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Meet Rosie: Savings tips for first-time pet owners

Sienna Kossman

A year ago, I had my heart set on finding a dog to adopt, but quickly learned my budget couldn’t support a furry friend, especially as I began to repay my student loans. A lot has changed since then and while my budget is still pretty tight, my boyfriend and I have managed to afford Rosie, a 6-month-old Golden Retriever puppy.

Rosie was a spontaneous Craigslist find one evening during which I had especially strong “I want a dog” feelings. I’d been perusing local adoption agencies for a few weeks at that point, not looking at any one dog too seriously, but when I found Rosie’s posting, I knew it was time for a dog.

Meet Rosie: Savings tips for first-time pet owners

A woman rescued Rosie from a family who couldn’t care for her and wasn’t charging an adoption fee; she just wanted her to go to a good home. Rosie’s face and sweet nature was all we needed to seal the deal.

It’s now a month and a half later and so far we’ve been able to give Rosie the care she deserves without breaking the bank. Here’s how we fit a puppy into our tight budgets:

Pet store loyalty program membership
The first thing we did after picking up Rosie was head to PetSmart to get all the puppy essentials, which we quickly realized was going to be expensive.

With a cart full of food, toys, crate, bed and grooming items, a PetSmart cashier noticed the “new puppy” theme and introduced us to the PetSmart Pet Perks reward program and a special puppy coupon book. The program immediately reduced the cost of some items and the coupons got us half-off a crate, a free toy, discounted dog food and even more saving options for later. Overall, we saved about $170 that day and kept our bill just under $200, which is still pricey but much better than it could have been.

If you have a pet (new or old), I recommend checking what loyalty programs your local pet shops offer to help cut costs. I’m sure glad the PetSmart employee hooked us up.

At-home care
Rosie’s first vet bill cost $200 for a full check-up, vaccines, ear cleaning and stomach bug medication. She was a little underweight, but in fairly good shape overall. We had expected we might have to spend more on vet care because we had no idea what kind of medical care Rosie had previously, so while $200 is a sizable chunk of change, we willingly split the bill.

However, to save money, we decided to give Rosie a bath, nail clipping and a flea and tick preventive treatment on our own. The vet wanted to charge us $75 for a flea and tick prevention treatment, so we bought the same kind of treatment at PetSmart for only $45 for three applications. A $10 bottle of puppy shampoo and an old pair of nail clippers we already had also saved us the $45 PetSmart wanted to charge us for a full grooming session.

Our self-sufficiency saved us $65 and based on our calculations, doing routine care procedures at home can easily save more than $500 a year. Score!

If you and your pet are comfortable with basic care procedures, skip the groomers for a month or two and see how much at-home care can save you.

Start a pet savings fund
Our latest money-saving pet endeavor was inspired by a pet expense story I wrote recently.

While we’ve been able to take care of Rosie’s initial puppy medical costs, she’s going to be spayed soon, which isn’t going to be cheap.

o prepare our budgets for this upcoming medical expense, we’ve decided to each set aside $50 per week for the next month. That way, by the time her surgery rolls around, we’ll have more than enough to cover the cost and avoid feeling strapped for cash.

Afterward, we’ll continue adding to the pet savings fund for regular expenses such as food, treats and vet check-ups. Our goal is to not charge any of Rosie’s expenses to a credit card unless we absolutely have to. Neither of us have a good rewards card, so there really isn’t any incentive to do so. That may change later, but for now we are sticking to savings.

Even if your pet isn’t stretching your budget thin now, it never hurts to be prepared for incidentals later with a padded savings account.

Overall spending cuts
Since my boyfriend and I both have student loan debt and other bills, we’ll be cutting frivolous costs as often as we can to keep Rosie’s expenses from blowing our budgets. Cutting down on a few things like dinners out, coffee stops and spontaneous on-demand movie purchases will help cushion our savings and avoid debt.

I mean, c’mon. Look at that face! I bet you’d be willing to make sacrifices for a mug like that, too.

An unexpected $400-plus expense in June was tricky to manage, but it helped that I had someone with whom I could split the pet care bill. Rosie may be one more cost to balance, but I’m more than willing to help make it work. If I’m going to be in debt for the next several years, I might as well have a canine companion around to help make me feel better.

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