5 Ways to Yank the Leash on Pet Expenses


Americans were projected to spend nearly $48 billion on their pets in 2010. It's a staggering amount and, believe it or not, more than American consumers typically spend on children's toys each year.

Pets have become an ingrained part of our families and our identities. But, as much as we love them, those cats, cockatiels, and Cocker Spaniels cut into the bottom line. Covering pet expenses has become even tougher in the last couple of years, as wages have struggled to keep pace with rising costs.

Crafting a kind of pet budget can be a great way to carve out additional cost savings over the course of a year. In fact, the first month of a new year is prime time to reexamine your pet-related purchases and look for ways to tighten up.

The pet industry is about as recession-proof as they come. So here are a few ways to save money on pet expenses in the coming year:

Maintain Good Health

Vet bills can quickly spiral to cringe-inducing heights, reaching into the thousands for a sick pet needing intensive care. To avoid these high bills, it’s best to keep pet vaccinations up to date and to make sure your pet is spayed or neutered. As with humans, preventative care for pets can go a long way toward eliminating those sporadic, wallet-shrinking health problems. Make sure your pet receives the recommended care on a routine basis. But also be aware that some vaccinations are no longer required on an annual basis, which can save you big money.

You can also consider purchasing pet insurance, which can run from $10 or $15 per month to $50 and beyond, depending on your pet.

Get Food Conscious

The type of food you provide your pet is linked directly to its overall health. But as dog owners know (at least those with larger breeds), a ginormous bag of high-end food can easily set you back at least $50. In terms of overall animal health, it's best to check the ingredient list and ensure the first few items aren't filler material. There should be a good balance of protein, fiber, and quality ingredients. One of the benefits of that more-expensive, higher-quality food is that you can typically feed your pet less of it in each sitting.

That doesn't mean that pet owners always have to purchase the priciest food options. Scores of pet owners swear by a more holistic approach and actually make their own pet food. Those who seek to go this route should keep a close eye on their grocery budget. It's easy for this do-it-yourself approach to quickly become costly. Pet owners should definitely shop comparatively on price, once they're certain the foods in question give their pets a foundation for good health.

It's also important to make sure you're feeding your pet the right amount. It's easy to waste money — and to worsen your pet's health — by filling the bowl too much or too frequently. Check with your veterinarian to be sure.

Make Your Own Pet Supplies

Has that tug toy started to fray? Does your dog seem to go through beds on a monthly basis? Instead of buying toys, beds, and dog houses, consider making them yourself. By making or repairing these items, a pet owner can save a couple hundred dollars annually. Mismatched socks and treated wool can become well-loved chew toys in a matter of minutes. Just be sure to put safety at a premium. Loose strings, sharp edges, and other hazards could do significant harm to your pet.

Spend Time, Not Money

Put down the glimmering, sequined dog purse or the diamond-crusted cat collar. Pet stores and upscale boutiques are bloated with toys, clothes, and all manner of pet paraphernalia that were all but unimaginable just a few decades ago. Instead of splurging on expensive add-ons and costly toys, push yourself to simply spend more time interacting with your pet. Take five or 10 minutes out of your day and double check the safety and security of your house or apartment, and make sure cleansers and possibly poisonous plants are out of reach.

Cut Back on Treats

There are dozens of different types of treats available to pets ranging from the classic Milk-Bone to the gourmet. While these treats are good for training or for spoiling, they're also good for blowing your pet budget. Not only do these treats often lead to high bills, but certain treats, such as rawhide bones or pig ears, can actually hurt your pet. To avoid spending a fortune on treats, try training with the dog food you’ve already purchased or with a favorite toy.

Nearly all pet owners want what is best for their pets, but that doesn’t mean that they need to break the bank to do so. Pet owners are still able to spoil their pets on a budget, and doing so will not only be beneficial to the owner, but will also likely make for a healthier pet as well.

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Guest's picture

I highly recommend you sit down and do the math on high end food vs junk food, like dog chow.

Take a close look at the dog chow which will take up to or exceed 2x as many cups of food daily. Then think about the cost of the bag of food.

We did the math on our site and we found the high end food was about $0.50 cheaper on a day to day basis than the junk food! Plus, you have less food to buy (less errands) and less fuel to spend getting the food.

You can see the article we wrote by clicking on Sustainable PF above!

Chris Birk's picture

Great point about portion size as it relates to overall cost. We buy the high-end stuff for our two Australian Shepherds but wind up feeding them less because of the quality. Winds up making good financial sense while boosting their overall health.

Guest's picture

Thanks Chris - you can see our financial breakdown here: http://sustainablepersonalfinance.com/yourdogs-diet-could-cost-you-and-y...

Guest's picture

Instead of pet insurance, a lot of people just have a set savings account for vet bills because it's less restrictive as to what it can be spent on (some insurance plans are better than others and it often depends on what kind of illness your animal comes down with). I've noticed that on recent personal finance blog posts about pet expenses, that concept has gained some favor. (For full disclosure I do this instead of having pet insurance for the reasons I cited.)

Those making their own pet food should research it well - there are many varied opinions about this out there for both dogs and cats and cats in particular need specific things in their food (taurine). While I believe it can be done well, I do believe it takes time, research and commitment and unfortunately there are only a few DVMs who will go out on a limb and guide/advise with regards to homemade pet food because of either the risk to the pet if the owner isn't responsible about it or their lack of pet nutritional training (plus a lot of vets sell prescription food, which is a profit for them).

Thanks for writing about pets - and helping to keep pets in their homes but helping people afford them!

Guest's picture

One thing to look out for in pet food is "bone meal."

A friend of mine who just became a vet says it's unhealthy and disgusting. In class they dissolved dog food made from bone meal and it was full of animal hair and other stuff. There are also reports that it contains unsafe levels of flouride, which could be toxic.

Most dog food sold at the grocery store contains bone meal - even name brands.

Guest's picture

I'm all for saving costs on pet supplies (I'm an avid coupon clipper and often scour coupon sources for cat food coupons that my fussy kitties actually like and eat - a challenge!). The one thing about making or creating your own: I actually tried growing my own catnip, which seemed like a great idea. The cats have never shown any interest at all in the fresh or dried plants I grew. They go absolutely crazy over the store-bought stuff then walk right by my home-grown - LOL! Guess the "premium seeds" I bought weren't quite so premium.

Guest's picture

Cheap Treats -- My dogs are food crazy, but their favorite treat is popcorn! I do occasionally buy real treats (Trader Joe's chicken jerky treats, usually), but when I make popcorn on the stove, I make a little extra, and put some in a ziploc before i butter and salt it for myself. Then they each get 3 or 4 pieces whenever it is "treat time" and they go crazy for it!