Money Matters

The cost of animal companionship

Updated: 2013-08-07T14:15:14Z

Special to The Star

From cats and dogs to ferrets and fish, Americans love their pets. And having spent about $53 billion on pets in 2012 alone, according to the American Pet Products Association, people clearly are willing to put their hard-earned money where their hearts are.

All the joy, companionship and memories that pets bring us may be priceless, but keeping a companion animal isn’t. Indeed, the financial responsibilities that come with pet ownership are significant enough that personal finance experts recommend people take steps to plan for the animal-related expenses — expected and unexpected, and sometimes surprisingly steep — they’re likely to incur in meeting their pets’ needs for basics such as food, shelter and health care, along with, of course, little extras like a cushy bed, a designer collar, even cupcakes made just for dogs and cats.

“Part of being responsible with your money is budgeting for the pets you have in your household,” said Howard Erman, a financial planner who runs Retirement Advisery in Seal Beach, Calif.

The average first-year cost of a pet can run from $1,300 to $1,800 for dog owners and in excess of $1,000 for cat owners (less for fish, birds, rabbits and the like), according to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, while expenses for unexpected veterinary treatments can easily run in the thousands of dollars.

“Five hundred bucks out of the blue is a big deal, especially for someone on a tight budget,” said Erman.

Which is why, when it comes to covering pet-related costs, a little bit of budgeting and planning will help pet guardians absorb the blow of a large unexpected pet expense, while still keeping enough cash in reserve to pamper their pets with toys, treats, and yes, even fashion accessories.

The first step, said Erman, is to put together a simple pet spending plan or budget. Figure out how much money you’ll need for regular veterinary care, food, a bed, toys, caregivers (such as a dog walker, pet sitter, boarding kennel, doggy daycare etc.), one-time expenses (such as a dog door, a cat-scratching post, travel kennel, yard fencing, etc.), travel, identification (such as tags and microchipping) and grooming.

Next, it’s wise to discuss, in advanced, just how much money you are willing and able to spend to extend the life of your pet. Veterinary care can help a pet live longer, but it also can be expensive. Erman suggests discussing ahead of time the lengths to which you’re willing to go to take “heroic measures” should your pet become seriously ill or injured. Thinking about those issues in advance can make for clearer decision-making in the heat of the moment, he said. Also talk with your pet’s veterinarian about whether it makes sense to invest in a pet health insurance policy.

Finally, start contributing money each month to a savings account from which you can draw funds to cover large and/or unexpected pet-related expenses, whether it’s an account dedicated to pet expenses or an existing household emergency fund. Once you have a savings account in place, commit to contributing to it regularly, even if it’s a small amount like $20 a month.

All told, a person’s financial investment over the life of a pet can range from $4,000 to almost $40,000 for a dog, or $20,000 for a cat, according to Doctors Foster and Smith ( www.peteducation.com). Worth every penny — but reason enough to get serious about setting, and sticking to, a budget for pet expenses.

This week’s Money Matters column is provided by members of the Financial Planning Association of Greater Kansas City.

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