But the one question that kept me from getting one until I was well into my twenties was:
“Can I afford a pet?”
And more specifically: “Can I afford a dog?”
Not to get budget-preachy on you, but these are seriously important questions to ask if you’re thinking about adding a pet to your life. Because this decision isn’t just about you…
It’s also about your potential new animal companion.
You need to make sure you’re ready to take responsibility for them in every way. And that very much includes the money stuff.
Luckily, there’s a structured, reliable way to find out if you can afford a pet – all without compromising your retirement. (Or having to eat ramen noodles all month unless you’re into that.)
Check in with your expenses
Before you can even start to answer a question about how much of anything you can afford, you’ll need to know what your current monthly money situation looks like.
Question 1. Do you have a budget?
You can download a ready-made budget spreadsheet right here, which saves you a lot of the heavy lifting.
Once you’ve got the document open, it’s a matter of filling in your monthly expenses, and estimating them where you don’t have hard numbers off the top of your head.
You’ll quickly start to see the numbers add up. Especially if you’re using a pre-made budget template that has helpful reminders of categories you might have missed.
Question 2. Have any “extra” money?
Once you’ve got everything that you can think of in, including your monthly savings contributions, you’ll be able to quickly see how much “extra” money you have leftover every month.
That number is going to be your guide as you dive into the wide world of figuring out how much your pet is going to cost.
Look at your current lifestyle
You probably came into this whole thing with an idea of what kind of pet you want to get. Usually it’s not a “Well, a hamster or a horse, it could go either way” type of situation.
Question 3. What’s the average cost of the pet you want?
If you have one in mind, the next step isn’t actually to look at the average costs associated with the pet you want.
Consider the day-to-day experience and commitment of having that type of animal in your life.
See, if you’re thinking about a horse or a dog, that’s a much bigger commitment than a hamster or a goldfish. And if your current day-to-day life isn’t able to accommodate that commitment, it’s not necessarily a sign that you can’t get that kind of pet…
...But it’s a sign that you’ll need to pay someone to manage the parts of the commitment that aren’t right for you.
Let’s talk pets and numbers
The biggest variable when it comes to whether you can afford a pet is going to be the type of pet you want to get.
Here’s a look at how much some of the more popular pet options will run you.
Startup costs: $150 to $200
Annual costs: $100 to $150
Hamsters are fairly affordable, and live between one and two years. You’ll need to invest in a cage, some equipment (specifically a hamster wheel or ball, they’re very active) and supplies including bedding and food.
Startup costs: $200 to $250
Annual costs: $100 to $250
Guinea pigs live longer than hamsters, with an average age of about four to five years, so you’re looking at a longer commitment - and more years of annual costs. They’ll also have higher startup costs because their gear is larger, and they need more space in their cage.
Startup costs: $30 to $3000+
Annual costs: $10 to $750+
Fish run the gamut from ultra-cheap to get started (think goldfish in a bowl with one little sunken ship decoration) to really expensive if you want a full saltwater tank full of exotic fish. You can pretty much spend as much or as little as you want on fish, so choose your setup and commitment accordingly.
Startup costs: $250 to $2000+
Annual costs: $150 to $750+
Birds are similar to fish in very few ways, but one thing they have in common is that there’s a huge range of price options when it comes to pet birds. If all you want is a budgie and a cage, you can usually get set up for a few hundred dollars, but if you want a large or exotic bird, be prepared to budget for more. And watch out for life expectancies: Some birds can live for decades.
Startup costs: $500 to $1000+
Annual costs: $350 to $1000+
Cats will come with higher startup costs than many pets, even if you adopt or rehome a cat. You’ll need a litter box, food, toys, and you’ll also need to budget for routine vet visits. If you’re getting a kitten, you should also be prepared to pay for shots and spaying or neutering your cat. On an annual basis, the costs of food and vet visits will run you at least a few hundred a year.
Startup costs: $750 to $2000+
Annual costs: $500 to $2000+
Dogs ring in as the most expensive option on this list, and they’ve got a huge range of prices as well depending on what kind of dog you get, the size of dog you get, and how much you want to spend. Puppies will cost more than adult dogs, and they have long lives, so you should account for many years of annual costs. Lastly, when it comes to vet bills, dogs take the cake: you’ll never hear about a guinea pig eating a sock and needing surgery to remove it, but dogs… Well, dogs will totally do that.
Question 4. Can you meet ALL your pet’s basic needs?
While you can economize on almost all parts of pet ownership – making sure your pet’s basic needs are met is non-negotiable.
If you can’t fit that into your daily, weekly or monthly schedule, paying someone to take care of it isn’t going to be an optional pet-ownership expense.
Other Questions to Consider
To figure out how much it’ll cost for your particular situation and pet, consider the following questions.
Question 5. Will you adopt your pet, or buy it from a store or breeder?
While I’m a huge fan of adopting animals, there are some – like fish and hamsters – that are rarely if ever up for adoption due to their lifespans....
But let’s say, you want to be a dog owner. Let’s look at two very different dog owners, and their expenses.
One dog owner adopted an adult dog from the shelter, since they didn’t want to handle the training and time commitment of a puppy. The adoption fee cost them $440. They spent about $400 on basic dog supplies, like a crate, food, bed and leash, plus a few toys. As part of the adoption agreement, they got their dog checked out at the vet, which rang in at $200 for a quick check-up. Altogether, their startup costs to get a dog were around $1,040.
Another dog owner decided that a new puppy was a better fit for their lifestyle, so they went to a reputable breeder and paid $1,800 for a puppy. They also spent about $400 on the initial supplies for their new dog, including puppy pads, bedding, a crate and toys. Since their dog was still growing, they had a series of vet visits for their new dog’s vaccinations, as well as spaying or neutering, which cost them $1,500 in the first year. Altogether, their startup costs to get a puppy were around $3,700.
See? The same type of pet can cost thousands of dollars more, or less, depending on the choices you make along the way.
Question 6. Can you buy any second-hand items that you need for your pet?
Just like pre-loved animals (aka rescues) can help out when it comes to your pet-ownership bottom line, so can pre-loved supplies. Whether you’re looking at a hamster or a Great Dane, you should shop around for second-hand gear to see what’s available.
A quick check on Kijiji and Craigslist could score you a like-new hamster cage, or a gently used dog bed that someone’s persnickety dog didn’t end up sleeping on.
Question 7. What will your ongoing costs be?
Although average annual costs are useful as a benchmark, you’ll want to make sure you can fit in the costs you want to take on with your pet. To do that, you’ll need to do a bit of shopping recon.
Do you want to feed Fluffy the highest-quality cat food known to man? That could run you double or triple the price of the generic, mass-produced stuff. Are you interested in training Fido to become a dog-sports champion? Lessons, and entry into competitions (yes, seriously) will cost you a pretty penny every year.
As a baseline, even if you’re not thinking of doing anything extreme, you should price-compare the different food options out there for your pet, and do the same for other consumables - like hamster bedding, for example.
Question 8. Does your pet need regular vet care?
Outdoor animals, like dogs and some cats, will need more routine vet visits than indoor animals like rabbits. To get a good idea of how much routine vet care will cost, just call a vet - any vet.
Their job is to make sure your animal stays happy and healthy, so they’ll be happy to give you a rough estimate of what your pet might cost in an average year when it comes to vet care. They’ll also likely warn you about exceptional expenses, like if your cat needs dental care, or your dog eats that sock we talked about.
Don’t be surprised if they bring up pet insurance either, but do shop around and read any policies thoroughly before you sign on the dotted line - there’s a huge range of coverage options and costs out there.
Related: 10 Ways to Save on Home Insurance
Question 9. How much will you allocate to “fun” pet expenses?
If you plan to go nuts with the pet toys and gear, it can ring up quite a bill!
If you’ve ever seen an “estimate” of how much the average person spends on something – and it was wildly different than what you spent on the exact same thing…
Then you’re prepared for the reality of life as a pet owner.
So, can you afford a pet?
There are so many ways you can be frugal when it comes to making sure your pet has everything it needs. And there are equally many ways you can spend thousands of dollars pampering your pet…
Your personal pet expenses will really come down to one thing: YOU.
You should have a pretty good estimate by now of how much the pet you’ve had your eye on will cost, and whether or not you can afford it. If you’re still in doubt, or have lingering questions, the best thing you can do to get additional clarity is to ask someone who has the kind of pet you’re looking to add to your life.
Pet owners love to talk about their animals, so I’m sure they’d be willing to give you a full breakdown of how much Fluffy costs them on an annual basis!