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Can you afford your new pet?

Sep 29, 2009 | | Comments Comments Off

Beautiful Ruby
Creative Commons License photo credit: Vincent J. Brown

It’s a wonderful and noble gesture to adopt a pet. But you’re making more than an emotional commitment: you’re making a financial one, as well.

Some new pet owners learn the hard way about those costly overnight emergency visits to the vet. And who knew that puppy “pee” pads, flea controls and other medications could cost so much? Before you bundle up that ball of cuddly fur and head home, make sure you’re up to the financial task.

Here are a few tips from FiLife.com, a Web site devoted to personal finance, and the Insurance Information Institute:

1. Estimate the one-time “start-up” and “maintenance” costs of the pet

Costs vary depending on the type of pet, the size, and its health. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that adopting a medium sized dog will cost $565 for things like neutering, training, collars and leashes. The ASPCA estimates the same dog will also cost about $695 a year in annual upkeep. That’s $1,580 in the first year as long as your dog is healthy. But that figure will be much higher if your dog has any health issues.

2. Add those annual numbers into your budget

Create a line item for your first-year pet costs and ongoing costs. See if you can trim other areas of spending so that your savings line isn’t affected. Maybe you don’t need that gym membership if you’re going to start running with your dog? Be realistic. If a pet is going to stress your budget to a point of major discomfort, you’re probably not the best match.

3. Prepare for the unexpected surprise

Accidents happen – and not the kind that can be cleaned up with a mop. To prepare for those events, consider pet insurance or build up an emergency fund. You don’t want to get stuck charging a four-figure vet bill to your credit card.

4. Remember, a dog’s bite really is worse than his bark

Dog bites cost U.S. home insurers 8.7 percent more in 2008 than in 2007. And the average claim exceeded $24,000 for the second straight year, said the Insurance Information Network, an industry group. So you can’t ignore insurance. Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability. Most policies provide $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage.

5. If the numbers don’t add up – maybe a pet isn’t for you right now

It’s tough to sort out wants from needs when it comes to adopting a pet. Often times, our hearts are bigger than our wallets. You could do an animal more harm by bringing him into an environment where he won’t receive the best care. Think carefully about whether the decision to adopt is best for both of you.

6. Get help

If you do adopt and then find yourself in a financial bind, get help. There’s no reason for your pet to suffer or for you to abandon him/her. The Humane Society of the United States provides a list of resources for people who need financial help with a pet HERE.

Need more info? Check out my columns about pets and finances:

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