Posted by Guest Blogger David Chen
Adding a pet to your household can be an excellent opportunity to teach your children about responsibility, including financial responsibility. That’s exactly how I approached getting a pet for the first time. In our case, it’s a gray, striped cat named Slinky—so named because, at first, he tried to slink away from us and hide out under the bed (he was a rescue kitten, though technically not a kitty anymore). After a little while, Slinky got used to us and has become a part of the family. He is also part of the many life events that I make a point of turning into life lessons. Pets cost money (oh, doesn’t every parent know it!) and being responsible for another living, breathing creature gives my child a small taste of what it is like to budget and make financial decisions. So, we carefully budget for and track our expenses concerning Slinky and here is how we do it.
First, the day we got Slinky we sat down and brainstormed all of the Slinky-related costs we could come up with. We divided these expenses into two general lists: monthly recurring costs and estimated annual costs. To the first list went cat food, a moderate sum for treats ($5), and kitty litter. My daughter wanted to add a toy allowance (living vicariously through your cat, anyone?) so as a group we decided that $5 a month was reasonable, which can purchase one or two small toys. Our monthly expenses list was relatively easy to budget for. We already knew the price of cat food, and a quick look through the Sunday paper advertisement told us kitty litter would run around $20, although we had to estimate that would last a month.
Annual expenses were a rougher estimate. I started by asking my kid to guess how much veterinary care for a cat costs, on average, per year. I got answers ranging from $30 to $1,000—I kid you not. I explained that, as in life, we have to guess at health care expenses and can’t always be accurate. But, assuming Slinky doesn’t come down with any infections this year, her annual checkup should cost us around $130, so that’s the number we ended up going with after a quick call to our closest veterinarian. We also added in $15 a month for flea protection. Personally, I would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to pest control!
It was toward the end of our budgeting session that it occurred to me we needed a couple of items that were one-time purchases, such as nail clippers, collar, food and water dishes, and a kitty litter box. So, we added a third category for those costs which we didn’t anticipate having to buy again in the near future. Not having a good idea ahead of time how much these items cost, but knowing there was probably a range, we budgeted $50.
However, building the budget was only half of the work—sticking to the budget was also part of the lesson. So, when it was time to purchase supplies, I took a calculator and we headed to the nearest pet store to go shopping. I think I could have saved some money by sticking to Walmart or Target, but part of the lesson was going to be to stick to our budget despite overwhelming—and expensive—choices. For that, we needed a store where the selection was temptingly unlimited.
Armed with a budget for each item, it was still hard to pass up the endless treats and toys, the fancier kitty litter boxes, and the scientifically formulated cat food. In the end, I have to say my kid was pretty good about sticking resolutely to just the items on our list and we even ended up under-budget for the trip. For a parent who is used to a constant barrage of requests to put things into the shopping cart, this trip was a nice departure from the norm! Now this budget hangs on the side of the fridge for reference—both of Slinky’s budget and a reminder that teachable moments are lurking in everything we do.
Chen is a freelance writer turned blogger. You can find his work and blogroll at MillennialPersonalFinance.com. He was looking for a place to discuss his new kitty, Slinky, and he thought Whisker Fabulous was the perfect place!