Over the past year, adoption rates for pets shot up as people sought companionship while in lockdown due to the pandemic. These “pandemic puppies” have helped people get through a difficult time and now, as we are returning to normal life, we need to be sure we’re doing enough to care for our four-legged family members.
Returning to traditional work arrangements will involve extra expenses, and a new household pet can add to that financial responsibility. We’re here to help you care for your pandemic puppy without maxing out any credit cards.
First, budget & track your spending
Our most common advice is more relevant than ever: create a budget and plan your expenses ahead of time. If you have a plan for every dollar of your paycheck, you’ll have enough money set aside for your pets as well as yourself. We don’t want to see anyone have to struggle or resort to debt just to keep their pets fed.
The critical first step in budgeting is to track spending. Start keeping a log of how much you’re spending now, including on your pets’ food and care. If you have annual vet bills, divide the amount you pay your vet by 12 and set aside that much each month. Don’t leave yourself in a position where you have to use credit to get your pet’s annual vaccinations every year.
We have free courses on budgeting and workbooks for download from our free online FIT Academy. Spend some time figuring out a budgeting method that can work for you.
Consider an online pet food delivery service
One way to make your budget work is to keep your spending consistent and regular. If you know how much food and treats your pets go through in a month, set up some kind of online subscription to have their food delivered. This makes pet food expenses very predictable and easier to budget for.
If your pets have prescriptions or supplements they need, you can have those delivered as well. Try to set up a regular schedule so you don’t have to worry about shopping or spending from week to week on your pets’ needs.
A subscription will save you from impulse buys as well—every trip to the pet store is another opportunity to buy more chew toys and things your pet may not need. By ordering your pet supplies online, you’re more likely to make each purchase a truly necessary one.
Dealing with attachment issues
Pets who have lived with you through a lockdown period will have become attached and won’t like it when you start leaving for work every day. Dogs are pack animals; they want to be near their humans. Separation anxiety can set in, leading to behavior problems that can be disruptive or expensive to deal with.
If you take care to prepare your dog for your normal work schedule, you can avoid the expense of doggy day care or boarding fees.
Start a routine of “going back to work” even before you fully go back. Put your pet in another room and let them be alone without you for a little while, and then gradually increase the amount of time they’re left alone until they’re ready to get through a workday without you.
When leaving them alone, give them something positive, like a healthy chew toy or treat, so they will create a positive association with your work routine. Your leaving shouldn’t be too stressful for them, so give them something to enjoy every time you leave them.
When deciding what kind of chew toy is appropriate for your dog, do some research and ask your vet for a recommendation. Things like natural bones, hooves and antlers can be dangerous for dogs to chew on, as can nylon bones. Look for a chewable that isn’t so hard it will break your dog’s teeth, or so small it could be swallowed and damage their digestive system.
Consider hiring a dog walker
Walk your dog, every day if you can. Desensitize them to noise, other people and pets. That will help them bark less and be better behaved.
Pets adopted during the lockdown may not be as fully socialized as you’d like. They need to be exposed to strangers and their pets so they can get along with others and not be aggressive or anxious in unfamiliar situations.
If necessary, you might have to hire a dog walker, but having someone drop by to walk your dog is going to be more affordable than boarding your pet every day while you’re at work. This is another one of those expenses you have to be able to budget for if needed, so go back to our first tip and don’t skip the crucial step of budgeting before making plans for your pet’s care.
Ask your vet about up-front estimates
Your veterinarian is a good resource for knowing what your pet needs and how it’s doing developmentally. But vet bills can get expensive, so it’s worth your time to shop around and save.
Compare vets online and ask neighbors, family & friends who they use for veterinary care. When talking to a new vet, ask for written estimates up front so the vet understands your budget is important to you. A good vet will be able to recommend cost-effective alternatives and will put your pet first—no one wants to see a pet fail to get the medical care it needs because the cost is too high.
There are other options like pet insurance that might help. Have a frank discussion with your vet about the total costs of their care and whether getting insurance would be a more cost-effective strategy.
And of course, prevention is key. Keep your pet healthy so you can avoid surprise vet bills down the road. A good diet and exercise will do wonders for your dog, just as it does for you.
Make sure you can make mortgage & rent payments
You and your pets both need to keep a roof over your heads, so if you’re in danger of eviction or foreclosure due to the pandemic, take steps to protect your family—human and animal alike—from losing your home.
HUD-certified housing counselors are standing by to give you expert advice and ensure you’re getting access to every special program you qualify for. Contact us for rental eviction or foreclosure prevention counseling as soon as you can—don’t wait until you’re getting an eviction notice. Take action early to give yourself the best chance of success.
Worst case scenario: Surrendering your pet
In the sad event that you can’t keep your pet, talk to a humane organization. Make sure the animal is going somewhere it will be loved and cared for. You may be able to find a temporary foster home by finding a local rescue organization.
One upside of the pandemic is that shelters have seen sky-high adoption rates, so there is room for foster care if your pet needs it. If you’re unable to avoid eviction or can’t financially recover from the pandemic, talk to a shelter about how your pet can find a new home.
Get coaching to reduce your debt
If you’re financially struggling to take care of your new pet, then budget counseling can help. If you’re carrying credit card debt you can’t afford and it’s jeopardizing your ability to care for your pets, call us today for personalized, free coaching from a certified debt counselor. We’ll help you create a spending plan that will help you wipe out your debt and budget to care for your entire family—including your four-legged companions.