A funny person once proclaimed that I seem to have the fewest financial worries of anyone he knows, which is highly ironic considering that I’m currently a graduate student in the humanities at a public university, and I’ve been living off fellowships, stipends, GSI wages, and occasional guinea pigging gigs for over five years now. I certainly don’t give the impression of being rich based on my wardrobe, car, home, or other daily extravagances. But I do take pride in the condition of my dogs, and feel secure in the knowledge that I’ve got the necessary savings and/or line of credit that I can throw down if we are ever confronted with an emergency (knock on wood!!).
While budgeting alone is not a sufficient prophylactic against traumatic expenses, it is a surprisingly useful skill that really polarizes my peers; those in my age range either know how to do it conspicuously well, or they’re quietly struggling. In the absence of children, a full-time job, or a “real” house of my own, I fall somewhere inbetween. But I think we at the House of Two Bows are doing all right on behalf of our dogs, in part because there are two of us (with our own bank accounts) to cover all the pet expenses, and also because I do all the pet budgeting. Heh, heh, heh.
I had basically one financial strategy last year — to keep track of what I spent on the pets. Step one is to know what I spend and face the concrete reality of what is necessary, versus what is frivolous. After that, I can prioritize and make adjustments as necessary, or establish a benchmark for how much I should be able to stash away every month.
My primary tool was a pocket planner dedicated to this purpose, as I found it easiest and most accessible to jot things down in pen and ink whenever I made a pet-related purchase. Everything from the $2.49 tub of yogurt to the $200+ vet bill was written down within the day, lest I forget. Then at the end of the month, I sorted items into categories, and wrote those totals on sticky notes which I kept in the book. At minimum, I needed a four-month cycle to get a realistic sense of my average expenses, given the seasonality of vet visits and short-notice blowout sales.
I had established my expense categories beforehand, but I didn’t bother to file everything into appropriate categories until I did my end-of-the-month tally. During the month I would itemize my purchases in some detail (noting, for example, the price per pound of meat). In the end, I could group all of my purchases into the following categories:
- Vet & meds
- Accessories & miscellaneous
Other categories that weren’t incorporated, but might be applicable:
- Training and behavioral consultation
- Pet insurance
- Licensing and memberships (if your local dog park requires an annual fee, for example)
- Dog walking, boarding, and travel
- Unreimbursed rescue and fostering expenses (which is now tax deductible with proper documentation!)
- Puppyhood (for various reasons, first-year puppy expenses deserve a category of their own)
The categories you establish should be big yet clearly demarcated to help you recognize patterns in your spending habits. At the end of the year, this is what mine look like.
Monthly Averages of Pet Things for 2011:
Food costs: $84
Accessories & miscellany: $15
Veterinary and medical: $122
Total monthly expenses: $247 / month
And broken down by percentage of overall budget: