Keep pets from chewing a hole in your budget

By Samiha Khanna

Clockwise from top-left: Sean Stein Smith's two dogs and two cats; David Almonte's 8-year-old beagle

Whether they are furry, feathered, or scaly, pets are members of 54% of American households, according to a new Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the AICPA. Pet owners spend an average of $130 a month on their animals, the survey found.

But about one in four owners (23%) said the cost of caring for their pets was more than they anticipated. Seventy-six percent of the 526 pet owners surveyed said they would make financial sacrifices to afford veterinary treatment if their pet suffered a medical emergency.

While many respondents said they would sacrifice for pet-related expenses by cutting luxuries such as eating at restaurants (79%) or going on vacation (67%), others said they would cope in ways that could put their finances at risk: by trimming contributions to retirement savings (37%) or putting off paying credit card bills (27%). 

With research and budgeting, however, animal lovers can enjoy the companionship their pets offer without threatening their financial goals.

“I have had pets nearly all my life, and I can’t imagine a life without pets in it — they always put a smile on my face,” said Sean Stein Smith, CPA, a member of the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission and the owner of two dogs and two cats.

He recommends having a budget before adopting a new pet. “Do your homework, figure out what type of pet or breed works best for you, and start setting aside funds to cover the unexpected, but inevitable, costs that will crop up along the way,” he said.

It’s also important to consider costs throughout a pet’s lifetime, including how its medical needs will change as it grows older, Smith said.

Pet owners should also know that pet insurance plans do not necessarily cover all needs, he said.

“Pet insurance is a good item to think about, but before signing up for a policy, be sure to check the fine print to make sure that your insurance policy will actually cover some of the things most likely to happen, such as hip dysplasia for some large dog breeds,” Smith said.

Although you might assume small pets are less expensive to care for, do your research, he suggested: “Smaller pets can also be expensive — for example, tropical fish will require special tanks, food, and heating lamps.”

Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission member David Almonte, CPA, CGMA, has ever received is to “never bring your checkbook” when going to look at potential new pets. Otherwise, you could succumb to impulse and purchase or adopt an animal without giving it sufficient thought.

“Take 24 hours for any substantial decision in life,” said Almonte, whose family has an 8-year-old beagle.

As animals age, owners should plan how much they’d be willing to spend for an unexpected injury or illness, Almonte said. This step can help with the decision-making process if a pet does have a health crisis. At such times, emotions often run high.

Though pets can put a dent in a household’s budget, the rewards they bring make them worth it, Almonte said. “Having a pet is great,” he said. “And it is never more obvious than when coming home from a tough day at the office to have your dog (or pet) jump in your arms.”

Samiha Khanna is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, email editorial director Ken Tysiac.

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