The Bite of Pet Costs

Growing expenditures on Fluffy and Fido can put a dent in retirees’ nest eggs.


by Robert Powell

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Warning: Don't let your pets crack your nest egg.

Older adults today are spending considerably more on Fido and Fluffy than they did in 1990, according to a new report from the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public-policy research organization based in Dallas.

In fact, for 65- to 74-year-olds, one of the five fastest-growing categories of spending is pets and hobbies, which has grown 5.2% a year on average since 1990, according to Pamela Villarreal, the author of the report.

To be fair, the pets and hobbies category includes expenses not only for pets and pet supplies, but also toys, games, tricycles and playground equipment. Still, some experts are worried that left unchecked, pet expenses could be a budget buster for some people in retirement.

"The topic of pet expense is rarely discussed," says Richard Rosso, a senior financial adviser with Clarity Financial LLC, a Houston-based financial-planning firm. "But it shouldn't be ignored."

So, what are some ways to keep pet expenses from becoming a problem?

Plan It Out

As with most budget items, keeping track of projected and actual expenses is important. "Expenditures on pets, like every line item in a retiree's budget, should be planned," says Andrea Blackwelder, a certified financial planner and founder and president of Wisdom Wealth Strategies LLC, a Denver-based financial-planning firm. Several groups offer online estimates of the cost of caring for various pets, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (aspca.org/adopt/pet-care-costs) and Petfinder (go to petfinder.com/pet-care and enter "care costs" in the "search our articles" box).

Ms. Blackwelder says those nearing retirement or already retired who pine to buy a pet must consider that animals are a "long, long-term" commitment. For those on a tight budget, she adds, larger breeds of dogs, which tend to be more costly, "are probably not a good choice."

When creating a pet budget, factor in unexpected costs, too. Ms. Blackwelder cites the example of a recent retiree whose retriever ate broken glass while the owner was traveling. "The final cost of the treatment was nearly $4,000," Ms. Blackwelder says. "Retirees must consider whether their cushion or reserve assets allow for such costs."

Controlling Costs

Consider pet health insurance. Premiums, according to Mr. Rosso, can range from $10 to $40 a month depending on the coverage you require and the size, breed and age of your pet. Be sure you understand exactly what is and isn't covered by any policy.

There are ways to cut costs for routine health expenses as well. Ms. Villarreal recommends taking advantage of specials on low-cost vaccinations available at some pet stores and shelters. And when shopping for pet medications, compare your veterinarian's prices with those of mail-order and online suppliers, she says.

Two options for retirees who decide against buying pets but who yearn for their company: pet sitting or pet walking as a part-time job, or volunteering at an animal shelter.

"Pet sitting is a wonderful, low-commitment, flexible way to be around pets without the cost of owning the animals," Ms. Blackwelder says. "If volunteering is more attractive, retirees can be extremely helpful at local shelters and at nonprofit organizations."