I grew up having animals in the house. Over the years we had a cat, ferrets, iguanas, guinea pigs, hamsters, fish, and frogs. I always knew that when I was older I wanted to have my own. While living in Switzerland, I was finally ready to adopt. Ironically, it was very difficult to adopt cats in Switzerland, as the shelters have strict rules requiring outdoor space for them to roam, which I couldn’t guarantee. Luckily for me, a friend knew someone whose cat had some unexpected kittens, and they were more than happy to let me take them home.
I quickly learned that my two adorable boys, Freddie and George, were not cheap. Food, supplies, vet bills, unexpected vet bills, cat-sitting, often an additional charge on rent. Fortunately, I found that there are some ways to minimize the cost of having furry companions.
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Shop around for your supplies
When I first started taking care of the cats, I went down the street to the PetSmart to buy all of the supplies that I needed, and I kept going back every few weeks for food. Sometimes I would pick up some cans at the grocery store if I was running low and forgot to make the trip. But I soon learned that the most obvious option is not always the best option.
The best discovery of the last few years has been Chewy. Chewy.com is an online pet supply retailer that sells everything. Their prices are lower, and as a bonus, you can set up automatic shipments which gives you an additional discount. The canned food that I buy is about $0.10-$0.15 less per can than Petsmart or the grocery store (with an additional $0.05 discount per can for the autoship). That doesn’t seem like a lot until you realize that my boys go through 750 cans in a year. That’s over $1,000 saved during their lifetime! Plus everything is delivered right to my door, which is particularly helpful for the giant 40 lb bags of litter that I order. Click here to get 30% off your first Autoship order!
For one-time purchases such as leashes, carriers, food dishes, or small animals cages, consider Craigslist, Freecycle, NextDoor, thrift shops, or even the dollar store. You’re going to pay much less for the same item than if you went to a pet store.
Buy in bulk (sometimes!)
Some supplies, like dry dog and cat food, are a better deal when you buy in bigger packages. A bag of dry dog food may be $1.25 per pound when you buy an 8 pound bag, but only $1.08 per pound when you buy a 40 pound bag. Buying the big bag will save you $7 for 40 pounds of food.
Invest in an airtight container (like this one from Amazon) and save money by buying in bulk.
Know when to spend more
There are certain items that are worth spending a little more money on because they work better or they last longer.
Food is one area where I am willing to spend a bit more to give my boys better nutrition. I like saving money, but I don’t want to save at the expense of their health. That being said, I don’t see the need to spend $2 per can on the super fancy stuff.
One of the best purchases I’ve made was an automatic feeder. They can be a bit pricey up front, but it’s worth it. Mine is programmable, so I don’t have to worry about leaving them enough food if I travel for a night or two. It’s lasted 5 years so far and it’s working great!
Other things, like expensive toys or massive cat trees, I don’t go for. A stool works fine for them to look out the window, and they typically prefer the box that it came in anyway!
Before I adopted Freddie and George, I didn’t know that pet insurance existed. To be honest, when I did find out about it, I thought the idea of getting insurance for a pet was a little ridiculous. Until George had an emergency vet visit that ran me almost a thousand dollars. When it comes to personal finance, I always prefer expected expenses to unexpected expenses, and I started to realize the potential of unexpected expenses if the cats got sick or injured. So I started looking into insurance plans.
There are a lot of different options. Some include preventative care, some don’t. They have different reimbursement rates and different premiums, and it’s worth shopping around to get the plan that is best for your situation. After a lot of research, I ended up going with Healthy Paws. They had great reviews, a reasonable monthly premium, good coverage, and no maximum limit on payouts. If I had purchased my current plan before George got sick, I would have saved hundreds.
When the man and I moved in together, we also merged cat families. He had adopted Buddy as a kitten and he grew into a super snuggly, giant, adorable 12-year old boy who mostly tolerated his younger, more energetic brothers. Within the first few weeks of moving to Oregon, however, we found out that Buddy had cancer. It was heartbreaking, and treatment was expensive. But as anyone who has animals knows, you want to do everything you can.
Without our Healthy Paws insurance, we wouldn’t have been able to try treatment without going into debt. They made it so easy to submit claims and get reimbursement quickly, and although we did end up losing him after a month, we knew that we had done everything we could. I can’t say enough about how thankful we are that we were able to try.
Avoid buying meds from the vet
Did you know that you can get prescriptions for animals filled at your local pharmacy? If it is a medication that can also be prescribed to humans (you’d be surprised how many can be), you can get it for animals there too, usually for much cheaper than at the vet.
If not, there are online retailers that also offer pet prescriptions. Chewy has medications, as does 1800petmeds.com, petcarerx.com, and others. Often your vet is going to have the most expensive option, so it’s worth your time to shop around, especially if it is a medication that is long-term.
Keep up to date on their health
Avoid those expensive vet visits by keeping up to date on your pet’s vaccines and preventative visits. Know their typical behaviors so you can identify early if something is wrong. Also, things like dental work can be super expensive later in life (and often not covered by insurance), so you can give your dog dental treats or brush their teeth to help avoid issues down the road.
Include your furry friends in your monthly budget
Once you find the best place to buy your supplies, don’t forget to include it in your budget!
If you set up automatic shipments through Chewy, it is easy to calculate how much per month you need to spend on food and supplies. If you shop elsewhere, figure out the amount you will spend and factor that in to your monthly budget so there are no surprises.
If you aren’t ready to commit to adopting an animal, consider fostering! There are many animal adoption companies who are in constant need of temporary care while animals wait to get adopted. This keeps them in homes rather than in cages at a shelter until they find a family. You pay for food and basic supplies, but any vet bills or big expenses are usually taken care of. Fostering can last anywhere from a few days to a few months.
When I first got the bug to adopt a cat, I was living with a roommate and she wasn’t too sure about it. I convinced her to let me foster so that she could see if she liked having them around. I fostered twice – the first was two sisters who I got to deliver to their new family, and the second was a sweet girl who just needed a home for a few days. It proved to me that I did want to adopt (and proved to my roommate that she didn’t!).
How do you save money on your pets?