According to a recent article in USA Today, Americans spent approximately $50.8 billion on their pets last year, up from $10.1 billion just four years earlier. That’s a lot of money for Max or Fluffy, but still nothing compared to the unconditional love they shell out for you every day.
As the proud owner of two Labrador-Australian Shepard mixes, I’m no stranger to the rising cost of pet care. In addition to frequent exercise and annual check-ups, my husband and I save hundreds of dollars on pet care by adopting the following savvy strategies.
1. Create an Emergency Fund
There are at least nine reasons for an emergency fund, according to Kiplinger, including the ability to offset a costly vet bill should your beloved animal need expensive treatment. When my dogs were just 12 months old, one choked the other during aggressive play and — $1,700 later — we had a very tired but recovering puppy. Our savings account kept this traumatic experience from creating a financial hardship.
2. Don’t Skimp on Food
Food is likely the most expensive necessity next to vet visits, but that doesn’t mean you should opt for low price over quality. By purchasing healthy food, you’re enhancing your pet’s quality of life and ultimately saving yourself from costly vet bills down the road. Purchase discount gift cards to PetSmart and other stores from sites like GiftCardGranny.com to nab some savings.
3. Consider Pet Insurance
If you’re the type of pet owner who will spare no expense for veterinary care, consider signing up for pet insurance. The number of pet insurance carriers has increased significantly from just ten years ago, and most offer several levels of coverage. Visit PetInsuranceComparison.org for information on available policies, reviews and questions to ask providers.
4. Take Advantage of Clinics
Some veterinary practices offer free clinics one or two times a year, waiving appointment fees that compound the cost of annual visits. My husband and I always schedule check-ups and vaccinations during these times. If your vet doesn’t offer this service, check with your local Humane Society or animal-control unit for recommendations.
5. Research Your Options
When facing a hefty vet bill, you might assume your only option is to throw down a credit card and pay off the expense over time. However, there are other sources for financial aid, including state programs and breed-specific organizations. Consult this article from the Humane Society for more information.
6. Buy Discount
I shop discount retailers like TJMaxx and Ross for clothes and housewares, and always peruse their pet-care aisles for deals. I’ve found great pet beds, bowls and toys for much less than pet-store prices, though I avoid treats and food items since I’m not familiar with the brands. Ultimately, new pet owners can score serious savings by stocking up on discount supplies.
7. Be Loyal
PetSmart and PetCo each have free loyalty programs that offer discounts and, in the case of PetCo, 5-percent cash back on purchases. You should also sign up to receive email notifications about upcoming sales and exclusive discounts, and stock up during these specials to tide you over until the next promotion.
8. Order Meds Online
Most pet owners know medications purchased directly from the vet come with a hefty price tag. Unless it’s an emergency, request the prescription information and shop online at sites like 1800PetMeds.com. I save 34 percent on our dogs’ heart worm medication by ordering online and using the generic alternative.
9. Fix for Less
Neutering or spaying your pet is crucial to avoiding the exponential expense of caring for a litter down the road. The average cost of the service from your local vet is between $200 and $300, but many organizations offer this service for less to curb the number of homeless animals. Consult ASPCA’s Low Cost Spay/Neuter Programs page to find a provider near you.
Though I wouldn’t attempt to clean a cat’s teeth, there are several services you can administer at home to save money. Brushing, ear cleaning and nail clipping are just a few necessities you can likely handle without the assistance of a professional. In fact, your vet will happily share with you the best techniques for at-home care, as they’d much prefer to spend time on more specialized services.
Kendal Perez is a frugal fashionista and bargain shopper who helps fellow shopaholics find hassle-free ways to save money. As the marketing coordinator for Kinoli Inc., she has the resources to be an extreme couponer but prefers a less complicated approach to staying in-budget. Kendal has been quoted in such media outlets as CNN Money, FOX, ABC, NPR, TIME Moneyland and Kiplinger Personal Finance. For savings tips and more information, visit HassleFreeSavings.com.