Buying a pet is like taking on another mortgage. They come with an upfront cost to actually obtain one, then they require an ongoing monthly payment (in the form of food and general care) AND, depending on the animal, those monthly payments will last anywhere from 10-20+ years. Not to metion those payments can also become unexpectedly larger due to surprise medical bills.
But unlike an additional mortgage, which generally provides for a secondary property which has the potential to produce income, pets generate absolutely no income at all.
Essentially they are black hole to throw your money into. Which is great if you are already Financially Independent, and have the freedom to choose how you spend your time. Not so great when you’re in the modst of trying to make Financial Freedom a reality.
All this coming from a girl who had an exorbitantly long list of pets growing up. No joke. I was often an eager assistant to my unofficial veterinarian Mom, to whom everyone in the entire town somehow knew to bring injured animals to. And as a kid, I really enjoyed animals, I would definitely have described myself as an animal person.
Now – not quite so much.
Sure animals give you their unconditional love in return for all that money spent and time committed, but personally, I just don’t see a sufficient ROI. Not at this stage of life anyway.
Which I know is probably not a popular stance to take, especially with the pet owners out there, but since this is a blog about obtaining FF, not about having pets, I think it’s reasonable to point out the financial burden a pet can present.
So if you are on your path to FF, and contemplating getting a pet of any kind, here’s a couple things to consider before you go ahead and make that leap.
1 – How Much Do They Actually Cost?
Every animal is different. Having a hamster certainly isn’t going to be as expensive as having a horse, nor as much of a time commitment. So do your homework and find out what exactly the costs are going to be for the pet you want.
It always makes me laugh when pet owners try and tell me that it only costs XX cents a day (or some other astronomically low price) for them to have their pet, and therefore their pet is cheaper than my daily Starbucks habit.
Maybe if you took the cost of their food and divided it by the number of days it takes them to eat said food that would be a semi-accurate statement.
But what about the treats that you also buy them, or the toys, or the food/water dishes, or the cages, or the preventative medications, or the unexpected emergency care, or the cost of care when you go on a trip, or registration with your town/city, or insurance, or the cost of gas to go and get all the stuff pets “need”, or the additional wear and tear on your home/furniture/yard etc.
The cost is ALWAYS much higher than it appears on the surface. So do the actual math and know just how expensive your desired pet is going to be.
(Also, my Starbucks doesn’t poop on my carpet if I skip a day of picking it up.)
2 – Pets Require a LOT of Time
Money isn’t the only resource pets will drain you of. They also require a huge amount of time and attention. At least they should.
What’s the point of getting an animal if you are just going to ignore it, or let it sit in cage?
Responsible pet owners have well behaved, happy pets. And they only way to have those two things is to have invested a whole lot of your time. (Or even more of your money having someone else spend their time with them.)
From training to ongoing attention, to brushing, to exercise. Pets need your attention and care to thrive.
This also means being willing to adjust your schedule, activities and lifestyle to meet their basic needs.
For instance, how do you feel about racing home in rush hour traffic to try and take the dog out before it leaves a lovely present on your carpet?
Which brings me to my next point.
3 – Pets Are Dirty
I don’t care what pet owners say about their pets being clean and not smelling. It is 100% not true. Even for the most dilligent of pet owners. They have just adjusted to the pet smell, unavoidable hair, and the inevitable increase in dirt and simply no longer notice it anymore. It’s their new norm.
But if you haven’t had pets, this would require some adjusting. They track a lot of dirt into the house. They shed (even the “non-shedding” animals shed, just slightly less.). They also poop, and nobody wipes their bum, and then they walk around your house and sit on your floor and furniture.
Dogs lick each other’s bums (which, remember the afore mentioned pooping and no wiping) and then they try to lick your face.
So what about a cat? At least they can just use the litter box right? YES! They can! No rushing home, no need to take it for a walk multiple times per day. Except wait – they poop in a box, walk around in that box, and then walk on your pillow. (Which in case you forgot, you put your face all over every night). Gross.
So maybe a hamster? Or a fish? Or a bunny? Or a bird? Sure, those require substantially less effort and commitment, and don’t wander around your whole house…….except you still have to clean their cages regularly, and that whole unconditional love thing animals are supposed to give you to make it worth spending all your time and money on them, you don’t get much of that from a hamster/fish/bunny/bird. (And incase you are wondering, I’ve had all of them…..I’m actually saying this from first hand experience).
4 – The IDEA is Often Much Better Than The Reality
If you’re dreaming of playing catch with a dog in the park on a beautiful sunny day, consider just how many days of the year that’s ACTUALLY going to happen?
If, like us, you live in the Vancouver area your sunny days are limited to about 30% of the year, every other day you better have a whole lot of rain gear handy to take that dog for its walks.
I doubt walking a dog in the rain, then arriving home with a wet dog that smells like wet dog, and promptly runs and gets mud all over your floors and wet dog smell throughout your house is the picture anyone has in mind when they think about getting a dog. But certainly where we live, that’s what is going to happen WAY more often than the sunny, game of catch in the park scenario.
And even if you live somewhere the weather is almost always nice, you still have to do all the other things in your schedule, and leisurely walks with your pet will probably end up taking a back seat.
If you want to get a real glimpse of what pet ownership is all about, borrow one first.
If you are in anyway a responsible adult, I guarantee there are plenty of people around you that will happily allow you to care for their pets in their absence. You will save them the cost of having to pay someone else to do it, AND they will likely feel better about their pet staying with someone they know and trust vs. a typical pet hotel.
Borrowing a pet allows you to live it for real. Not the idyllic version of pet ownership you may be picturing in your head, but the everyday stuff.
Like picking up poop. You might think you are okay picking up poop, but you may very well feel differently after you’ve done it thirty times in a week.
Doing a trial run with someone else’s pet will give you a much clearer picture of what things are really going to look like, before making any long term financial conmittments.
And if it’s your kids who really, really, really want a pet, it’s probably a good idea to let them have a go at picking up poop, and cleaning food dishes before you actually commit to the 20 year or so mortgage (lets be real – the pet will be yours anyways, and will probably still be in your house long after your kids have moved out. Just ask my mom……15 years later and my horse is still there, as is my sisters cat.)
Our oldest son has been asking us for a dog for years. So much so that despite our reservations about pets, Mike and I have actually pondered it a little, tiny bit. But after doing our own trial run last week, it was abundantly clear that if we did get a dog, our son would very quickly be taking zero responsibility for it.
Particularly the picking up poop part.
The week was also an excellent reality check for both Mike and I, serving as a fresh reminder of just how much of a committment having a pet is. They really are an added member of the family, who’s eating, sleeping, activity and toileting schedule all have to be factored into the overall family plan.
And we were lucky, because we had a dog that is amazingly well behaved, during a week when the weather was beautiful. It was the best case scenario on all fronts, but it still drove home the point that no one in our little family unit is ready to be a full-time pet owner anytime soon. (Our 1 year old would probably disagree, he loved having someone his own size to chase around!).
5 – Figure Out If It’s Actually Worth It
So once you know just how much owning the particular pet you want is going to be, how much time they require, whether your cleanliness standards can make room for them, and you’ve done an extended test run with a friend/family members pet, now is the time to really sit back and decide if what you will get out of having a pet is worth your investment of time and money.
Way too many people take the decision of pet ownership far too lightly, when in reality it is a major lifestyle and financial committment.
Jumping in before really knowing what’s in store for you is a sure fire way to end up resenting your pet, and that’s simply not fair to the animal. It’s also a major reason why there are so many poorly behaved pets out there, and even worse, so many overflowing animal shelter’s.
If the animal-lover in you is still yearning for a pet after giving it the extended consideration required of such a big commitment, BUT you don’t want to detract from your overall plan for Financial Freedom, try your best to hold off until you’ve reached FF. Then you’ll be able to invest as much of your time into them as you want, and enjoy your pet that much more (and frankly, they’ll be happier too).
In the interim, why not start a side-hustle pet-sitting business. You’ll get your fill of caring for animals AND you’ll be generating a new income stream!
Or, if you want to give back a little, volunteer at your local shelter to walk/exercise or play with the pets. Shelter’s are always in need of people to do this sort of work, and you can do it as much or as little as you want or are able. This gives you the chance to brighten the day for animals waiting for a new home, while simultaneously getting your daily dose of animal time. (Caveat: do NOT do this if there is a likely chance that you will end up bringing home every animal at the shelter.)
Bottom line, don’t take the decision to buy a pet lightly, and definitely don’t assume that it will be an inexpensive endeavour, because they simply never are.