Without exception, whenever the cashier at Petco would say that will be $18.88 for the cat-litter, I would say “For my cat to poop on”. Lame I know but still, pretty crazy, the things we spend money on. It has been several months now since Daisy, our cat, passed away. We miss her, she had a good 19 years of live and I’m not even going to attempt to put a price tag on that.
Speaking of price tags, Americans roughly spent 56 Billion (that’s right with a “B”) on pets in 2013. I can only imagine it has gone up from there. That is a lot of money. At 115 million households that is close to $500 per household. Not every household has pets though; according to animal-shelter-statistics “only” 70 million homes own at least 1 companion. That math put it closer to $800 per household per year. That is a LOT of money.
Let’s be clear I’m not advocating getting rid of pets, absolutely not! We too, got a lot of joy and love from out cats over the years but I can’t help but wonder, at $800 per household per year, there has to be some serious overspending.
We still own pets (I’ll call them companions onward). I was fully aware of the cost of these companions (hence my disgruntlement at the cash register) so after our last cat passed away I thought I’d go with something cheaper. I decided to get a budgie. Instead of buying one at the store I adopted one from the humane society. ALWAYS try the humane society (or any shelter) first before buying a companion at the store.
Cost of the adoption was $7 which is pretty cheap, right? Well hold on, budgies need a cage. I don’t like to cramp my animals so I needed a decent size cage. I could have bought a nice one at Petco but instead went on Craigslist. Used cage: $100 (new at store $240). The cage came with all the feeders and toys so a great deal. Birds have to eat so next we had to buy the fancy seed, the millet and cuddle bones. All said and done total cost $260. Wait, how did this $7 budgie turn into $260?
I saved about a $140 on the cage by buying it used and saved $11 on the animal itself by adopting. In the end though, I did spend over $200. For some that is a lot of money.
It didn’t end there; besides the bird I’ve always fancied hermit crabs, don’t ask why. Hermit crabs cost between $4.00 and $8.00. Again, pretty cheap, right? Well let’s talk supplies. I initially went back on Craigslist and managed to get an entire 10 gallon equipped habitat (crabitat) for $20.00. It ended up kind of small, and when my first two crabs started molting I needed a different habitat. I managed to get a beautiful 60 Gallon aquarium, used, at our local fish store. I saved myself some $200 there although I could have done with the 10 Gallon aquarium. Next came 4 more crabs (all that extra room), extra feeding/water bowls at $5.00 each (they need two water bowls and one food bowl): $15, omega One freeze dried shrimp and krill: $11, Tetra Fauna Hermit crab meal™: $4.79, jurassidiet: $5.11, 6 inches of coconut bark substrate: $29, hygrometer: $11.99 and as winter is coming our way a 4watt heating pad: $12.99. Where are we at? Let’s see our $7.00 hermit crab is now up to close to $200.
What to take away from this (other than that I give our companions way too much space)? Don’t get fooled by the initial price of the animal. Often time that is the least of the cost. Haven’t mentioned it yet but most animals also require veterinary care.
Here is a couple of pointers when starting with animal companions:
Adopt instead of buy. Following are some advantages to adopting:
• You help with the overcrowding of our animal shelters.
• Chances are you will prevent an animal from being euthanized.
• When you adopt, you’re animal will most likely be neutered or spayed.
• Often humane societies have arrangements with vets so your first checkup might be free.
• You may put a ding in the puppy farms that keep flooding the market with whatever dog is in fashion today. Puppy farms that often times seriously abuse their animals.
• Although not always cheap, often times adopting is a cheaper alternative to buying new.
Add the cost up prior to buying/adopting your companion. Know what you really will be in for. Check out how much the dog food or the cat litter costs. These will be recurring costs for the lifetime of the animal. Be aware of veterinary costs. What do annual check-ups costs? What shots (one-time or annual) does your animal need? How much does it cost to house your animal and keep it happy?
Buy used. See if you can buy your companion’s habitat and or toys used. There are loads of ads on Craigslist for used animal habitats (sometimes even the with the animals). Other kids get bored with their hamster or lizards; maybe you can provide a home.
Buy the right size. Don’t buy a Great Dane if you live in a two bedroom condo. Bigger animals need more room, not just to live but also to play. If you live downtown somewhere don’t get a dog that needs to run several miles a day to stay healthy. The bigger the animal the bigger the stomach; can you afford to feed a dog that eats more than you do on any given day?
Don’t buy it on a whim. If you are buying a companion for your kids don’t do it because you just saw the latest Disney movie with a dog. Prepare your children (with all of the above) and make sure they know this is a long time commitment. I had my daughter watch hours worth of YouTube videos on Hermit crabs and their habitats prior to buying one (actually kind of fun). Also kids will be kids: be prepared to take over the care of the animals once your kids get bored with them (chances are they will).
Ask yourself, Can I afford that pet today?The main thing to take away from this is to buy a companion you truly want and more importantly can afford.If not today, wait a little till things are better and get it then.
When all is said; cat litter per 40lbs $7.99, snuggling up with your cat in front of the TV: priceless.
Good luck reaching your financial goals.
Hermit crab image By ZooFari, via Wikimedia Commons