How to stop your pets from costing you the earth


I’ve never really considered myself to be a huge animal lover, so maybe my thoughts on pets are a bit “cold” compared to some real animal enthusiasts, but I am often bewildered by some of the choices people make in relation to their pets.

We have just one pet, a cat that is about two years old. I’m not even really sure what breed she is, but I think she might be a Siamese crossed with something else. We got her from the pound. For $55. Vaccinated. Microchipped. And wormed. What a bargain.

While pets can be very rewarding for many people (especially the elderly and those that live alone), I really believe that people need to keep a number of key points in mind to make sure that their pet(s) aren’t sabotaging their journey towards financial freedom.

1. Remember that your pets are animals

Some of my work colleagues talk about their pets and how much they spoil them, and then they think that I am cold when I talk about pets the way that I do. But for me, pets are animals, and they have their place in the scheme of things. I tell them that they should wait until they have children of their own and then they might change their view.

For me, I would spend every last cent that I have (and then some) on medical operations to keep my kids alive, but for a $55 cat, there is no way that I would pay for say a $2,000 operation (I probably wouldn’t even pay for a $500 operation actually). The humans in my life are my main priority, not my pets.

And while I appreciate that vets are able to treat all sorts of illnesses, if a dog has diabetes, does it really matter? Its life will be a bit shorter, but it doesn’t know or care! So paying for special treatment for something like diabetes just seems ridiculous to me!

Or if a cat has cancer, are you going to pay for chemotherapy? Hell no! As long as the cat is not in pain I would leave it to just keep living its life, and once it was in pain then I would pay a vet to have it put to sleep. We had a great Labrador as our family pet throughout my teens, but as the years went by he developed arthritis and was in a lot of pain. It was very sad, but we made the choice to have him put to sleep as we didn’t want him to suffer. I don’t know why this solution isn’t considered by people before they spend $3,000 to prolong the life of their old pet by 18 months.

2. Set a budget for your pet – both in the purchase price and vet costs

Further to point one above, it is important that any pet owner sets a budget for how much they are prepared to spend on medical costs before they call it a day for their pet, or make the decision that the pet will just have to live with their illness.

Too many people don’t think of this at all – they just get the credit card out and keep paying!

3. Don’t get too many pets

Why the hell do people need more than one cat? And more than one dog? I know that they think that the cats and dogs need companions, but cats can jump fences, they will just go and “play” with other neighbourhood cats!

As for dogs, I appreciate that they may get bored by themselves, but part of being a pet owner is accepting your responsibility to take pets out for exercise. If you do this then it should have a huge effect on how bored they get!

Some people also seem to think that there is a menu of potential pets (e.g. dog, cat, bird, snake, guinea pig, rabbit, leprechaun, etc.), and that the ultimate lifestyle must therefore be one where you purchase one of each. Well guess what? Combining all of these pets doesn’t make any sense! That’s why most people don’t get all of them!

Seriously though, buying too many pets is just like being on the hyper-consumption bandwagon. If you are doing things the right way then you should get more than enough enjoyment and companionship from just one pet, and buying more and more pets won’t fix anything.

4. Don’t get a pet that doesn’t suit your circumstances (don’t change your circumstances to suit your pets)

My sister-in-law (let’s call her the “Financial Train Wreck” or “FTW”) once lived in a house with her (then) boyfriend and their three (or was it four?) cats.

When I was talking to her one day about money (of course she is financially screwed, why else would I call her the FTW?), I asked her why she didn’t move out of her house into a smaller unit. That way they could save on rent and wouldn’t have to mow the lawns (they couldn’t afford a lawnmower).

She then said that they couldn’t just move as most landlords wouldn’t let them have pets. So they continue paying 40% more rent than they need to so that they can have room for the million pets that they shouldn’t have! In what world does that make any sense at all? Plus they still couldn’t afford to buy a lawnmower so would drive across town to borrow one every few months, at which point it looked like their house was surrounded by a jungle.

Don’t be like FTW – your pets shouldn’t dictate the circumstances, it should be the other way around.

5. Don’t buy cat/dog food in the small sachets – buy the tins instead and get some cheap plastic lids to put on them

I was fortunate enough to take a tour of a pet food production facility once, and while I was on this tour I was told that there is a trend away from the higher volume/lower margin tinned food for cats and dogs, and more towards the higher-margin/single-meal sachets because this is what lazy consumers want.

Well I recommend just buying the plain old tinned cat and dog food and buying plastic lids that you can put on top of the tins. One 400g tin of cat food does four serves for our cat, and once we open the tin we put a plastic lid (see below) on the tin and put it in the fridge to keep it “fresh”. I think the packet of 6 lids cost me something like $8 on eBay, but I couldn’t find them anywhere in the shops for some reason.

This is some of our Aldi cat food with one of our cheap plastic lids that we use once the can is opened.

This is some of our Aldi cat food with one of our cheap plastic lids that we use once the can is opened.

6. Get your pets desexed

It may seem like a good money-making idea to breed your purebred Alaskan Malamute so that you can sell the puppies for a premium, but amateurs rarely make money out of this.

Often you need to get proper papers (to prove the bloodline) to get decent money for them, get them registered, microchipped and wormed, and then feed them and house them until they are sold (which can take quite a while). Then you end up getting screwed down on the sale price to get rid of them all as you just want it all over and done with.

After all of that, you might have broken even financially, or made a small profit that was nowhere near the effort.

Just get your pets desexed – it is much cheaper than dealing with problems later on, and they (especially males) will be better-behaved later on.

7. Don’t bother with pet insurance

See my life insurance post for more detail, but this is another case of where a person’s choice of purchase or attitude then dictates that they need to have additional insurance cover.

If they just change their choice of purchase (don’t buy such an expensive pet) or attitude (set a budget for a pet, so that you would never be $2k out of pocket for an operation anyway), then the whole need for pet insurance disappears.

Animals have lived in the wild for thousands of years, and injuries and accidents have always happened. Animals accept that these things are part of life, so why can’t we?

8. Don’t put your pet in your will to receive part of your estate

This is an utterly ridiculous idea and any solicitor or accountant would say the same. While it may be possible in some countries, doing so just unnecessarily complicates things for no benefit. You would be far better off nominating who should become the new owner of your pet, and if possible allocating them a sum of cash and instructions for how you would like the pet cared for once you are gone.

9. Pets are not gifts

Don’t buy pets for anyone as gifts. It totally sends the wrong message and the RSPCA would be appalled if you gave a pet as a present.

Also, I wouldn’t ever want to receive a “present” from someone that then requires me to pay ongoing costs for that present. What sort of gift is that?! It’s like signing someone up for a $99/month mobile phone and paying a $50 deposit and leaving them to pay $99/mth for the next two years! Except with the pet (which you may not have wanted), you have to pay for it for maybe the next 10 years or more!

10. Don’t buy a pure bred pet

Not only do pure bred pets cost far more to purchase, but they also tend to have more health problems (that then require greater vet bills).

People are also more likely to be concerned about their pet being stolen due to the greater replacement cost, and this may also encourage them to take out what would otherwise be unnecessary pet insurance.

A final positive for non pure-bred pets is that they tend to have better temperaments, and should therefore be easier to manage, better around kids, and better companions overall.

So there you have it – my list of dos and do-not-dos for pets. How do you stack up against this list? Do you need to make a change to your pet circumstances to improve your finances?


5 thoughts on “How to stop your pets from costing you the earth

  1. Pingback: The Financial Train Wreck & Housing | The Insider Accountant

  2. I don’t think this is harsh at all, and I’m an animal person. If more people acted this way, we wouldn’t have an abundance of animals in the shelter, and there wouldn’t be this massive consumptive pet industry which is exploitative of animals and their ‘owners’.

    We also had a beautiful lab when I was growing up, who I rescued when I was 12. I had to beg my parents to let me keep her, and they relented as long as I understood that if she had any major health problems, they wouldn’t pay for any fancy treatments or operations – she would get put to sleep instead. They explained that their first priority is not the dog, it’s us (my brother and I). As long as we understood that, we could keep her. They did pay to have her spayed and to go for regular check ups, but luckily she was healthy and died naturally at age 14.

    This really taught me that pets cost money, that pets are a huge responsibility, and that money doesn’t grow on trees.

    • Well I’m glad to hear that I’m not alone in this way of thinking. I really like the idea of getting a pet from the pound (animal shelter) too – not only is it cheap but it also stops the animals from being put to sleep unnecessarily. It’s efficient and humane at the same time!

  3. This is -so- awesome, and I’m a hardcore animal person. This is all such good common sense that will save people not only money, but lots of heartache as well. Honestly, your point about being in pain really stood out for me – it’s such a great way to determine when it’s time for an animal to go, and it’s better to make those choices now than when you’re standing in a vet’s office. (You may have just saved me thousands on an irrational decision down the line!)

    It’s funny how much being responsible with money aligns to being a responsible human being too, in so many ways. For pets, it’s not only financially sound to get them spayed or neutered and to rescue an animal with all their shots and vetting taken care of, it’s also the best thing to do, period.

    Awesome post – thanks for sending me the link!

    • I’m glad you liked the post and that the logic made sense. When I share my views with some extreme pet enthusiasts (who have spent thousands on their pets) they think that I’m just cold and heartless and miss the point entirely!

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