The Costs We Didn't Budget for When We Adopted Our First Dog (And How We Fixed It)
We all have regrets — money regrets, that is. But, like all mistakes, we wouldn't be who — or where — we are today without them. In our "Money Fails" series, real people share how they bounced back from cringeworthy financial slip-ups, what they learned along the way and why they're the better for it.
Here, one couple shares how the true cost of owning a dog eclipsed their $150 monthly budget estimate.
For the first three years of our relationship, my boyfriend, Rob, and I weren’t able to adopt a dog — but not for lack of wanting. We traveled often for work, our landlord didn’t allow pets, and we just couldn’t afford the expense. Then we got new jobs, moved to a new building and had more disposable income. Becoming dog parents seemed like a reasonable next step.
We realized the night we picked up Bodie, an Australian Shepherd mix, that we weren’t as prepared as we should have been. We stopped to buy a few supplies at the pet store and nearly fell over in shock at the bill. Excuse me, dog treats cost *how much*?
To be fair, we hadn't exactly planned to bring home Bodie in the first place. He was in boarding at a veterinary clinic for a few months in the care of a local rescue organization that we volunteer with as foster parents. We offered to take Bodie home for a weekend to give him a break from the noise. Rob was recovering from ankle surgery, so we were hesitant to make a long-term commitment to a high-anxiety dog with significant exercise requirements. Plus, we hadn’t discussed the financial implications in detail.
Of course, once we brought Bodie home, we knew he belonged with us. He wasted no time settling in, and we adopted him a week later. But that was just the beginning of a huge emotional and financial commitment to caring for a pet, which we realized when food, vet bills, and extracurricular activities like day care added up to over $1,000 in a few short weeks. Here’s how we’ve adapted our budget to make room for our fur baby.
We cut back on other discretionary spending.
Rob and I now enjoy a lower cost of living with more disposable income than before, but we made the conscious choice to put extra cash toward Bodie’s needs first and our hobbies second. We both want things — yoga clothes, outdoor gear, more plants for our apartment — but we’ve rearranged our budget to make sure the dog is fed and cared for before we chip away at other items our "wants" lists.
We focus on spending that will improve Bodie’s quality of life.
As a pet owner, it’s easy to get caught up in all the trappings — monogrammed beds, piles of toys, even custom-built indoor dog houses. There's always something to spend money on, but honestly most of it is unnecessary. While it makes owners happy, the pets themselves don’t care one bit.
For example, we spent around $50 on Amazon Basics for a crate and dog bowls that aren’t fancy but serve their purpose. We bought an inexpensive bed to fit inside his crate, and instead of another pricey, Instagram-worthy dog bed for the living room, we gave him an old round cushion we would have otherwise thrown out. Bodie likes soft surfaces, but he doesn’t care what his beds actually look like. He's a dog. Saving on these items means more money to spend on day care, high-quality food and training. We also have him on daily allergy medication and CBD oil for his anxiety — both of which improve his ability to function.
We buy in bulk.
Sure, it doesn’t feel great to drop $60 on a bag of dog food every month or $375 on a doggy day care punch pass, but buying in smaller quantities would cost us more over time. A drop-in at day care is $20, but a punch pass brings the cost down to $12 a visit. Once we bit the bullet with the pass, we felt free to take him as often as he (and we) needed. It gets him the socialization and exercise he needs — a tired pup is a good pup — and allows us to continue living and working mostly as normal.
If you want to invest in anything above the bare minimum for your pet, it pays to buy in the largest quantity possible. Training classes, food, treats, and services like grooming, bathing and day care usually are less expensive in the long run if purchased in bulk upfront.
We invest now for the future.
Similar to buying in bulk, investing a little bit of extra money in Bodie’s health and wellbeing now could save us a lot down the road. Pets require health care, just like humans do, and we have both pet insurance and a monthly subscription to our vet’s office — $30 a month for a certain number of visits, all vaccines, and a few other services covered throughout the year. This saves us a few hundred dollars if we make use of everything we’re eligible for, and like day care, it keeps us from holding back on medical care because of the out-of-pocket cost.
Pet insurance is another $30 well spent each month. Bodie will eat anything he can get his mouth on, edible or not, and he also doesn’t understand that cars are dangerous. We want to be covered in case he requires any costly emergency care.
The difference between owning a dog and not owning a dog is thousands of dollars in your budget, but there are both smart and not-so-smart ways to spend those thousands. Choose to put that money toward things that will benefit your pet and make him happier, healthier and safer rather than items that are more for you as the owner — and don’t go into pet ownership if you're not confident you can afford it. Cost of care is one of the top reasons people surrender their dogs.
Even though we didn’t research or discuss a specific budget before adopting Bodie, we knew our disposable income and extra savings offered the financial security to provide for him — and that he was an investment we wanted to make.