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I May Be Easy, but I’m Not Cheap: How to Save Money on Pet Costs

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Happy Thursday! Today we welcome back our regular Thursday contributor – Laurie from The Frugal Farmer.

Pets can be expensive; we all know that.  There are differing opinions about whether or not pets are acceptable to keep for someone on a tight budget, and that’s a decision only the pet owners themselves can make.  Animals can be expensive, but they are often like family.  They become very attached to their humans, and vice versa, so it’s not always easy to simply send them off to another home.  I myself know homes where the pets get just as much clout as the children.

So how’s a person to cut pet costs on a tight budget?  There are several ways to minimize pet costs and save money for those on a tight budget or those simply looking to keep more money in their pockets:

Do it Yourself

There are several pet care tasks that don’t necessarily require a vet or a groomer’s assistance.  With just a few minutes of training, pet owners can trim their cats’ and dogs’ nails, groom their dogs, or provide basic meds like de-wormers.  In the equine world, there’s even a list of vaccinations that large pet veterinary clinics will allow pet owners to administer themselves.  Yes, it’s a little stomach-turning to stick a huge needle into a 1200-lb animal, but you get used to it. 🙂

Grooming is another way in which a pet owner can save huge amounts of money.  For roughly $50, you can buy a decent pet grooming kit, and with a little practice, become your dog’s groomer and save a few hundred dollars a year.  If you have pets, scrutinize your pet costs and see if any of them are DIY possibilities.

Save Money on Pet Costs By Cutting the Fluff

Another way to save money on pet costs is to eliminate veterinarian, grooming or entertainment costs that are unnecessary.  For instance, our indoor cat hasn’t been vaccinated against rabies/distemper in years.  Call me a bad pet owner, but I just don’t see the point when she doesn’t leave the house.  If you have some insight as to why she might be at risk for rabies/distemper, please share, as I’d be happy to reconsider for the health of our cat, Sunshine.

Also, Fluffy does not need a new toy once a week, or even once a month.  While you’re shopping for pet food, make sure to stay out of the toy section as well so as to avoid temptation.  Another option?  Homemade pet toys.  Take a rope out of the garage, cut a small section and knot it at both ends.  Or head over to the local tennis court and search the surrounding grass for tennis balls for Fido.

Shop Around

Not all vets charge the same, and not all stores charge the same for food, etc.  When we needed de-wormer medication for our cats, we found prices on the Internet that ranged from $2.99 up to $80!  After reading many reviews and visiting our local farm store, we settled on a $4.49 bottle that came highly recommended by both customers and a long-term store employee, and the bottle will last us for a good two years.  I’m SO glad we didn’t just head out and buy the $80 stuff because of the great reviews.

Shopping around is also important if you’re looking to save money on veterinarian bills.  Check out the different vets in your city, and even in nearby cities, and ask for a price list.  Our vet in the suburbs charged almost double what our new, small town vet charges.  We also made the choice of picking a large animal vet that is fresh out of school and had just started her own business.  She’s a great gal who keeps reasonable rates (about 35% lower than the “popular” large animal vet in the area) because of her love of animals and her appreciation for pet owners.

Owning pets does cost money, but just like with other expenses, there are ways to minimize costs. Decide today to become a more frugal pet owner.

 

How Do You Save Money on Pet Costs? 

 

Photo courtesy of: Pamela Stocks

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more. If you're wanting to learn how to monetize your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.

46 Comments

  • Hey Laurie and John,
    I’ve written a few posts this year about pets simply because ours has cost us quite a bit of money this year and with a potential scare of cancer. We budget over $100 a month in our projected expenses now so that the money is ready to go if he has to go back to the vet for more costly procedures. Owning a pet is costly and I don’t think many people give much thought to the overall picture including walking the pet, playing with the pet, cleaning up and loving the pet. IT’s more work then simply feeding them water and food.. and it’s not fair to a pet if one can’t provide for them the necessities it needs to live. Putting a pet down because someone can’t afford a vet bill is wrong to me. I have a heart I’d find a way but I know I won’t own a pet again, it’s been a fun 12 years but…it’s my time now. Thanks for the post Laurie.

    • That’s a great idea: having a pet fund like that. I totally agree with you too: people don’t understand that they can be quite costly; they often only consider the cuddle factor. Yeah, that would be sad to put down a pet b/c you can’t afford the bill. I know you guys have been through a lot with your pup this year. They are definitely work! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mr. CBB.

  • The main way we save money on our pet is through using coupons and deals when buying cat food and cat litter. We probably save a couple hundred per year by using this strategy.

  • I save money on my pet dog by skipping his vaccines. I know that it sound weird but I read an article before stating that it’s okay to skip vaccines because it may take a long time, maybe 2 to 3 years before the dog needs another one. And my dog is just doing fine by the way.

  • Kitty PoP is pretty darned cheap, and one of the reasons he’s so healthy is that we play with him often and keep an eye on his weight. By managing his weight and keeping him at a healthy one we hope to prevent problems that happen when some pets get too fat – a problem our vet says is all too common in indoor cats.

    • That’s such a great point, Mrs. PoP. We’ve just recently switched indoor kitty to a diet of canned green beans mixed with canned cat food, and she’s slimming down quite nicely, and a whole lot happier/healthier. It works!

  • This is an excellent article! Great tips for keeping pet costs low. I agree with DC, you can save even more by searching out coupons for cat food/litter – this is our strategy, as well. To use as many coupons as we possibly can, we have about three different cat foods that we rotate through. We’ve switched up our cats’ food since they were kittens, and I think it’s helped keep them from becoming picky and I’d like to think they appreciate the variety.

    And I agree with you on the vaccinations – our kitties are strictly indoor cats. They had one round of shots/vaccines when we brought them home from the shelter and had rabies shots when they were spayed. But we don’t plan on keeping up with annual shots in the future, because there’s just no need. A thought for owners in similar situations – if your indoor cat were to somehow get outside your home, in my opinion the cat being picked up by someone else and taken to a vet or a shelter is far more likely than your pet contracting rabies. I think it’s a better investment to have kitties microchipped instead; it’s a common practice now for both vets and animal shelters to scan “strays” to check for these chips. If your cat has a microchip, he or she will soon be safely returned to you instead of being adopted out or worse, euthanized at a shelter.

    • I agree about the microchips – they seem like a good investment. We found a dog one time when we first moved into our small town, called the local vet, and after we described him, the vet said “OH, that’s ____________”. Bring him by in the morning and I’ll make sure he gets home. One of the benefits of living in a small town – old-fashioned microchipping. 🙂

  • Alicia @ Financial Diffraction says:

    We have a pet fund rather than pet insurance. We have four (!) felines in our blended cat family and so rather than taking insurance out on cats that are on the older side (adoptees above 7) we just have a pet fund to pull from if a visit is required. We cut their own nails, brush them ourselves, and only take them to the vet for a check up every other year (indoor cats) or if something is wrong. It seems that the fund is pretty self-sustaining since they’re never all needed something all at once (except when they got fleas, but that’s only about $20/cat).

  • Oh man! Our dog cost us a pretty penny when we first got her. She is worth it and we love her of course, but they aren’t cheap. I try to maintain their health with good good and regular exercise to save on them.

  • Matt Becker says:

    We’ve got two cats and other than food and litter they really don’t need much. I will say though that you run the risk of health problems and that can get you into some dicey decision-making. We got one of our cats about 2 years ago and he immediately had all kinds of stomach issues that the vets couldn’t figure out, which of course cost us money. We were seriously debating whether we could keep going when we eventually found a specific kind of food that keeps him fine. The food itself is more expensive than the alternatives, but much cheaper than ongoing vet bills. In the end, there are definitely ways to keep the regular costs down, and your tips are good ones, but you should also be prepared for the potential reality that they can cost you a good chunk of money.

    • Whew! That could’ve turned out to be a spendy cat. Glad you found a food that worked. We had to change our indoor cat’s diet recently too, and yes, it’s way cheaper than lots of vet bills. Thanks for sharing, Matt.

  • Your post highlighted two of the key cornerstones of frugal living: doing what you can yourself and shopping around. These ideas will serve you well, not just with pets, but with most other things as well. You have presented some very good advice. Thanks.

  • I factor my two cats into my emergency fund (no pet insurance) so I’ll be prepared for unexpected vet bills. Otherwise, their maintenance costs are barely $30/month for the good food + litter. I can definitely spare that.

  • With so much available in vet care technology, it’s hard to know when to stop if your pet is ill. It’s important to look at costs, but also if the care is going to improve quality of life. You could be out thousands of dollars that leads to the same outcome if you aren’t willing to make the tough decisions.

    • So true, Kim! We just had a similar conversation with our vet about a diagnostic test. We decided in the end that b/c there was no risk of spreading the disease and nothing we could do to prevent it, that we wouldn’t bother with testing.

  • anna says:

    We don’t have any pets, but what I’m surprised about are all the high-end stores that are sprouting specifically for dogs/cats – pet manicures, high end gourmet treats, doggy gyms (complete with astroturf track), etc. I suppose to each their own, but all this over-pampering just seems over the top these days.

  • We’ve done a lot of these DIY tricks with our dogs over the years and it can save you a bundle over the years. When we do buy a toy for our dog, we usually buy something that will last forever and be fun for them (Like a kong – it’s hard to destroy those things). We also don’t buy toys that we know she’ll destroy in five minutes – like the cute squeaky stuff animal toy. Spending a little more money strategically saved us more in the long run.

  • Michelle says:

    Pets are definitely expensive! The local pet stores around here offer shots and checkups for super cheap if you line up on a Saturday. I’m usually able to get around $250 worth of shots for around $50!

  • Pet care is super cheap in Grenada and I also think we’ve been lucky to have a mixed breed dog because she’s been super duper healthy the past 5 years!

  • Kendal says:

    Great post, Laurie! We have two large dogs so I’ve written a few posts about saving on pets, too. We do our own grooming and buy high-quality food at a feed store that gives us a free bag after the 12th purchase. We also research online costs for meds such as heartworm — we saved $26 by switching online providers at the last minute. Finally, having an emergency savings account is really helpful when the unexpected occurs — we shelled out close to $2K for one of our pups when he was just 12 months old. Our savings account came in handy!

    • Sounds like you guys have got the pet cost savings all figured out, Kendal. I really appreciate you sharing what you’ve done. I’ll have to head on over and read your pet care posts – thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • We buy our pet joint supplements online (it’s way cheaper than buying them from the vet). Our vet said our cats didn’t need any more shots because they’re inside only cats and don’t have exposure to other pets. If it ever came down to a money issue we’d sacrifice a meal to make sure our pets had one. They didn’t ask to live with us and we chose to adopt them. They’re like kids to us.

    • KK, we feel much the same way about our pets – they’re like family to us, second only to the kids. Glad to hear your vet thought no vaccines for indoor cats was good – that makes me feel better to hear my thoughts about our indoor cat confirmed. 🙂

  • E.M. says:

    I have to agree that pets don’t need a million toys. One of my aunts has a bin dedicated to toys for her dog, and I rarely ever see him play with them. My cats get distracted by anything (which is sometimes a bad thing), and recently we discovered our kitten loves to play with bags. They provide her with a lot of entertainment, and then she entertains us! Homemade toys are the way to go with cats. I used to be lucky that my mom worked for the animal shelter, so we would get all kinds of things (rabies shot being one of them) for free, but now that she retired I’m just too shy to ask for anything, even though they told me it was fine. I think food can be the biggest expense, especially when feeding them a healthier brand!

    • LOL, sounds like a lot of people with their kids! Wow, good deal on the freebies from the shelter, what a great thing! I would stop being shy and jump on them, E.M. They offered, so, I’d take advantage of it. 🙂 Totally agree about the spendier foods too – they can be costlier, but probably cut down on vet bills in the long run.

  • I would recommend if anyone is searching for a dog, do some research on the breed. (Or breeds – if it’s mixed.) Each breed has unique characteristics, which can provide insight into how much time you’ll spend at the vets office. I learned this the hard way after adopting a very lovable and sweet, buy very expensive and high maintenance pug.

  • Alexa says:

    I don’t own any pets right now but would like to get a dog in the near future. I am just dreading the house training process! I just potty trained my youngest daughter not too long ago….I need a little break 😀

    • Martha says:

      Hi Alexa,
      You can get an older dog that is already house broken. I found my first one and she was about 1 1/2 years old. No problems there. My second one was a rescue dog as well (6 months) but she had been living in kennel and was not house broken. I used the book “How to Housebreak Your Dog in Seven Days” that I got from the library. It took a bit longer than that but it really worked.
      BTW – I also really recommend dog training. You, your family and the dog will be much happier.
      Have fun when you get one.

    • LOL, funny. 🙂 I agree with Martha too about looking into a rescue dog that’s already trained. It’ll likely be a much more peaceful transition into pet ownership. 🙂

  • I remember my dog´s favourite toys were a small teddybear that I bought at the Salvation Army (Norwegian version of Goodwill) for about $1, and a small bottle with a string tied to it. He loooooved those frugal toys!

    • Funny, NG. That reminds me of the time a gal brought her golden retriever to our garage sale so the dog could pick out a couple of stuffed animals. She (the dog) rumbled through the box, picked out two animals, and carried them all the way home in her mouth. What a hoot!

  • Out-of-the-way or country vet offices are where it’s at! The staff is tend to be more friendly and helpful, the costs more reasonable, and while the facilities may not be top of the line, my two dogs have never received adequate care!

    No matter what, vet costs are not something to scrimp on, especially on preventative care!

  • Finding the right vet is the key for me. Having gone to a very expensive vets that want to treat every little thing, it can really blow your budget. Find a vet that has the proper perspective and is in alignment with your expectations.

  • Great advice! We recently started doing our pups nails and got to of pet insurance. I also have been meaning to be better at things like regular exercise, teeth brushing, and other general preventative activities that will hopefully extend our dog’s life and keep her happy and healthy to boot.

    And finally, find some people to trade pet sitting duty with so you never have to pay expensive boarding fees!

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