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Can you afford to get a pet?
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Many pet owners will tell you that bringing a furry friend into their life feels as significant as gaining another member of the family. And like humans, it costs money to raise a pet. A lot of it.

According to the ASPCA, a medium-sized dog costs an average of $565 up front for one-time purchases like collars and training classes, with another $894 a year after that for ongoing medical costs and food. A cat costs approximately $365 upfront, plus $809 a year after that. But if you can swing the costs, there’s lots to gain by adopting a pet. “You are responsible for a living being,” said Cary Carbonaro, managing director at United Capital and author of The Money Queen’s Guide: For Women Who Want to Build Wealth and Manage Fear. “Feeding and caring comes with a price tag and pays you back in love.”

Here’s how to make room in your budget — and your home — for a new pet.

Adopt vs. buy

Adopting a pet isn’t only a more ethical option, but more cost-effective. If you’re adopting through a certified rescue organization like the Animal Humane Society, you’ll pay a one-time adoption fee, which includes vaccinations, de-worming, tests for infectious diseases and spay and neuter procedures. According to BankRate, adoption fees range from $50 to $150, while purchasing fees from a breeder or pet store range from $700 to $2,000. Though certain medical procedures are included in these fees, many breeders tack on extra charges to turn a profit.

Schedule regular check-ups

For standard check-ups, avoid emergency vet hospitals or specialists, since their equipment — and thus services — can be significantly more expensive, according to Lauren Abrams, veterinary assistant and animal rescue advocate at SPCA. Make room in your budget for at least one check-up per year to catch any conditions before they become too advanced or costly to treat.

Add necessities into your budget

Factor your new pet’s food and medication into your monthly budget. According to the ASCPA, the average monthly cost of premium food is $27 a month for dogs and $19 for cats. To help ensure you don’t go over your monthly limit, deduct your pet’s necessities from your grocery budget — and consider switching from brand name to generic brand foods, and purchasing produce on sale.

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Choose a low-maintenance breed

It’s no secret that a goldfish will cost a lot less in the upkeep department than a poodle. But opting for certain breeds within a given species can also help you save, according to Abrams. “Mixed breeds often avoid the medical anomalies that come with pure breed animals. A medium-sized mutt may be the best choice in order to avoid the orthopedic problems that come with larger sized dogs and the back and teeth problems that come with small dogs, however all dogs can have health issues and it is often not breed-specific,” she said.

Allocate funds wisely

Fewer things are more adorable than a dog in a raincoat. While Carbonaro said that it’s typically those with plenty of discretionary income who purchase designer clothes for their pets, if you’re going to invest in your pet, do so in a way that more directly contributes to its well-being. Carbonaro said to save for boarding or pet sitting if you travel often. And you can cut down on room and board costs by enlisting a few trusted friends to watch your pet while you’re away, Abrams suggested.

While necessary for their development and emotional well-being, the cost of toys can quickly add up. “I often refer people to the sale sections at many stores and even on Amazon,” said Abrams. “Each year, rescue groups often do conferences or garage sales where they sell lightly used pet gear and this can save a lot of money.”

For their personal hygiene, have a groomer show you how to cut their nails so you can do it yourself going forward.

Get insured

Pet insurance is one of those things you never want to have to use, but always want to have on hand in case of emergencies. “Vet bills are very expensive and it’s difficult to predict if the pet gets sick,” said Carbonaro. Prices range depending on your location, pet breed and coverage plan, and while it might cost you a few hundred bucks up front, it might end up saving you money — as well as your pet’s life — down the line. Popular pet insurance companies include Figo, Trupanion and Healthy Paws, and Abrams said you can get them directly through your vet.

Keep them healthy

You obviously want to keep your pet as healthy as possible, both for their well-being and your wallet. One simple way to decrease your number of vet visits each year is to purchase premium, high-quality pet food from the start, according to Abrams. You’ll be paying more up front, but you’ll see your return on investment when your cats aren’t developing urinary tract infections or your dogs aren’t developing digestive problems from poor-quality food.

Receive assistance

It’s not advisable to adopt a pet if you cannot afford it. But if you do run into financial issues while a pet is already in your care, you might qualify for financial assistance. The Humane Society offers a comprehensive list of organizations nationwide that providing funding for the likes of veterinary care, cancer treatment, and heart disease treatment. “Many cities have incredible low-cost vet care programs as well as food banks for pets,” said Abrams. “This is a great opportunity for pet owners who are financially limited to give their pets the best care and it takes a community to do so.”

Foster

Abrams said a great cost-effective way to care for animals is to foster for a shelter or rescue group, which will allow you to keep the animal in your home anywhere from two weeks to six months until they are ready for adoption. “Most rescue groups will provide foster families with food and medical care for the pet and the foster family’s only job is to give as much love as possible to this pet and to help make them more adoptable,” said Abrams. “Fostering saves lives, opens up spaces in shelters to accept more animals and best of all, it often costs the foster family a very small amount.”

Similarly, shelters are always looking for volunteers because they’re often at capacity and under-staffed. “It’s extremely rewarding and it allows you to get a lot of furry cuddles as well as enrich the environment of animals in shelters,” said Abrams. “It doesn’t cost a thing, except time.”

Marissa Miller
Personal finance and travel writer