I love animals, and I’d probably have an entire houseful of them if I weren’t allergic. As it is, we have a sweet little cat and a big ole dog that I adore despite the allergies.
That said, I’ve got to say this: pets and debt don’t mix.
If you already have pets…
Now I’m not saying you should find a new home for your pets if you’ve got debt. Far from it. But I am saying that you’ve set yourself a hard row to hoe should any of your pets get sick while you’re in debt or living paycheck to paycheck.
So if you have pets right now, it’s time to plan. What will you do if they become sick and require care or tests to figure out what’s wrong? (Our last vet visit set us back $491.)
Plan ahead for pet emergencies
Just like with health care for people, you need a solution in place that doesn’t require debt or hard choices. That’s likely to be a good pet insurance plan and/or a savings account set aside for pet care. Send money to that savings account regularly so it’s there when you need it.
In other words, prepare for emergencies by making their emergency care a part of your regular monthly budget. And of course, keep plugging away at your debt snowball. Because when you’re out of debt, you’ll find it a whole lot easier to handle those types of expenses.
Don’t bury your head in the sand and hope that you won’t encounter these kind of expenses. Hope is not a plan. An emergency fund and a realistic look at the possible expenses — plus finding a way to cover them with cash — is.
Plan out now what you’ll do if your pet becomes sick or injured and requires care. Remember that they often need expensive tests to figure out what’s wrong too. Call around for average pricing on things like x-rays and blood panels from emergency clinics now. That way you’ll know which one to go to and have an idea of what your starting costs may be.
If your pet is very ill, and the vet want to run expensive diagnostic tests, ask this next question first. Can they actually do anything for your pet if they do turn out to have whatever is suspected? More than once I’ve had a vet answer “no” to that question. I don’t need to pay $600 more to find out exactly what my pet’s about to die from.
If don’t already have a pet
If you’re in debt and thinking of getting a pet, my advice is: don’t. Yes, I know you love animals, or your child does. Or you have a big heart and that puppy or kitten is adorable and you want to rescue it, but…don’t. Pets and debt don’t mix, and this is your chance to avoid that. Volunteer at a rescue instead, or foster if you aren’t responsible for the associated costs.
Remember that pets aren’t cheap. Sure, their food might “only” cost $20-$50 a month, per pet, but caring for a pet goes way beyond feeding them. You’ve got licenses, shots, heartworm medication, flea & tick prevention, teeth cleaning, treats, toys, boarding/pet sitters/doggie daycare, supplies, and extraordinary vet bills over the course of their entire life to consider too. Plus expensive specialized food if they turn out to need that.
Just this year alone, we’ve already spent over $1400 on pet care — and that’s almost entirely food, vet bills, and licenses. (And it doesn’t count the allergy pills we buy regularly at Costco for our dog, since we consider that part of our grocery budget.)
Keep in mind too, that some kinds of animals are more likely to require vet care than others. Floppy eared dogs are prone to ear infections. Wrinkly-skinned dogs are prone to skin infections. And many dog breeds have well-known associated risks that are especially likely if you don’t buy from a reputable breeder. And if you have a cat and don’t keep it in the house, it’s prone to being hit by a car or attacked by another animal.
The best thing to do regarding pets and debt is to get out of debt first.
Get out of debt and get your money in order first. Then you’ll be able to open your home to a pet without stress, or possibly even risking their lives because you can’t afford their care. Meanwhile, consider getting your pet fix by walking dogs or pet sitting instead. As a bonus, you could earn money to put toward your debt in the process.