Thursday, May 29, 2008

How Much do you Spend?

Gather Little by Little is one of my daily stops on the blog-o-sphere and today’s article addresses the budget pitfalls of owning a pet (or pets!). Apparently those of us with pets have spent a record amount this year on our pooches and kitties and are predicted to spend even more in 2008…5.6% more. We’re talking over $40 BILLION dollars…B…Billion.

I think if I told my grandfather this news he would shake his head in disgust. He was raised in a different time. Animals were never allowed inside. He never took an animal to the vet -even neutering was done on the farm (they used a boot apparently to neuter the male cats…*shudder*). Some of the stories I won’t even share here because they are slightly disturbing…but it was a different time.

Today he’s much more inclined to treat a pet like a member of the family. Mostly because he’s lonely. But I still doubt he’d spend the amount of money on a pet that we do on ours. We buy expensive food, organic treats, lots of toys, and special beds.

Not my dogs - but so cute!

Then again, we don’t have kids. Our dogs are our babies. But when does the spending become excessive and are there things we can do to lower our pet bills?

If I had to estimate the total we spend on our dogs in a year I’m sure I would feel sick.

Grooming and Brushing for three dogs = $150-$175 Every 6-8 weeks
Yes, we could do it ourselves but Huskies and Malamutes have thick undercoats that require a lot of drying and brushing. It just isn’t worth it to me in terms of time to do it myself. Trooper requires brushing at least once a week and it’s super convenient to have the groomer at Daycare do it when he’s already there.

High Quality Dog Food = $175-$250 Every 4-5 Weeks
I know…it’s ridiculous right? However I’ve done a lot of reading and experimenting. Trooper has the world’s most sensitive stomach. Quinn is very low activity and too fat. Kodiak is injured and while he’d love to run a sled race he can’t even take walks on a regular basis. The more weight he gains the worse it is for his back legs. So I buy human grade quality food from The Honest Kitchen (Rachel Lucas has had a discount code for a month or so…it helps cover shipping which is expensive). It smells kind of funny but all three dogs LOVE it. I don’t rely on it alone because it is incredibly expensive. I also buy high quality kibble - Solid Gold. Quinn and Kodiak get the special “Holistique” kind for lower activity dogs and Trooper gets his own kind for active dogs.

I know that it is a lot of money. There are some families who don’t spend this much on their own food. But we are very blessed to be able to afford high quality food for our dogs. I think they eat better than we do! And it is worth it to me when it comes to the long term benefits to the dogs health. If we were to hit rocky times I know that we would have to cut this down from our budget. I would still try to get the best food we could afford, but of course quality will always cost more.

Treats and Toys - $50-$100 Every 2 Months
We actually haven’t been buying as many treats or toys as we used to. Trooper doesn’t need them as much since he’s getting so much more exercise with Agility and Daycare. Quinn isn’t interested in most toys - though there is a ball she loves to chew on. And Kodiak is only once in awhile interested in a light game of tug of war. Which consists of him sitting on the floor and me dangling the toy in front of him until he grabs it. Then he lets go and we start again. Poor guy.

Treats aren’t too expensive. We can get a huge bag of chicken strips at Costco for $10. They last quite awhile. The higher end treats we still get but not as often. I’ve had to put my foot down on the treat giving since Kodiak and Quinn’s weight has swelled. Unfortunately they have daddy wrapped around their little paws…he’s a softy. I’m the mean one!

Agility Training - $100 Every 3 Weeks
This is a new expensive but it is SO worth it! It gives me and Trooper exercise, bonding, and education. We both have to use our brains in totally different and new ways that we’ve never done before. Someday I hope we’ll be good enough to compete. I will do anything I can to keep this expense available to us. Plus we have permission to bring Kodiak and Quinn along to play in the next door field for free. Believe me, just letting them run around an empty field is more exercise than they normally get.

Daycare - $300 Every 6 Months or so
This one varies depending on how often the doggies go to daycare. Trooper goes at least once a week and sometimes twice. I buy the largest package available to get a 10% discount for him. Kodiak and Quinn can only go once in awhile. When Kodiak gets to go he comes home so sore and tired that he can barely walk. Last time he didn’t even stand up to eat!!! So we limit their daycare time.

Northwind Kennels

It’s hugely worth it to me to pay for daycare. Trooper gets special socialization with other dogs and gets a lot of excess energy out of his system. When hubby works during the day on a weekday it means that Trooper has one less day to spend at home in the kennel. Since I work away from home 4 days a week, home on Thursdays, and hubby will always have at least one weekday off, we can limit kennel time to two days or less. I hate leaving them alone for more than 10 hours a day so for us this expense is worth it.

We could feasibly cut this expense if needed. It would be a shame to lose the interaction and exercise but I’d rather cut daycare than agility.

Pet Insurance - $43 a Month for three dogs
We decided that this expense was worth it at the time we set it up but I’m beginning to rethink this. It’s over $500 a year and if I put that same amount in an ING Direct savings account I could earn interest and build an emergency fund just for the dogs. If we were to cut our expenses anywhere it would be here first.

Now, that’s not to say that having the insurance didn’t come in handy for Kodiak’s second surgery. They covered over $700 of the $1600 bill. We covered the rest using Care Credit and paid it off in pieces (interest free). Care Credit is a wonderful service and I think we’d use it again if we needed to spread an emergency payment out over 12 months with no interest. I see insurance as a hedge against a MAJOR event like a car accident or cancer. We haven’t canceled yet but it’s on our radar.

Veterinary Expenses
- Varies
I disagree with GLbL when he suggests using local low cost clinics. I’ve had some bad experiences and have heard some scary stories from some of these low cost places - including out of date vaccines being used. Our vet is not cheap. Just walking in the door usually results in an office visit fee of $35. We rarely walk out for less than $100 for yearly exams and vaccines.

But that is okay. We LOVE our Vet. He knows all of our dogs and has been invaluable when treating some of the odd issues with our dogs. I would not trade the value of paying for good service just to save a few dollars. Especially when it comes to peace of mind and my babies’ health.

So how much is too much? I didn’t really think about just how much we spent until I wrote it all out. It is a big number, no doubt. I think there are a few things we could cut down on but for the most part this is set unless something life changing altered our financial outlook.

What are your biggest (indoor/family) pet expenses (I’m not including expenses for horses, etc. because I know how expensive they can be too)? If you had to cut back on your budget would you cut from the pet budget? Or your own?

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