Money Matters: Pets are a big business

Education Resources, Finance 411,

It’s almost a rite of passage for school-aged children to beg for a pet, start to demonstrate responsibility, promise to take care of it, and eventually get parents to cave and bring home a furry friend.

But that’s only the beginning of the story.

Pets are big business. This week, human food giant General Mills acquired pet food company Blue Buffalo for approximately $8 billion.

Americans are spending more than ever on furry family members. Many have grown up with pets and are having children of their own later, devoting more time and money to pets.

What does this multi-billion dollar industry mean for pet owners’ finances?

Adoption Fees
Let’s start at the beginning. How much does it cost to bring home that new furball? Survey local animal shelters for information about their adoption fees and what’s included in the cost. Often, spaying/neutering and microchipping are included in the cost of adoption, which can be lower than the cost of those procedures separately.

Some pet owners may be looking for a certain breed of animal, which can come at higher cost. Help your audience through finding reputable breeders or, better yet, breed-specific rescues.

A Lifetime Investment
Before a new family member comes home, potential pet owners should think about the costs beyond adoption. A pet is a lifetime commitment. Walk your audience through planning for feeding and caring for a pet long-term. Ask what families can do to get help with pet care if they run into a financial rough patch.

Beyond the Basics
Many prospective pet owners may think about the monthly cost of feeding Fido, but are they considering the other costs? What about medical care, particularly for unexpected health problems?  Talk to pet insurers. What do they cover? What don’t they?

Just for Fun
An informal survey by pet camera company Petcube found that 54% of their customers planned to buy their pets Valentine’s Day presents. Pet cameras, treat feeders, subscription toy boxes, and even pet clothing are all growing industries. Many cute pet products are impulse buys. Help your audience pay attention to their just-for-fun pet spending.

When You’re Away
Pet ownership can be a full-time responsibility. Help your audience walk through what to do with their pets when they’re going on vacation. What are the costs of boarding or in-home pet sitting? What about traveling with pets? Many airlines have recently updated their policies on pets. How about hotels? Are there good sources for pet friendly hotels? What are the additional costs? Disney, for example, has been piloting a dog-friendly program.

Bigger Picture
Bringing a pet into the picture can affect broader financial decisions, too. Address with your audience how pets may affect their rent, for example, by looking into pet fees at apartment complexes. You could even look into how to plan for a pet’s future if the unthinkable happens and you’re no longer there to care for them.

With these story ideas, prepare your audience to be ready for that big question: "Can we get a puppy?"

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