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The Economics of Pet Ownership

Around Thanksgiving last year, my husband and I decided we were ready to get serious about owning a dog. We had just moved into a new place with a huge backyard and figured it was the perfect space to add another member to the family. I grew up with Golden Retrievers, so was slightly biased to the breed (good with kids, good with adults, good with everyone really…but probably the worst guard dog!). Evan never experienced having a pet growing up, unless you count a three-week stint with a goldfish that ended up getting accidentally flushed…long story. We were not tied to a particular breed, but agreed that we wanted a good family dog.

Our first stop was the local SPCA. When we didn’t find a pooch that we “fell in love with”, we continued our search with local breeders and went to adoption fairs at our neighborhood pet store. After months of looking, we finally found our Mabel, an 8-week ball of energy, on a whim after responding to a Craigslist posting. Yes, you can find dogs on Craigslist! But, word from the wise if you are dog shopping online – only purchase in-person from a responsible breeder and make sure they have credentials. We were so unprepared when we showed up for the adoption that I made Evan run to Petco to get a leash and a collar before we could take her home.

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And that was the moment when I realized we had no clue what we were getting into… just how expensive is owning a dog in a city like San Francisco? We would soon learn the hard way how costly our furbaby would be.

For the animal-loving readers out there interested in getting a dog or cat of their own, here’s a look into the monthly costs of owning a pet.

The Costs of Fido and Fluffy

Pet ownership is a reality for many American households. According to the American Pet Product Association, about 68 percent of U.S. households in 2012, or 82.5 million households, shared their home with a pet.

The cost of caring for your animal varies depending on your pet’s size, breed and location. The ASPCA reports that annual costs of owning a medium size dog are roughly $1,580. The bigger the dog, the more expensive your costs due to more kibble/food, exercise requirements, grooming, maintenance and accessories.

And be prepared – the first year is usually the most expensive. Puppies require a host of special shots and vaccines – meaning a lot of pricey trips to the vet! According to a recent article by Kiplinger, your new best friend can cost between $700 and $2,000 in the first year alone (excluding any special needs such as dog walking, pet insurance, and grooming, which can raise the cost by more than $7,000!).

Ready for the pet price lowdown? Check out our monthly overview of costs for Mabel, our 40-pound bundle of joy:

Monthly Expenses:

Dog Food: $50 per month ($600 a year) for grain-free kibble
Pet Insurance (we have VPI – Veterinary Pet Insurance): $18-35 (for basic coverage)
Vet Trips: $0 – $40 per visit (Our visits are lower because we went ahead and bought a wellness package)
Dog Walker: $25 per walk (5 days a week) – Total $500 per month, or $1,000 per month for double walks
Toys: $0 – 50 (We realized very quickly that our dog prefers sticks and rocks over fancy toys, so this is a category you can definitely save on)
Treats: $10 – 30 (Another category we can probably save on – Mabel prefers ice cubes!)
Accessories: $0 – 20 (this includes new collars, leashes, dog poop plastic waste bags)
Grooming: $0 – 30 (We do this ourselves)

TOTAL per month: $578 – 1,255


Wellness Package: $60 per month – this is a package through our vet that allows walk-ins and all office visits to be free of charge, also includes discounts on shots and vaccines
Lost Pet Service: $15 annually – since we live in a big city, we wanted our dog to be on a national registry in case she went missing
Frontline Plus Flea and Tick Prevention medicine: $65 per year (Optional, but we thought this was important)
Heartworm Prevention Medication: Free with our wellness package
Boarding/Pet Hotel: $100 – 300 (based on a 2-day stay at Wag Hotel)

TOTAL: $900 – 1,200

Start-Up Costs:

Adoption (Based on SF SPCA’s adoption fees): $100 – 250
Puppy Shots: $20 – 150 for the first year, $10 – 100 per year afterwards
Crate: $60
Dog Bed: $40
Cleaning Supplies: $15 – 30
Dog Spay Surgery: $0 (Included in the wellness package) but can range from $200 – 300
Dog Training Classes: $1,200 (4 week program)

TOTAL: $1,435 – $1,930

After our financial analysis, we realized that our sweet Mabel costs us between $578 – 1,000 per month! As soon as we started tracking our spending using Personal Capital’s free tools, we immediately stopped our frivolous trips to the pet store and reduced this in half!

*Again, note that these costs range depending on your dog’s breed, size and location. Your costs might be cheaper if you own a miniature poodle in Kansas, over a Labrador in California.

Is Your Pet A Money Pit?

To some, owning a dog in an expensive city like San Francisco is out of the question. Similar to children, just providing basic needs such as a roof over their head, food, medical and education can be expensive, so it’s important to create a budget before you adopt. For new pet owners, you should plan on putting at least 10% of your paycheck away to cover the first year costs. And if you can start saving at least 2-3 months before you get your pet you’ll be protected against unforeseen costs, such as a trip to the emergency vet to retrieve car keys that your dog just ate.

I’ll admit, after logging into my Personal Capital Dashboard, I was shocked to see that Mabel is now my 2nd highest expense each month (next to my mortgage)! After months of mindless spending on the dog – random trips to the pet store for more toys and bones to be exact – we put ourselves on a weekly budget. The dog will still love us even if we don’t spoil her rotten.

We’ve also considered reducing the amount of dog walks per week, or alternating working from home on Fridays. And no more fancy dog hotels or boarding – we have plenty of friends who would love the chance to watch our sweet girl when we are out of town. We also completely eliminated grooming costs by bathing Mabel twice a month in our own tub and enjoying the complete trill of watching her splash around. Be warned, a free bath also means that you don’t mind wiping down your entire house when she starts shaking to dry afterwards!

Man’s Best Friend

Is pet ownership worth the expense? I’m sure if you asked every dog owner out there that question, you’d get an overwhelming YES! Not only is your pet a best friend, companion and essential family member, but research suggests that owning a pet can improve your health. A recent study conducted by Michigan State University showed that dog owners exercised an average of 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week – exceeding federal exercise guidelines. Forget expensive gym memberships and fancy treadmills – go for a walk outside for free!

Owning a pet has not only given us added responsibility, it has also provided valuable lessons such as being patient and not sweating the small things. But it’s truly the happiness your pet brings that makes everything worth it – especially when I come home from work and see that familiar tail wagging. Those sloppy greetings are something you just can’t buy.

The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money.

Any reference to the advisory services refers to Personal Capital Advisors Corporation, a subsidiary of Personal Capital. Personal Capital Advisors Corporation is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training nor does it imply endorsement by the SEC.

Jacqueline Quasney is Director of Brand and Communications for Personal Capital. She recently moved to the Bay Area after working for various news media outlets including ABC News, BBC and POLITICO in Washington, D.C. She thinks Personal Capital's tools have been life-changing for managing her finances and is excited to be part of a movement to help people lead better financial lives.
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