Guest Post From Smile & Conquer: Debt and Pets, Can they Mix? / by Jennifer Chan


Hey everyone! I’m Sarah from over at Smile & Conquer and I’m filling in for Jen today while she recovers from her tonsillectomy. Let’s all send her good vibes and lots of icecream ok?

Jen tempted me into a guest post because 1) her blog is wonderful and I’m thrilled to be a part of it and 2) she’s letting me talk about one of my favourite things...pets! Her question that prompted the following post was ‘Should someone adopt a pet while in debt?’ Well, my gut automatically jumps to NO but it’s more complicated than that.

  Bree and Gizmo caught sharing a moment.

Bree and Gizmo caught sharing a moment.

Pets are Expensive and Time-Consuming

I have two dogs and two cats, and let me tell you, there is nothing cheap about them. I spend an average of $2,000 each year on my four fur babies, and that doesn’t including any unforeseen costs like an emergency vet visit. I won’t go into all of the nitty gritty details here but I do break it down on my blog you’d like to more info.

It’s not only a money thing, it’s also a time thing. This will be different depending on what kind of pet you get, but if it’s a dog on your ‘want’ list then you need to be prepared for walks, play, grooming, etc. Everyone knows this, but until you actually own a puppy, you don’t realize how much time and money they take away from other things. Say goodbye to spontaneous weekend getaways and say hello to cleaning up pet messes.

Debt is a Balancing Act

That brings us to the subject of debt and how it relates to pet ownership. The reason this isn’t a clear cut answer is because there are different levels of debt, different types of debt, and different motivations for getting out of debt. There’s a big difference between someone who is struggling to pay their bills because their high-interest credit card debt is eating up all their income, and someone who’s only debt is a mortgage that they’re already paying more than the minimum on.

If you’re in situation one, then you absolutely should not add a pet into the mix. Responsible pet ownership is having the means to provide for that critter when they are young, old, healthy or sick. You should be focusing all your time and money on bettering your own situation. If you want a pet that badly then you should be willing to work your butt off to be able to afford one.

If instead you’re in the second situation, then you have my blessing (just what you were waiting for right?) Not all debt is bad to all people. If you have low-interest debt (like a mortgage, car loan or student loan) and you’re comfortable with the payments and have extra money in your budget then, moneywise, you’re ready.

When I got my first dog money was tight, I was not debt-free, and I had just bought my first home. One of the biggest reasons I chose the house I did was because of the big and very dog-friendly backyard. I wanted a dog and I wanted it right that second. For me, it was about priorities. I knew I could afford a dog but it would mean taking a bit longer to pay off my debt. It was worth it. That won’t be the case for everyone, but it was for me. Only you will know if pet ownership or being debt free is more important to you. I know you hear a lot about how important it is to pay off debt as fast as you can, and it is. But...if you factor the added interest charges into pet ownership and it still seems affordable and worthwhile then at least you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Being a responsible pet owner is a big deal for me. I can’t stand when people have to give up their animals because of a lack of foresight. However, I also don’t think you have to have perfect finances to be a good pet owner. It just takes planning and being honest with yourself about what you have to give.

5 questions to ask yourself before getting a pet:

  1. Do you have room in your monthly budget for pet expenses?

  2. Do you have the time to properly care for a pet?

  3. Do you have the space for your pet of choice?

  4. Will you have a pet emergency fund or pet insurance to cover unforeseen vet bills?

  5. Is everyone who lives with you in agreement?

Sarah is a fellow Canadian personal finance blogger at Smile & Conquer. She has been working in the world of finance for almost a decade and uses that experience to help other millennials get smart about their money.