Money

Your beloved pet is making you broke

Owner with dog, dog
Ben Pruchnie | Getty Images

Americans are fools for love — puppy love, that is.

"Dogs used to be thought of as guards, then as companions," writes Alexandra Suich for The Economist. "Now they are being treated like children."

We are not just cuddling them but also coddling them accordingly.

Suich reports:

In America alone people spend a whopping $44 billion annually on pet food, supplies and toys, and that figure is growing. Last year they shelled out around $400 million for pet Halloween costumes, according to the National Retail Federation. In 2017 they will spend $593 million on Valentine's Day gifts for their animals.

What is a proper Valentine's Day gift for an animal? Dogs cannot eat chocolate, don't know what to do with flowers and look even sillier than I do in lingerie.

Spending this much on animals seems ridiculous, especially when we're strapped. And, though America is the richest country in the world, we are also, famously, broke. Untold numbers of us cannot come up with $1000 for an emergency and have no retirement savings to speak of.

How can we possibly justify spending billions on pets as though they are children?

A mastiff
Ben Pruchnie | Getty Images
A mastiff

Well, love.

The illustrator Charrow, who has a full-time day job and her own business, once diagrammed the money she had spent to support her dog Red, a rescue she loves dearly who nonetheless sets her back about as much as a drug habit.

"I truly had no idea how expensive they can be," she says.

There are recurring costs, such as dog walking ($50 a week), pet insurance ($38 a month) and yearly check-ups ($150 each). Then there are incidental costs. Every family trip is now $200 more expensive. When, at the park, the dog bites another dog or gets bitten, or eats something rotten, the bill can be stroke-inducing.

Though some of these expenses, such as "limited ingredient" food that costs $100 a month, can be seen as discretionary, most are non-negotiable. There are no Halloween costumes to be found.

And to Charrow, the expense is worth it. She dotes on her dog and the animal is as devoted to her as any toddler. What could be a better use of funds?

Pets are pricey. So are children, so is your cell phone and so is your desire to see the world before you die. Yet animals, kids, modern technology and that trip to Barcelona are what, to many of us, make life worth living.

Having a pet is an especially ennobling experience, and aren't we told day after day to prioritize experiences over things? Aren't experiences what make life satisfying?

Pet owners are frequently called upon to be thoughtful and selfless in a way that builds character, perhaps even more so than parents. While raising children requires the same skill set, your children will hopefully pay you back for your devotion by taking you to doctor's appointments when you're old.

The most a cat will ever do for you is pose for an Instagram picture that gets you 50 likes, and perhaps wait a day after you die before it helps itself to your delicious face-meat.

Besides, the deeper reason you're broke is less likely to be your discretionary spending — as long as you're not gambling wildly or running up massive credit card debt — and more likely to be your stagnant wages, especially as compared with the staggering costs of rent, transportation and health care.

After all, even the cost of a high-maintenance animal will pale in comparison to one late-night trip to an ER that turns out to be out-of-network.

So yes, maybe treating your pet like a child is one of the many reasons you find it hard to save. And maybe it doesn't matter. When you care for a cat, you're doing so out of the goodness of your heart. That's priceless.