be.  Try to get pricing on the whole set, since puppies/kittens/ferrets need boosters.  Most of the time if you explain to them that you are trying to plan for how much you will need for this initial start-up they will be more than happy to help you.  This initial first visit to the veterinarian will extend to birds/reptiles/small mammals and ferrets.  These visits are gold mine since they will often go over with you important essentials of your particular pet’s ownership.  Please make sure that if you get a pet that is the non-traditional dog/cat that you make sure your veterinarian has experience seeing these different kinds of species.  As much as I know large pet stores are trying to help, I’ve found many gross errors in the information they provide to pet owners.

from beardeddragon.org

from beardeddragon.org

Done, right?  You’ve got your new pet established and all is well. NOT

Part II – Elbow Grease 

This is where a lot of pet owners are led astray.  They have this wonderful new pet and they think they can just cruise through the rest of the pet’s life, taking things as they come.

To make it easy on yourself, while you are at the veterinary visit, take with you a list of ‘Planning for the Future’ questions:

– How much does a typical annual visit cost?

– How much does 6 months/year of heartworm prevention for my pet cost at their adult weight?

– Price large bags of food (this is often more economical than smaller bags)

– Price spay/neuter costs and costs for dental cleanings (adult dogs usually need a dental once per year or once every 18 months depending upon the breed and your level of care at home)

It is the job of the veterinary professional to recommend the very best care.  This is often why you might be presented with an estimate or a treatment cost that has a lot of individual pieces.  They should be able to explain each individual line item as it pertains to your pet.  Since most people are on a budget, these estimates and figures can look overwhelming.  Try to refrain from asking the veterinary professional what you “don’t have to do,” or what you can “leave off.”  This puts them in the awkward position of trying to make recommendations for your pet based on your budget and not what is medically necessary.

Don’t misread this!  I’m not saying that you can’t be on a budget or that you must get all services every time, all the time. I’m saying to be smart about it.  If you are wanting to pick and choose what you do with your pet’s health care, that’s fine.  Have them explain the service in relation to the risk factors of your pet.  My example is an intestinal parasite screen.  There are a lot of people that feel this is unnecessary.  If someone wants to decline it or wants to know why it is important, I tell them that some parasites can be transmitted to people.  Even if the parasite screen isn’t 100% accurate, we like to do them so that it is an added layer of protection for the pet.  If you overlap enough layers of protection, you increase the chances of prevention.  Semi-annual parasite screens, paired with a monthly de-wormer (in your pet’s heartworm/flea prevention) that helps protect against certain kinds (not all) of popular parasites, greatly decrease the chances of your pet contracting one.  Now, if your pet never sees the light of day (we’re still talking dog here) – that further decreases (does not completely eliminate) the chances of them contracting a parasite.

If you are comfortable with all of this information and the risk factor that your pet has, then by all means, decline the intestinal parasite screen. Ask questions!  If you don’t understand why something is important, make them explain it to you again (that’s what we’re there for!) Also don’t be afraid to break things up.  If you can only afford one vaccine this month and want to do another next month (providing you aren’t going outside of the due dates), say so.  This is a great way to work within a budgeting situation. Gold Nuggets: – Some heartworm/flea preventatives have rebates if you purchase them by the box

Part III – In it for the Long Haul

Now that you know approximately what your pet’s care will cost per year, you are ready to move on to the big E.  E as in emergency. No one wants to think about something traumatic happening to their pet.  But I’d bet you’d want to think even less of having to surrender or euthanize your pet because you can’t afford the medical bills.

Options

1. Separate saving’s account – is for the organized, controlled and responsible.  If you are able to set aside money into a saving’s account per month to help save up for an emergency, props to you.  This is also a great method if you don’t have spectacular credit. With this method you don’t have to worry about the interest rates of credit cards, the deductibles of insurance policies or the fine print of payment plans.  Pick an amount (you can call around and do research at emergency clinics or your own veterinarian for this) and stick to it.  This won’t work if you dip into it for that new pair of shoes, new game or trip to Vegas.

2. Separate credit card – is great for those that have a hard time saving money or don’t want to have separate savings for their pet.  Credit cards come with a limit, so that means that you have a somewhat established amount.  The downside is that once you crank the bill up, you are subject to interest rates.  If you can’t devote yourself to monthly payments to pay it off (if the time comes), don’t get it.  The point is to help you manage an emergency situation, not throw yourself into stress and uncontrollable debt if you have to use it.

3. Care Credit – is a credit card that works a little differently than the traditional one mentioned above.  There are several forms floating out there for other industries (think furniture purchases and engagement ring purchases- with promotional terms)  Care Credit is still a credit card.  They have promotional monthly payment plans.  Each place of business that accepts Care Credit  selects their own plans.  So, one vet clinic might only accept the 6 month plan, and another might accept the 6 or 18 month plan.  If you pay off the amount in the specified time period, there is no interest added.  Sounds great, right?  It is!  If you pay it off in a timely manner.  They don’t send you a bill breaking this down.  You have to look at your total due, and divide by how many months you have to pay it off on your own.  This is still a credit card.  It still is dictated by (the limit) and affects your personal credit.  I have personally found it very beneficial.

4. Pet Insurance – has many benefits.  I’ve known many people who use it and like it.  A lot of companies have emergency-only options so that you can only use it for this purpose.  Pet Insurance does not work like human insurance.  If there is an emergency, you will still need to come up with the money up front to pay the veterinary clinic.  A claim is filed and they will reimburse you for what they cover.  Please read all of the fine print and verbally speak with someone regarding what they don’t cover and any restrictions.  Have them walk you through a scenario so that you can get an idea of what to expect.  Some good companies are Trupanion and VPI Pet Insurance. I highly recommend having some sort of plan in place for an emergency.  Not every pet will need an emergency visit.  Personally, I don’t like to plan on something like that.  Great pet owners run into emergencies to.  They aren’t just for those that are irresponsible with their pet care.  Cancer, for example, is a big pet emergency that no one can anticipate.

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I’ve tried to make this guide vague on purpose.  Financial planning only works as far as you are willing to take it.  Everyone is on a budget now and being smart about your money will ensure that you are able to provide the level of care that your pet deserves.

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