A version of this writing appears in MarketWatch’s Retirement Weekly.
The stockings full of toys and treats, new collars, novelty costumes, sweaters, holiday photographs and personalized tree decorations.
The list can take a bite out of your holiday budget.
This year I polled 500 pet owners and discovered they’ll spend a record average $125 on their wet-nosed companions this holiday season. An increase of 13% over 2014. According to the American Pet Product Association, Americans spend in excess of $5 billion dollars annually on holiday gifts for pets.
I’m guilty of overspending. It’s not only my fur family that gets spoiled. Animals awaiting good homes in shelters benefit from my generosity, too.
It’s easy to get carried away as spending on our pets generates feelings of well-being.
I discovered ways to be in greater control and exercise money smarts this season and yet still fulfill my need to pamper and delight.
Here are some money-savvy ways to collar your pet spending for the holidays.
Upgrade food and treats to reduce long-term pet care expenses. Don’t skimp on the quality of food and treats to save money. Here’s why – Pet healthcare costs are increasing at a rapid rate. For those I counsel, roughly 11 percent a year.
Nutrition-dense, high-quality foods may keep your pet healthier for a longer period and help you minimize large medical bills later. Think of it as part of a preventative health regimen for your four-legged brethren.
Chemically-processed food is disruptive to pet health. According to the International Boarding & Pet Services Association, better food provides an overall boost in the immune system and improved health over the long term with less stress on a pet’s organs. The cost of higher quality food over the life of a pet will be offset by lower veterinary bills and reduced risk of health issues that are a result of improper nutrition. Meat or meat meal should be the primary ingredients with minimal grains.
There are several ways to save on the cost of quality pet food and treats. The simplest way is to receive e-mail updates directly from the manufacturer. For example, www.merrickpetcare.com is a high-quality provider. They provide special offers and product updates for consumers who join their mailing list.
Shop online at www.petfooddirect.com for sale items on name brands and save at least 15% when you establish auto-ship on many high-quality varieties of food and treats.
Investigate pet insurance options as you shop for holiday deals. Years ago, I was against medical insurance for pets. Policies were expensive, choices were limited and not enough medical conditions were covered to justify the premiums.
My opinion has changed.
As healthcare expenses have skyrocketed, pet parents have become vulnerable to financial risks that come with major illnesses and emergencies, some that add up to thousands of dollars. Without insurance, an increasing number of people have had to make heartbreaking decisions when up against the potential financial impact of cost-prohibitive medical treatments that could have prolonged the lives of their pets.
The pet insurance industry has grown 13% every year since 2009. Most likely a result of the Great Recession as American families have limited ability to take on large pet-related health costs. It’s best today to mitigate risk through the use of insurance.
Search for a policy using www.petinsurancereview.com. The site has a helpful ‘compare pet insurance features’ grid which outlines reimbursement amounts (after deductibles), payout caps, deductible amounts, monthly costs, limits and items not covered.
Keep in mind – it costs more to insure dogs, pre-existing conditions will generally not be covered (so best to obtain coverage while your pet is healthy), you will pay a deductible and the most policies do not cover preventative maintenance like vaccines, heartworm prevention and annual checkups. The ones that do are not worth the higher premiums.
Monitor what you spend on holiday novelties and outfits. The cost of holiday-themed toys and cute outfits can dramatically eat into your budget. It’s not uncommon for pet parents to splurge on holiday-inspired garb without a second thought to price. Pet retailers will sell out of most of their inventory weeks or months ahead of the holiday. They rarely need to place the merchandise on sale which shows how passionate we are about dressing up our pets for the holidays.
Your best bet to save big bucks on holiday dress-up and goodies is to search deals online and purchase items post-holiday or off-season. I discovered the best clearance deals at www.doggieclothesline.com, www.baxterboo.com and www.petmountain.com.
Tis’ the season to avoid big veterinary bills. We have a tendency to overindulge during the holidays. Sweets (especially chocolate), turkey bones, adult holiday beverages and fatty, spicy leftovers may sound good, but they can cause health issues (some dangerous) for pets and unforeseen expenses for us. Seasonal plants and decorations accidently ingested can cause health issues, too.
Holiday safety tips are available at www.aspca.org. Just type in the word ‘holiday’ in the search box adjacent to the donation link.
And speaking of donations:
Consider a charitable gift to a pet-friendly organization. Whether it’s the ASPCA, a local animal shelter, or an organization that spay-neuters homeless dogs and cats like SNAP in Houston, a 501(c)(3) non-profit agency may make you eligible for a tax deduction.
Charitable contributions are deductible if you itemize. Generally, contributions can be deducted up to 50% of adjusted gross income for qualified public charities. Consult IRS publication 506, your tax advisor or ask a representative for the organization you wish to benefit.
Pets are family. Unfortunately, they’re also becoming luxuries for some households as costs to keep them healthy and happy continue to trend higher than the general rate of inflation.
A money-smart attitude will keep you out of the financial dog house year round.