Just kidding, pets rock. They’re wonderful and often hilarious little additions to our lives, but they’re not free. Owning a pet is a serious financial undertaking and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. While I’m obviously in favor, I’m a cautious and contingent proponent.

Any pet is going to impact your monthly savings rate and should be considered a budget line item. It’s a hard truth, but, you’re going to save less money with a pet in your home. If you’re determined  to move forward with pet ownership, be aware that not all pets are created equal when it comes to expenses.

I’ll speak mostly on dogs, since we only have Frugal Hound in our household, but many of these expenses and considerations hold true for other domestic critters. Check out Frugal Hound’s expense sheet here.

Make sure to read up before adopting!
Make sure to read up before adopting!

Do your research and identify a type of pet or dog breed that fits with your lifestyle. Consider:

  • Activity level: pets requiring a lot of exercise can be costly if you’re not home during the day to provide activities for them. Hiring a dog walker or enrolling your hound in doggie day care are expensive! Some animals (like lazy & snoozy Frugal Hound or every single cat that ever lived) are perfectly content to hang out home alone all day.
  • Grooming needs: some animals necessitate frequent haircuts, baths, massages, and other grooming-related actions. If you’re not equipped for in-home doggie spa days, be prepared to shell out serious cash at the groomer. Or, pick a creature with limited beauty requirements.
  • Dog breeds insurance companies deem risky: some homeowner/renter insurance policies include a list of dog breeds that aren’t covered. This is key to know–if your dog injures a person on your property, your renter’s/home owner’s insurance covers you unless your dog is an uninsurable breed. Consult your policy to see if any breeds are not covered.
  • Age of pet: adult pets are usually house broken, calmer versions of their baby selves. While puppies and kitties are undeniably the cutest things on earth, they are rambunctious and require training–can you do it yourself or will you have to pay for obedience classes? You know what I’m going to say about that: cha-ching!
  • Be honest about your lifestyle:
    • Do you own or rent your home?
      • If you’re renting, does your lease allow pets? Do you have to pay a deposit for a pet?
      • Even if your current lease permits pets, is it likely you’ll move during the pet’s lifetime? If so, consider the ease of finding future pet-friendly rentals.
      • Are your neighbors likely to complain about a pet? How about a dog that barks incessantly all day long (do your research on breed proclivities).
    • How busy are you?
      • If you work full-time, can you be home every day at a reasonable hour in order to walk the dog? If not, be prepared to pay someone to do this for you. Dogs don’t care that you have a late meeting. They will not hold it.
    • How often do you travel?
      • Will you need to pay for boarding/kennels every time you take a trip? Or do you have family and friends who could take care of your pet in your absence?

        Can you include a pet in your hobbies? Here's Mr. FW and Frugal Hound on the trail.
        Can you include a pet in your hobbies? Here’s Mr. FW and Frugal Hound on the trail.
    • What are your hobbies?
      • Are you gone every weekend to quilting fairs? Committed every evening with your junior arborist club? Can you take your pet with you or will you need a petsitter?
      • Consider a pet who can enjoy your hobbies with you.

Acquisition Expenses:

  • How do you plan to acquire your pet? Some cost thousands of dollars and can only be purchased through a breeder. Others are adoptable through rescue organizations or the humane society. This is still not free–you’re going to need to pay something.
  • Spay/neuter and shots: are these included in the purchase price or will you need to pay separately?

Count up the Costs:

There are start-up and ongoing costs to having a pet in your family.

Start-up Costs:

  • Acquisition
  • Spay/neuter and initial shots
  • Paraphernalia: food & water bowls, bed, toys, leash, collar, etc

Ongoing Expenses:

  • Food
  • Vet check-ups
  • Medical expenses (hopefully you won’t have any major problems, but you should be prepared)
  • Vaccinations
  • Medications
  • License (depends on the city, ours charges $8/year to license a spayed/neutered dog)

But coming home to this: PRICELESS

I mean seriously
I mean seriously

Owning a pet can be fantastic, fun, and fulfilling–after all, who else will throw up in your lap and get fur all over your house?–but they’re expensive. Don’t be wooed into pet ownership prematurely! Approach it the frugal, thoughtful way–you and your critter will be happier. Do you own a pet? Are you considering a four-legged family addition? What tips do you have?

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  1. This is a great post. I see stuff on message boards ALL THE TIME about renters with pets moving to expensive areas and either not being able to find a place that will accept their pet or (almost inevitably) paying through the nose for renting in an already expensive area for a place that will accept pets. I really don’t think most renters in high cost housing markets (or those who could potentially locate to such areas) should have pets for this reason.

    1. Yeah, it’s definitely a tough balance when you’re renting. That’s why we decided to wait until we owned a place before getting a dog. I know that’s not an option for everyone, but it’s certainly something to consider before getting a pet. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I know this is a very old post, but thought I’d add a comment for any new readers like me who are finding old posts 🙂

    One really wonderful option for combining frugality, ethics, and pet love is to foster for the local Humane Society. We foster kittens 🙂

    It’s completely free, because the Humane Society provides all the food, litter, and equipment (water dish, litter box, carrier, etc.). And it’s a brief time commitment: 1 week to 3 months (you can choose what age you’re willing to take). For us, that works well because we can schedule around travel (return our last batch of kittens before and not take another till we get home). And if we’re having a really busy time (or the kids have just gotten lazy about taking care of the kittens), then we just take a break. Meanwhile, we can have constant kittens whenever we want them (permanent cuteness!), and we know we are helping them be ready for adoption (fostering keeps them healthy and provides socialization). Win-win-win!

    1. Great suggestion. Fostering can also be an opportunity to explore various breeds in trying to find what match is best for you.

  3. Adding a comment. My dogs are now 13 1/2 and 11. They are both mutts that I adopted when they were under 6 months old. The first 8 or so years, expenses were minimal with annual vet visits and the usual vaccinations…etc. Over the last few years, medical increases have risen drastically to the point where I’m now averaging about $400 a month. Why? both dogs have medical issues that are completely controlled with meds…expensive meds. Moreover, when they are on these meds their quality of life is superb – happy, happy dogs. Fortunately I am in a position where I can afford their meds, however it definitely makes me think twice about adopting again.

    1. I would add to the travel section – pet fees when your pet travels with you. Most La Quinta and Red Roof Inn locations allow dogs for free.
      Something specific a greyhound family can consider: have your hound tested to be a blood donor (consult the local vet school and animal hospitals). Most greyhounds have the universal blood type. Programs often give flea/tick and/or heartworm medication to participants. Some also give kibble. {Our greyhound Penny was tested but is a rare case of a greyhound that does not have the universal blood type.}
      I also can relate to Debbie’s experience. Now that our Penny is older she has had more medical issues. Testing and prescription kibble can be costly.

  4. Thanks so much! I really enjoy the blog and appreciate the frugal approach to so many things. I am looking to get in the summer and appreciate all the wise insgihts.

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