5 Smart Money Moves to Make Before Getting Your First Dog

financially prepare for your first dog

Bad news for all the wannabe grandmothers out there: Millennials are more focused on their future dogs than their future children.

When a recent SunTrust survey asked millennials why they were buying their first home, 33 percent said they wanted more room for a dog. Only 19 percent cited the birth or expected birth of a child.

There’s no doubt about it; our generation is dog-crazy. If you’ve been pining for a pup — and want to take the leap in a financially responsible way — here are five moves to make beforehand.

1. Think about the costs

Stopping to pet every dog you see and owning a dog are two different things.

The former is something I’ve been doing my entire life, no matter where I live and how broke I am. The latter is a 10- to 20-year commitment that doesn’t care if it’s snowing or if you’re sick or if you have a hot date.

Not only does dog ownership require time and love, but it also requires a significant amount of money. If you’re struggling to, say, pay your student loans or rent each month, you might want to reconsider your decision.

As much as it seems like you need a dog right this second, it’ll be less of a strain if you wait until you’re financially stable.

2. Opt to adopt

Each year, approximately 670,000 shelter dogs are euthanized because they can’t find homes. That’s nearly 2,000 dogs per day.

If that’s not reason enough to adopt, consider this: When a puppy is purchased from a breeder, it can cost anywhere from $500 to more than $1,000. And that’s just for the dog itself; the cost usually doesn’t include anything else.

In comparison, adoption fees range from $25 to $300 and often include shots, spaying or neutering, microchipping, and flea and tick treatments.

That being said, before you proceed with an adoption, it’s important to clarify what’s included in the fee, as it varies between shelters.

“When I rescued my greyhound, Odin, the agency charged me $250, which included all his annual shots and the foster care he received,” said freelance writer Jamie Cattanach. “But I quickly learned I was on the hook for the dose of flea meds he’d need that week, which would cost $135 for a six-month supply.”

3. Create a budget

Now that you know how much a dog from your local shelter will cost — and what it’ll come with — it’s time to budget for everything else.

It’s wise to save up enough for the first year of dog ownership so you’ll have a buffer in case something costs more than expected.

Here are some yearly expenses you might face for a medium dog, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):

  • Medical expenses: $235 (exam, shots, heartworm preventative, topical flea and tick preventative)
  • Food: $319
  • Toys and treats: $55
  • Pet insurance: $225
  • License: $15

Add up everything — including the adoption fee and other capital costs (initial medical care, collar, leash, crate, training class, pet deposit) — and create a savings goal around that number. The average cost of the first year of dog ownership, without the adoption fee, is $1,779, according to the ASPCA.

If you round up that amount to $2,000 and are able to save $200 per month, you’re looking at taking home a dog in 10 months.

To keep yourself on track, create an automatic monthly transfer from your checking account to your savings account. You can even use an app like Mint or Qapital to track your progress and make it fun.

4. Maintain your doggie savings

When you finally reach your goal and bring home your new best friend, keep your savings account open.

Once you’re in the habit of saving, it’s much easier to continue. And you’re going to need that money for both ongoing and unexpected expenses.

Ongoing expenses can include not only food and vet bills but also boarding. Although the cost of boarding varies depending on the location and level of care, you should expect a minimum of $12 to $26 per day, according to CostHelper.com. If you’re gone for two weeks per year, that adds up to between $168 and $364 annually.

Unexpected expenses are hard to predict, of course, but they could include replacement sneakers and medical emergencies.

5. Buy pet insurance

Speaking of emergencies, many seasoned dog owners recommend purchasing pet insurance.

“I’m a huge fan,” said artist and dog owner Adina Marguerite. “It’s an extra $50-ish each month, but it’s got a reasonable annual deductible of around $300. It’s still a reimbursement situation, but it makes emergencies less financially scary.”

Student Loan Hero writer Kat Tretina agrees. She spends $40 per month to insure her dog — a move that saved her thousands when her dog needed surgery. To her, pet insurance has been worth the cost.

“Without insurance, I would have had to use a credit card or dip into my emergency fund to handle the vet bill,” she wrote.

Her story shows that it’s important to prepare for your dog before it comes home — and every day after that.

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