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Keeping Pandemic Pet Expenses In Check

Unfortunately, there are no tax benefits associated with owning a pet unless you have a certified service animal.

Bobbi Rebell, CFP®

Personal Finance Expert at Tally

May 10, 2021

Many Americans adopted pets during the pandemic. Now those dogs and cats are a permanent (and growing) part of the family budget. Spending is already up from last year and new data shows that in March, credit card purchases at pet stores, vets, and animal shelters increased 21.1% month-over-month.

Pets can be wonderful, but taking care of another life is no small expense. They create an ongoing and often unpredictable financial cost. A routine trip to the vet, for example, could quickly end up as a big bill that gets thrown on the credit card. But there are ways to keep those expenses in check and under control. 

Your Fur Baby is not a Foodie.

For most pets, “fresh” food that needs to be refrigerated or prepared is not necessary. They may really enjoy it, but if it does not fit into your budget, let go of the fur-baby parent guilt.

Pet food is the single largest annual expense associated with owning a pet. The cost of food does vary based on breed, size, and individual needs, but you should budget somewhere between $200 to $500 per pet annually. 

To save money on pet food, buy in bulk when you can with rewards and loyalty programs. In most cases, as long as you keep the packaging sealed, it will last a long time. 

Pet food subscriptions are also a good option. Not only can you get discounts for being on a plan, but you can also set up your service to automatically send you the food, thus saving you a trip to the pet store where they may not have it in stock anyway.

Don’t assume that the most expensive brands are better. Many major economy brands invest heavily in pet food research, and their offerings are both healthy and more affordable. However, it’s important to remember that your pet’s nutrition can greatly impact their health and future vet bills. Make sure to talk to your vet about the best food options for your pet and purchase accordingly. 

Buy Pet Insurance Carefully

You never want to put yourself in a position of choosing between credit card debt and paying for your pet’s surgery. Pet insurance may seem like a good safety net, but be careful and don’t just buy any insurance plan. You need to do some upfront work to figure out what’s right for your pet and your budget, as pet insurance can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars a year. You can help lower the monthly premiums by increasing the deductible.

If you do choose to buy pet insurance, don’t wait to sign up your pet until they are older, as it may be prohibitively expensive at that point. Signing your pet up when they are younger may seem too early if they are healthy, but you will pay the price — literally — if you try to sign up an older pet for insurance. 

For younger pets, consider an accident-only plan because they are less expensive than comprehensive plans that cover illnesses. As your pet gets older, you can switch to a more comprehensive plan. Also, be aware that as veterinary medicine advances, so do the costs, and that is part of the reason why pet insurance can seem very pricey.

Ask your vet’s office which insurance plan they recommend. Be aware that they may get a commission for making the recommendation, and it’s okay to ask them if they are. They’ll know which providers are more likely to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions or exclude certain types of claims.

Check with your employer’s HR department to see if they offer special deals on pet insurance. This has become an increasingly common benefit. 

Are Pet Expenses Tax Deductible?

If you run into big vet bills, you may be wondering, are pet medical expenses tax-deductible, or are pet expenses tax-deductible in general? Unfortunately, there are no tax benefits associated with owning a pet unless you have a certified service animal. You can deduct medical expenses for service animals and expenses relating to purchasing, training, and taking care of them. 

Plan on Pet Care While Travelling

With everything starting to open up, you may be itching to travel again. It can be very expensive to board a pet, but there are other more affordable options available to you. 

Boarding your dog costs about $35 a day on average, but this can range widely based on location, facility, and the type of pet you have. In some situations, it could easily cost you almost $100 a night at a kennel. 

Instead, you might want to consider hiring a sitter to come to your house to feed, walk and clean up after your pet. This can be cheaper and your pet doesn’t have to deal with the stress of being in an unfamiliar environment while you are gone. The same person could also function as a house sitter and manage other duties while you are away, such as watering your plants and collecting your mail.

Another option is to team up with your pet-owning friend to cover each other’s pets while the other is out of town. You’ll need to set clear boundaries and expectations, especially if one of you travels a lot more than the other, but this can be a free and convenient way to make sure your pet is in good hands while you’re gone. 

If you don’t mind bringing your pet along for fun, there are plenty of pet-friendly hotels. Some hotels even offer pet walking and grooming services as well as pet amenities like beds, toys, and welcome treats. Just be aware that many of them charge an additional fee for furry guests to stay the night.

Making considerations for your pet in your budget could help you cover unexpected expenses and keep you from taking on debt. That way, when costs arise, you don’t have to choose between what’s best for your furry friend and your bank account balance. 

Want to free up money in your budget to cover pet expenses? Tally may be able to help you rid yourself of credit card debt faster — while saving money on interest in the process.