One topic that comes up from time to time in the FI community is the high cost of pet ownership and its impact on our individual journeys to FI.
Mr. Money Mustache had a take a few years ago about how great it was that dog ownership is optional because you can do without and reach FI faster. To his credit, he also balanced this opinion out with a rebuttal from his sister on why dogs are great. However, if you look at the comments… or his forums… or our own Choose FI Facebook group… you'll see that pet ownership can certainly be a very contentious issue for FI seekers.
Personally, I've always been a dog person. I was born into a family with a Golden Retriever and an alley cat. Later on, we picked up a second pup and she was with us through to about the end of my college years. Now that I'm out in the world “adulting”, adding a dog to my home was a top priority. My wife and I found a lovable (and slightly crazy) rescue dog to join our family before we had even gotten engaged.
At this point it's probably clear that for me, as it is for so many other pet owners, having a dog was never a financial/budgetary consideration. It was a foregone conclusion that we would own a dog and we really only wanted to wait to be stable from a location and schedule standpoint, not a financial one (although that happened to be the case too). We knew we wanted a dog and we didn't care (much) about the costs.
Now, no one wants to be a total financially optimizing robot for all of life's decisions, but when you make a decision purely from emotion like we did, you may end up with the following:
Our dog is really freaking expensive.
In the five years that we've had her, Mint says that I've spent $8,465.34 on our dog and that's just my half (and possibly under-reported thanks to Mint's annoying tagging).
That's an average of almost $1,700 per person, per year.
Now, I'm sure there are some readers who've spent plenty more on their pets and some readers that think I should probably shred my “frugal” card and hang my head in shame. That's okay, we're all on different paths.
Objectively, though, we can all probably agree that's a good chunk of change to be spending on a small, furry animal that mostly lays around my house and occasionally wakes me up at night with a paw to the face.
Here are some of the most expensive highlights from my pet spending wall of shame:
- $700 for an emergency Vet trip when she got dehydrated
- On that note, never leaving a Vet's office without paying at least one or two hundred dollars
- Fancy, natural food that she isn't allergic to, which is currently priced at $70 per bag (!!!)
- $80 for a harness to wear in the car (it's legit though–crash tested even!)
- $40/night while we're away, to stay with nice sitters and not be stuck in a kennel
- $70 of allergy medicine every few weeks
So, yeah, it's safe to say that for this DINK couple, we treat our dog like a member of the family and it shows in our spending. The end result is that she's cost us plenty of money over the years and ultimately delayed our FI path a bit.
But here's the thing…
It's totally fine.
She's brought so much love and joy to our lives that I'd happily pay multiples of that amount.
Additionally, one of the amazing benefits of a FI lifestyle that we're always preaching here is that it gives you options. For me, having my financial life in order and a mighty fine savings rate means that I can splurge and be not totally “optimal” with pet costs. It's just about spending on what you value in life.
I can have this crazy expensive (and sometimes just crazy) dog bringing me joy and not worry about the financial costs.
Now, of course I can't just leave you there. Despite our dog being inherently expensive, we do try to be frugal in the Aardvark household and so here are some things we've done to try and keep pet costs to only what's actually necessary (or…at least less out of control…)
- She was a rescue dog. This often means only spending a minimal fee and/or paying for vaccines and spaying/neutering. Some people out there drop hundreds or thousands on a purebred dog, but there are lots of wonderful animals at shelters that need homes and will cost you very little to take in.
- We don't buy toys. There are subscription services to send you dog toys every month, but a dog doesn't really need this. We've gotten toys as gifts and she's just as happy to chase an old lacrosse/tennis ball across the yard or pull on some old ripped jeans that have been knotted into a rope toy. No need to spend money regularly getting new toys.
- We don't spend on grooming. She's got short hair that doesn't need cutting, but even if it did we'd be happy to do this ourselves. Nail clipping and teeth cleaning are also easy to do regularly if you train your dog to accept them.
- We don't hire a dog walker. When we lived downtown and she was little we had a walker come during the day while we were at work. However, we were eventually able to move to a cheaper house with a yard and eliminate this expense.
- We now buy her medicine in bulk.
- We only use daycare when necessary. This means if we're going to be out of town or if we have contractors working on the house and need her out of the way. If it's just a regular workday, she's totally fine to nap at home by herself for free.
- She is not a human child. Kidding! But also kinda true. Actual human children are way more expensive, so having a dog that fulfills our need to nurture has probably saved us many thousands of dollars. Clearly, this is a highly personal choice though and one I'd never preach on.
Certainly, these sorts of options will vary based on your dog and your lifestyle. For puppies, for example, paying someone to let them out in the middle of the day may not be optional. Additionally, if your dog is less manic than ours, you might be able to never pay for overnight care and just use friends (for us it'd be a nightmare…).
Just as with everything else in the FI world, it's about questioning your assumptions and choosing to “think a little bit differently,” to quote Brad. For some great tips on frugal pet ownership from the Frugalwoods check out this and this.
Pets can be crazy expensive or they can be a bargain for all the joy and love they bring. I'd encourage you to assess your own situation and lifestyle and figure out if having a dog (or other pet) is something that will work for you.
For us, she's one expense that we'll never regret.