Pets on a Budget: Ultimate Guide to Caring For Pets for Less

Pets on a budget - Why you should have them & how much they cost. #PetsBudget #PetsSick #PetsTime

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Do you need to have your family pets on a budget?

We are talking about the family pet.

Pets are viewed as best friends, companions, family necessities, nuisances, and trainers for children. Do economizers have them, and if so, do they think of them differently than other people do?

Our Pet History

We both grew up having a variety of pets. Annette sees pets as an indispensable part of family life. Steve originally found pets a nuisance but is warming to the idea that slobbery dog kisses can be a valuable part of life. After we married, we discovered that in addition to being an “emotional issue,” pets are also a money issue that most people overlook.

We speak from the experience of raising & rescuing German Shepherd dogs. And then there was the time we had a litter of puppies, but let’s not talk about that nightmare experience. We’ve also had 10 or more hamsters, eight box turtles, and a couple of parakeets.

Why Get a Pet?  There are several reasons to have a pet.

Pets Bring Companionship

Pets can be great friends that express unconditional love. For those who live alone, a pet can be a real-life and sanity saver. They’re always willing to listen and very seldom criticize dumb ideas.

“A dog wags its tail with its heart.”

Martin Buxbaum

RELATED ARTICLE: Why You Should Adopt A Pet, Not Buy One

The Reason for Having a Pet

A young boy walking a dog.

Probably one of the worst reasons to own a pet is to teach a child responsibility.

It is incredibly unfair to make an animal the “test case” for a child’s maturity level.

If you want to assess a child’s ability to be responsible, use chores such as taking out the garbage or unloading the dishwasher, but not pet care. If a child fails in a chore, the damage is minimal and easily rectified, but failure with a pet can be devastating to both pet and child.

Additionally, the care of a pet can become a major source of conflict between parent and child. Your child’s nurturing nature is seen in the way he or she relates to friends, siblings, and even stuffed animals, so you can predict how well he or she will love and care for a pet.

If children are forgetful or non-nurturing, then look for other ways to teach responsibility.

Pets Can Bring Security

2 German Shepherd dogs holding food bowls.

Guard dogs, guard geese or other animals can alert you to problems such as fire or intruders. Our dogs are sensitive to anyone who enters our property and they alert us immediately. Of course, they also alert us to hot air balloons and remote control airplanes that fly over our neighborhood.

A pet should be considered only if your child has demonstrated responsibility in smaller things or if you as a parent are willing to make the commitment necessary for its care and maintenance. If your “to-do” list is a constant source of anxiety and life is too full, don’t get a pet.

Annette is an “animal nut” and would have a farm on our property if time allowed. But we’ve had to realize our limitations with five kids, homeschooling and running a business.

If you’re unsure about having time to care for a pet, then start with one that is less involved. Goldfish are inexpensive, take up little space, and are reasonably easy to care for. We’ve also found that hamsters make good starter pets. They don’t live very long—about two years—and require minimal care. They can be very affectionate, but only if you spend a good amount of time caring, handling, and bonding with them.

Becky’s hamsters would actually give her “kisses.” One word of advice—don’t purchase those expensive plastic cages with colorful tubes. Hamsters can chew through the plastic. Plus the tubes are difficult to clean and can discourage even the most enthusiastic child.

Where to Get a Pet When You’re on a Budget

From 1998 through 1999, we experienced the declining health of our two German shepherds. We knew that their time with us was quickly coming to a close.

After 12 years of love and affection, we had to put them down within one year of each other. There were tears and sad goodbyes, but peace in knowing that we had loved and cared for them well.

5 box turtles we had as pets.
Before we adopted several turtles, we thought that they’d be boring pets. But, when our turtles interact, it’s like watching the Wild Kingdom. They chase each other, butt, hiss and do other things that can’t be mentioned in a family publication.

After several months, we began looking for a dog to adopt. We decided that while there were puppies for sale in abundance — and at exorbitant prices — we would look for a slightly older dog.

We scoured the papers and visited the pounds and humane society each week for a month. What we saw in the shelters made us cry. There were so many animals needing families to love them and so many on the list to be euthanized in the U.S. More than 17 million dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens are euthanized each year.

We saw purebred Dalmatians, yellow Labs, and Persian and calico cats. Unfortunately, we were looking for German shepherds and saw none.

We discovered that each October, our county pound offers pet adoptions at half price, including licensing and sterilization.

 Eventually, we found a 2-year-old male. He’d belonged to an older man who, due to health problems, couldn’t give Lucky the love, attention, and exercise he needed. He was “for sale” for free.

There is a great website that can help you find adoptable pets in your area. Just visit They are connected with more than 12,000 shelters and pet rescues.

The Real Cost of Pets

We’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon among people that we’ve helped get out of debt. If there are young children in the family, one of the first things the parents do, once they see the light at the end of the debt tunnel, is to rush out and buy a pet.

Often, the excited parents fall back into their impulsive ways and don’t fully count the cost of the pet, or think through the “whys and wherefores” of pet ownership. Most often their concept of the costs of pet ownership extends only to purchasing food.

Just as there is no “free lunch,” there are no “free” pets. Every animal comes with a cost, and it’s more than just the price of food. You’ve got to plan for minimal equipment depending on the type of animal. The list can include cages, food bowls, bedding, feed, licensing, immunizations, and required shots. We also encourage spaying or neutering.

If you are planning to get a pet, you can find much of the necessary equipment “pre-owned.” Watch the classified ads; ask friends if they have the equipment; visit thrift stores and garage sales. Thoroughly wash and disinfect all used items to prevent the spread of disease.

“Dogs and cats instinctively know the exact moment their owners will wake up. Then they wake them 10 minutes sooner.”

Save on Pet Vaccinations

Many counties have discounted fees for vaccinations of dogs and cats. Because we’ve always purchased or received our dogs from private homes, we’ve had to bear the cost of sterilization. The larger the animal, the more it costs. If you’re on a limited budget for the purchase price of the animal, check out the pound.

One way we save money, especially on young dogs, is to give our own immunization shots. A nurse trained Annette in the proper technique. Surprisingly, for someone who is squeamish at the sight of blood or stitches, Annette has done the job like a pro — no smelling salts needed … yet.

Related Article: How to Get Blood out of Clothes & Sheets

Economiser Pet Clinic Sign.

In our household budget, we designate a category for pet care. Every paycheck, we put aside a predetermined amount. We’ve also agreed to put a cap on the amount that we will save and spend to care for our pets in case of an accident.

We know this may sound uncaring or even cruel to some people, but we just won’t pay for hip replacements or other major surgical procedures for our pets.

This “policy” was tested several years ago when we were installing a new fence and our dogs were staying at Annette’s parents’ house. The dogs got out of their yard and one of them was hit by a car.

Fortunately, her injuries were minor and the vet bill was much less than our limit. But as you can imagine, there were moments of discussion, fears, and tears as we wrestled through the situation.

One vet we visited encouraged us to purchase ear drop medications for one of our pups online. They gave us the name of the Allivet online pharmacy and we saved 50 percent over the vet’s price. That was really a sweet gesture.

Pets Need Time

The latest dog we adopted was a white German shepherd named Alaska. She came from a busy family with two small children and one “on the way.” No one had time to spend with the dog. As a result, Alaska was tearing up everything in sight.

Her owners were frustrated. We took her home and found her to be starving for attention and training. It took several months to fill her “emotional tank.”

You’ve got to be realistic in evaluating your lifestyle when considering a pet. If you travel a lot or are very busy, then perhaps a pet isn’t for you.

We’ve heard that parrots, while expensive to purchase, make great pets for seniors who don’t travel and have no backyard or lack the stamina to keep up with a dog or cat.

According to a 1998 survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 61 percent of American households included pets. For those of you who like to advocate for either dogs or cats, 36.1 percent owned dogs and 31.6 percent owned cats. Fish, birds, and horses were next, but many fewer households.

Regardless of your pet preference, carefully consider the cost — time-wise and financially — before entering into pet ownership. With carefully planning your experience will be more like an adventure of Lassie than Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds!

Sick Pets and a Budget

Question: One of our cats got really sick and we tried to help her, but she finally had to be put to sleep. The vet bills added up to a couple of thousand dollars, which we didn’t have.  She’s gone, we’ve grieved, and now we’re struggling to make the payments each month. Do you have any advice for pet lovers?

Answer: Many people forget that pets cost much more than food and water. Other expenses include: microchipping, neutering/spaying, licensing, immunizations, and vet bills. Add to all of these, miscellaneous supplies, toys, repairs (to your home), carpet cleaning, and training and you’ve basically assumed the cost of raising a child.

To combat the “unexpected” expenses of pet ownership, we created a separate category for pets in our budget. Every two weeks we put aside a predetermined amount of money for pet care. Every family will have different values and financial limits, so how much you save is up to you. But you’ve got to save something for your pet.

Sick Pet Emergencies

We know that some of you may disagree with this, but for our family and budget, this is what works. When an emergency or illness occurs, we let finances be our determining factor. Spending money you don’t have never helps the situation. If our pets require surgery, and we don’t have money saved to cover it, we’ll have to choose to put the pet to sleep. Please don’t think that we’re hard-hearted.

Our German Shepherd dogs all have lived to a ripe old age and we’ve cared for them well, and sobbed when we had to say goodbye.

We love our pets, and they are an integral part of our family, but they simply aren’t people. Plus there are so many wonderful pets waiting for homes through rescue groups. We feel that trying to keep a very old, or very sick animal alive, seems like it might be for our own emotional well-being, but not the animals. 

Pet Insurance

Another option is to purchase pet insurance. From our research, Pets Best Insurance is one of the more reputable pet insurance companies.

They have a TrustPilot Score of 3.9 out of 5 stars with more than 2500 reviews. But do your own research before spending your money. 

ConsumersAdvocate reviewed Pets Best Insurance and gave it a 4 out of 5 stars approval rating.

Pets on a budget - Why you should have them & how much they cost. #PetsBudget #PetsSick #PetsTime

For more Information about Pets, visit our money-saving tips pages in the pets category!

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