If you love animals, you’ve probably dreamed about adopting one of your own: Not only can pets be great company, they can also reduce stress and give you unconditional love.
But for all their adorable moments, pets can also be expensive and time-consuming. For example, a large dog will set you back about $2,000 for the first year of care, while cat care for the first year is around $1,200, according to the ASPCA. That includes costs for buying a crate or carrier, food and toys, and services like spaying and neutering.
Thankfully, even cat- or dog-lovers can be pet parents without overspending: Adopting a less expensive rescue pet, getting preventative veterinary care and buying food in bulk are all smart ways to help you save on a feline or canine friend, for example. (More tips on that below!)
But another idea, if you are open to it, is to opt for a less conventional or “starter” pet like a bird or Guinea pig. You’ll save money, and avoid the dubious joys of finding dog hair in your dinner or a cat hairball (or worse) smack in the middle of your living room rug. Among rescue pets currently listed on Petfinder, for example, you can get a lovely red factory canary for a $25 adoption fee — versus $350 for a purebred Rottweiler puppy.
For Olive, New York resident Elena Perez, it was simplicity and beauty that attracted her to bird ownership. “I love and have owned all kinds of birds,” she said. The eight Bourke’s parakeets she has in her home, she said, “are very pleasant and quiet birds that chirp only for a short time at dusk. They prefer to bond with their own kind, instead of humans, which makes them the perfect pet for a busy person.”
Perez said the cost of care she has taken on is also pleasantly manageable: “This type of bird is definitely much easier and less expensive to care for, compared to dogs or cats or even larger birds like parrots,” she said.
Looking for a way to become an animal parent without going into debt? Here’s what to know — and do — plus a few ideas for especially budget-friendly pets.
5 pets you can actually afford
Unexpected costs are hard to calculate, especially when it comes to medical care. But you can get a handle on normal, everyday expenses: Here are five of the most cost effective pets, using price estimates from the the ASPCA, Cheat Sheet and Pet Education.
5. Small birds
Adopting a bird can be very cheap, costing as little as $15 for some parakeets. Of course, there are exceptions — like the $600-ish African Grey Parrot, according to Pet Education — and even a small, inexpensive bird can eat into your budget if you aren’t careful. In your first year of ownership, you should expect a typical expense of $387, ASPCA notes. Food is the biggest cost, but you’ll also need a cage and will want to factor in vet costs.
Got a soft spot for furry mammals? You can easily get a pair of guinea pigs or rats for less than $50 — and you’ll want at least two, since they like company. Rabbits are cute, too, but they’ll set you back a bit more.
Full of personality, Guinea pigs make great pets for kids and live an average of five to seven years. If you opt for one, expect to drop about $374 in the first year, mostly because of upfront costs on food, bedding and vet visits. Guinea pigs may be tiny, but they like to roam, so make sure you provide a large enough living space and good quality hay since they like to use it for nesting and snacking, Petfinder recommends.
On the other hand, you could go for a rat or a pair of rats, which are known for being playful and cuddly and can be purchased for about $25 to $35 for the couple, CostHelper says. Habitat costs could range anywhere from $30 to $180, but you might want to go for a larger cage for a more peaceful existence, the Humane Society says. Bottom line, you could pay about $250 in the first year to care for your rats.
With some tropical fish costing the thousands of dollars, most are much less expensive. Caring for a few goldfish in a basic tank, nothing fancy, will cost you about $227 a year, according to the ASPCA. Or you could go even more basic and get a single beta fish for $5, not including the tank, food and decoration, according to Cheat Sheet.
Beta fish can survive in tap water and the males should live alone — or else it could be fishy fight club. If you go for the full tank, your biggest expense will likely be for aquarium equipment, with minimal costs for food.
2. Hermit crabs
Super cheap and educational for kids, hermit crabs are easy to care for and fun to watch as they crawl around, molt and move to a bigger shell.
Hermit crabs cost about $10 to adopt (ideally from a rescue) and $36 to $72 a year for food. Throw in an aquarium, sand, a hygrometer to ensure adequate humidity and a heat source to keep them warm and you’ll spend about $70 in the first year. You can save money if you opt instead for an all-in-one starter kit for $13 at PetSmart or $33 on Amazon, including the cost of the crabs.
Know that pet store or souvenir store hermit crabs are often removed from their homes; you might want to look to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, for suggestions on how to care for a captive hermit crab, including keeping the crab in a humid environment and making sure their aquarium gives them enough space for molting.
1. Sea monkeys
Technically brine shrimp, sea monkeys can provide entertainment and interaction, which could be ideal for small children or bored adults.
All you need to do is add water and eggs inside the the provided tank, feed the emerging “monkeys” and watch them grow and swim. You can typically score the entire package for $15, but toy stores like Toys R Us sell Sea Monkeys for as little as $6.
If you must have a cat or dog...
Hermit crab won’t cut it? If your heart still yearns for a pup or kitty cat, be realistic about what you’re getting into. The worst thing you can do is dive in and then realize too late that the dog or cat you adopted isn’t going to work. In fact, 6% of adopted dogs are returned to shelters, Emily Weiss, vice president of shelter research and development for ASPCA told Vet Street.
Start by adopting a rescue pet, which you can find on PetFinder or at your local animal shelter. Not only will you give an abandoned pet a new lease on life, you’ll save hundreds of dollars compared to buying from a breeder.
Next, consider your costs. The first year cost for a small dog is $1,471 versus $1,174 for a cat, the ASPCA says. And if you go for the big dog for around $2,000 a year, consider all the factors including training, grooming and dog walking. You’ll need to do a lot of dog walking.
Where you live can determine how much you pay for your pet. People who live in California, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., pay the most for veterinary care, CBS News reported, while those in North Dakota or Arkansas pay less.
3 things to know before adopting any pet
Pet ownership is one of the biggest responsibilities you can take on and being prepared will make you a better pet owner. So before you take the leap, carefully weigh these factors.
The full cost of pet ownership
The price of a pet goes well beyond upfront costs. While you should anticipate adoption fees — which can be up to $250 for a rescue animal or thousands of dollars for a purebred pup — don’t forget about ongoing food, grooming, vet care and habitat expenses.
Certain pets have unexpected extra costs. For example, if you’re getting a parakeet, you may want to purchase a pair because these colorful birds like company, according to the Nest. Perez said she also spent about $350 for a large flight cage to house her eight birds and spends around $150 per year on bird seed, which she buys in bulk online three times a year.
And while you can find inexpensive pellets to feed a Guinea pig, the cost of fresh vegetables to supplement their diet and improve their health can nearly double your food costs, according to Guinea Pig Today.
Even relatively low-cost pets like rats can get sick, which means you may want to invest in pet insurance for them. Before you buy, talk to a vet about the medical costs associated with your specific pet.
Regular vet care can save you money down the line. “Just like with people, it is much less expensive and much less risky to monitor your pet’s health before a problem arises than it is to navigate an emergency,” Dr. Erin Wilson, medical director of the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City, said in an email. “This includes things like getting him or her regular exams, and staying up to date on vaccinations.”
How the pet will fit into your lifestyle
Beyond cost outlay, take a hard look at your lifestyle, including the amount of time you can devote to a pet. Small children (or the elderly) typically do better fish, turtles, birds, cats and guinea pigs, Healthline advises.
If you want to be a dog owner, on the other hand, you need to commit to walking it up to three times a day or hiring a dog walker if you are gone for long stretches of time during the day. While cats can go a few days without company, so long as you leave them adequate food and water, you’ll need to make care arrangements for your dog if you leave town without them.
Don’t have much time to care for a pet? Consider a few hermit crabs, which can happily exist in their terrariums while you’re away and can come out to play when you’re ready. Other pets that work well for busy people include geckos, certain birds and fish.
Whether you have the right space
If you live in a tiny apartment, a big dog may not make sense. One of the big pluses of getting a nontraditional pet is that they tend to need only enough space for their cage or terrarium. Often, a wide dresser or table works well for their habitat. In some cases, you may also place cages on the floor.
If you’re getting a fish tank, position it near an outlet in order to run the tank equipment and locate it near a sink so you aren’t waking back and forth to fill the tank, according to Pets Keepers Guide. Steer clear of setting up the tank near windows because direct sunlight causes algae growth.
Lastly, be sure to give your animals the love and care they deserve. That includes regular checkups at the vet, which will help lower your costs in the long run by keeping your furry friends healthy for years to come.
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