Pets and Money

Starks Financial Group
Having a pet can be very costly. Having multiple pets adds up even more. I should know, since at one point the Starks Pack consisted of two humans, nine dogs, and two ferrets! All our dogs were strays that wandered up or were adopted from the shelter, so there weren’t any high-priced pets in the bunch. However, costs still add up if you are a responsible pet owner. Here are some things to consider when thinking about bringing a pet into your family.

Initial costs: A purebred pet can cost thousands of dollars, but even shelter pets come at a cost. Often these costs for adoption are low, and sometimes adoption is even free, but there is frequently the additional requirement to spay/neuter your pet, which is an additional cost. Depending on your budget, you should carefully consider whether it is worth spending extra money on a purebred, when there are so many deserving animals at the shelter waiting for a home.

And then there is the stuff! When bringing your pet home, you will probably be spending some more dough to outfit your home for the new arrival. Pet beds, leashes, collars, identification tags, toys, etc., can add up. If you live in the City of Asheville, there’s a $10 annual dog license required.

If your budget is slim, it would be a good idea to create a budget first, and determine what you can afford in this area. Perhaps a stack of old blankets will suffice for a bed at first, if you determine you can only afford the basic collar and leash. Prioritize what must be purchased, and save up for the other things later. Keep in mind that these expenses will recur throughout your pet’s life.

Gourmet or basic food: There are myriad choices when it comes to feeding your pet. Your best bet is to talk to your veterinarian and other pet owners you know to get an initial read on the pet food situation. Then do some research online to determine what brands have a good reputation and which ones do not. This might take some trial and error, as all pets do not respond similarly to all foods. In any case, you will want to make sure that your choices fit into your budget, as this will be a recurring expense.

Grooming: Will you handle this yourself, or pay a professional to groom your pet? Either way, there are costs involved. You will either need to acquire the necessary tools, pay for a grooming appointment on a regular basis, of identify a pet/breed that doesn’t require grooming. Ask around for recommendations for groomers, and then get some estimated costs to work with in your budget.

Veterinary care: It is also important is to establish a relationship with a veterinarian. If you are considering a pet, you might reach out to your local vet to get estimates for annual exams and vaccinations. It is impossible to predict unexpected health care costs for your pet, but it should be reasonably easy to gauge how much annual visits will cost.

Pet insurance: I have heard both good and bad stories about paying for an insurance policy for your pet. My advice would be to do your homework – ask your veterinarian for his/her experience with the company, get references, check the Better Business Bureau, etc. before committing to this expense. The basic premise is like our health insurance – you pay a monthly premium, and if your pet gets ill or injured, there is assistance with paying the expenses. Doing your homework is key. We have never carried pet insurance on any of our pets, but we are considering it again now. For purposes of writing this article, I went to the ASPCA insurance website to check out insurance costs. My initial reaction was that it didn’t seem too expensive, but I think it will require more investigation. I plan to follow my own advice and talk to my veterinarian!

What if you travel? While this should be something you consider lifestyle-wise before even adding a pet to your family, traveling while you own a pet will definitely impact your budget. Boarding a pet or having a pet sitter come to your house can add up. Ask around to get an idea of the daily cost you might incur, consider how much you typically travel in a year, and create an estimate for your budget for pet care when you are out of town.

What if you die or become disabled? Responsible pet owners want to make sure their pets are cared for if they become disabled or die. Making an informal arrangement with friends or family might be sufficient, but if you do not have people that you know would want and love your pets the way you do, consider establishing a pet trust. The ASPCA website has a nice primer on how these work, and it would be a good place to start your investigation if you feel this would be the right path for you.
The basic premise is that you would establish a legal document that would outline your wishes for your pet. Then your current estate documents (your will or living trust) would set aside funds in the event of your death to care for your pet. My opinion is that the best arrangement would be to have two people involved. One would be the trustee of the pet trust (which could be the same person as the executor of your will or the trustee of your living trust), and that person would be responsible for handling the money. The second person would be the actual caretaker of the pets. The caretaker would have funds provided to him/her to care for your pets, and, often, a stipend “for their trouble” over and above the actual costs incurred for the pet.

You can draft your pet trust to be very specific or more generic, as you please. The main thing is that it allows you peace of mind, knowing you have provided the plan and the means to care for your pet family if you are no longer able to do so.

What if you simply cannot afford a pet? If you love animals but cannot afford to have one in your home, consider making a routine of volunteering. There are several excellent local animal shelters that welcome regular visits for playing with their residents, walking the dogs, or otherwise helping to provide a happier, more fulfilled life for these animals. It would probably create great feelings for you, too!

Dawn Starks is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and financial advisor at Starks Financial Group. Starks Financial Group is not a registered broker/dealer, nor is it affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment Advisory services offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. This article expresses the opinions of Dawn Starks and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Raymond James does not provide legal services. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™, and CFP® in the U.S.

Dawn Starks
Written by Dawn Starks