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Woman playing with her dog in her living room.

When I was the pet parent to a dear Cocker Spaniel named Tasha, I loved her more than anything. She was my sole furbaby, and I wanted her to have the best life possible. 

As one might expect, the older she got, the more expensive it became to take care of her. She developed chronic bronchitis and was subject to a host of ailments, including skin irritations and ear infections. During her last few years, trips to the vet could cost anywhere from $250 – $500 and upward. As I was in my 20s at the time, I could barely afford her medical bills, and trips to the vet were met with a deep dread. 

Pet parents only want the best for their furbabies. But the cost of owning a pet – from pet food to routine checkups to boarding –  can add up quickly. According to a recent study by Rover, the average cost of dog ownership is $163 a month. So, if your dog lives to be 13, you’re looking at a total of $25,428. As for feline friends, the ASPCA estimates that the average cost of owning a cat over its lifetime to be anywhere from $7,646 – $12,500. 

And per the numbers provided by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), in 2018 $72.56 billion dollars were spent on products provided by the pet industry. 

How can you save money without compromising the health and happiness of your pets? Here are some tips for pet parents:

Download Loyalty Apps

Many big box pet stores and some boutique pet shops have customer loyalty programs where you rack up points for bucks spent at their stores. Similar to rewards cards from supermarkets, you can redeem points for cash back. If you download their app or sign up for a newsletter, you also get wind of weekly discounts and promo codes. 

If you’d like to accrue points quickly, I suggest choosing a single retailer where you’d do the majority of the shopping. Otherwise your points-collecting efforts could be spread thin. You might also have an easier time tracking your spending on pet food, toys and sundry supplies. 

Save By Way Of Referral

Some veterinary hospitals offer a referral program where if you refer a new client, you could earn credit toward your next appointment. Dog walkers, pet sitters, doggy day cares and groomers might also have a similar referral program.

For instance, the dog-walking service platform Wag! has such a program where, for each new client you refer, you receive credit for a free walk. I’ve also received two free walks for recommending a potential dog walker. 

Make Homemade Treats 

Finding a solid recipe and making your own doggy peanut butter biscuits or salmon cat treats can not only help you save, but they can oftentimes be healthier, too. There are plenty of easy recipes that require just a few simple ingredients. 

Along the same lines, instead of buying expensive bone marrow treats at the pet store, you can buy a bag of bones from your local butcher for the fraction of the price. Steer clear of giving your pooch cooked bones, or poultry or pork bones, as they could splinter and harm your dog. Instead, give her raw beef bones. 

Host A Pet Stuff Swap 

There have been countless times when I’ve donated bags of cat food my partner’s cat didn’t take a liking to, or given away doggy Halloween costumes that my pooch outgrew. To get rid of unused pet items, organize a stuff swap. Bring pet food, toys, costumes and beds that are in decent condition. It’s a fun way to save money and meet other animal lovers. You can have a year-long pet swap by setting up a Facebook group with other pet parents, or buy trading food and supplies through a Buy Nothing Group. 

Along the same lines, set up a pet sitting cohort. Through such a cohort, you can offer pet sitting services when other members of the cohort need a sitter, and vice versa. The cost of pet boarding can rack up quickly. By tapping into your community, you can save on overnight stays. 

Set Up A Pet Emergency Fund 

Just like how you’d set up an emergency fund for your general living expenses, a pet emergency fund can go toward unexpected costs for your pet. In the case that your furbaby suffers from an accident, chronic medical condition or debilitating illness, a pet emergency fund could help prevent you from spiraling into a financial disaster.

To kick-start your emergency fund, put any money you saved from snagging discounts and what have you straight into your fund. You can also set up auto-save and commit to squirreling away a set amount each week for this fund. 

Consider Pet Insurance

Pet insurance could save you money. However, you’ll be required to pay a monthly premium. How much are we talking here? Per the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), the average annual premium for pet insurance was $529, or about $44 a month.

One thing to note is that unlike health insurance for humans, pet insurance only covers accidents and illness, not routine care and preventive medicine. However, most pet insurance plans do offer wellness plans, which is an add-on.

Pet insurance has limitations – for instance, typically preexisting conditions aren’t covered. What’s more, there’s a wait period from the time you purchase insurance to when your policy kicks in. So, you’ll need to hop on an insurance plan well before you need it. 

While being a pet parent can be expensive, being frugal-minded and finding ways to save can help you stick to your budget. Most important, you won’t need to sacrifice your pet’s health just to save some money. Instead, you can add to her joie de vivre and boost her well-being while on a budget. 

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