In the never-ending debate over the virtues of dogs versus cats, I am absolutely a dog person. I like their looks, their personalities and their unconditional love. With the proper care and feeding they are excellent pets and reliable companions.
There are, of course, financial aspects to pets, and sometimes the costs are significant. An obvious mistake is to buy a high-priced puppy from a pet store on a credit card and carry the balance for a long time, paying exorbitant interest charges along the way. And despite the availability of pet insurance, there are many medical situations that can strain a budget; recent data show that there are more knee surgeries performed in the United States on dogs than on people.
There is a more subtle, and potentially much greater, cost of a pet, and it is indicative of many budget woes. Consider Sarah, a recent college graduate. Sarah had grown up with family dogs, but they were always her parents’ pets, not hers. At the end of her sophomore year, with the tacit approval of her mother but unbeknownst to her father, she picked up a lovable mixed breed puppy at the pound. That’s when things got more interesting.
First was the problem of finding a place to live that accepts big dogs in a college town, and hers quickly grew to 80 pounds. She was able to meet that challenge, at rent higher than comparable places that didn’t allow pets, and moved in with a friend who also had a dog. As is often the case, the roommate moved on a year later, and Sarah’s dog was left without a “playmate”. Her solution was to get a second dog from the pound, which quickly grew even bigger than the first. Another roommate moved in without a dog, but who enjoyed and would help care for Sarah’s.
When that roommate left, Sarah was stuck. It was now the middle of the school year, she could not find another roommate, and she could not find a cheaper place that would take two dogs. So Sarah had to carry the entire cost of the house for the six months until she could find another roommate.
Then there is transportation. Sarah had a vehicle large enough to carry the dogs, and it had recently had a mechanical overhaul. Though not her fault, she had an accident and totaled the vehicle (and thankfully no one was hurt). Now, the search for another vehicle has to consider two big dogs, which is significantly limiting the choices and increasing the cost. Sarah is also looking for a job, and because she is living alone, she has to balance the dogs’ needs with her work schedule.
In fairness, Sarah has done a great job of training and disciplining the dogs, and they are fine pets. But with the direct and indirect impact on her housing, transportation and schedule, plus the care and feeding of two large dogs, it is an understatement to say that the decision to get the first dog has ultimately cost upwards of $10,000, even though both dogs were free and have had no medical problems.
And that is how many people wake up one day and find themselves financially strapped. One seemingly harmless decision leads to another, and then another, until eventually you are so deeply committed to a course of action that is easier to just keep bearing the costs than to make a change. And regardless of what you tell yourself, your true priorities are reflected in the way you spend your time and money.
It is wrong to ignore your passions and emotions and make every decision from a purely financial perspective. But it is equally wrong to blindly charge ahead without trying to take a step back and consider the impact and costs of those decisions. As corny as it sounds, try not to let the tail wag the financial dog.