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The Costs of Pet Ownership

I was sitting at my desk trying to decide which of my blog topics I wanted to write about this week when my almost 12-year-old cat (one of two) jumped onto my lap demanding attention.  Clearly, my post topic was set.  What are the costs of pet ownership?  Obviously, this depends on the type of pet, but in general, the needs are the same. Food, shelter, medical care, etc.   I have cats, so let’s look at what I spend.

First off, let’s think about the lifespan of the pet, because you’re going to be paying this money for years.  Some animals live longer than others.  Some cats live more than 20 years, and I’m hoping for at least 16.  Large dogs have a much shorter lifespan.  Some birds can live 50 years or more.

Food

There are a lot of pet foods on the market and choosing the right one can be complicated.  You want to spend a reasonable amount of money while still getting the highest quality food for your pet.  You also want to make sure you’re buying something that your finicky eater will consume.  (I still have a bunch of cans of pricey prescription pet food that my cat refuses to touch.)   Yes, you can just go to the store and pick up the cheapest food, but is that one going to be the best?  Frequently, the cheapest foods have a lot of filler in them.  As you would with your food, check out the serving size.  Maybe that food isn’t as cheap as you thought if you have to feed your pet twice as much for them to get the nutrients they need.  I like to buy the most nutritionally dense food I can.  Ensures that my picky eaters are getting their nutrients, and well… there’s less “end product” to deal with later.

Also, make sure you’re buying the proper product for the stage.  Cats shouldn’t eat kitten food and vice versa.  I buy a prescription food for my cats that prevents crystals in their urine.  One cat was having issues with crystals, which can lead to a urinary blockage and the need for surgery (or possibly death).  When I first bought it, I was shocked by the price.  $60+ dollars for 17 pounds of food.  But that bag lasts me a long time (around 3 months or so), so it’s not as expensive as it first seems.  And it’s worth it because my cats stay healthy.  And on the financial side, I’m not having to rush a cat to the vet for emergency treatment or paying for medications.

Shelter

For my cats, this is an easy one.  They live in my house and sleep wherever the heck they want.  If you have an animal that lives in a cage, your costs will clearly differ.  But in the shelter category, let’s also include sanitation and care.

My cats are 100% indoor cats.  I do this for their health and safety.  But that means that they use the litter box.  Luckily, cat litter isn’t terribly expensive, but my cats do seem to have a preference for certain types.  (To the point where if they don’t like the litter, they will leave their deposit right in front of the box to show their displeasure.)   The box itself also has to be replaced from time to time (every couple of years) as it starts to get damaged from the scratches.

Cats are fairly independent creatures, so when I am gone on an overnight trip or even for the weekend, I can leave them at home as long as I ensure I leave them with enough food and water.  I always leave way more food than they need, so I’m pretty sure they like when I leave.  But if I’m going to be gone longer, I have a pet sitter come in and care for them.  That costs me $25 a day.  Could I find someone cheaper, sure.  But this is a person who I know and trust in my home, so I don’t mind the cost.  And at the holidays, I always make sure to give her an extra cash gift.  Worth every penny.

Medical Care

I’m very lucky.  My cats have been fairly healthy throughout their lives, urinary crystals notwithstanding.  I had them neutered while they were young, which is critical.  They don’t know what they’re missing and it makes them generally happier.  I have two male cats, and without neutering, they would be more likely to fight and display territorial behaviors.  Not to mention it eliminates the risk of testicular cancer.

They go to the vet every year for an examination and vaccination.  The cost of this varies around the country, but expect to pay at least $75.  My vet recommends that the cats have bloodwork done starting around age 10.  This can show organ function and thyroid function, giving the vet an idea about my cats’ health before they start to show major symptoms.  Yes, it’s an added cost, but worth it to me.  Other pet owners will have to make that decision.

Every few years, the vet will recommend dental work.  This isn’t like dental work for you or me.  The cats get knocked out for the cleaning, which allows the vet to really clean and check every tooth and extract any that have cavities or are getting infected.  Again, not required, but it’s something I always do upon recommendation.

But sometimes, your pets can need more medical care.  My parents have a dog who takes a daily anti-seizure medication, for example.  It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it to them, and it’s a commitment they made when adopting the dog.

There is pet insurance.  I don’t have it, and have heard mixed reviews of whether or not it’s worth it.  On that end, all I can recommend is that you do your research.

Is it worth it?

This seems like an expensive proposition.  Is it worth it?

Yes.  Absolutely yes.  Pet ownership is a great feeling.  Whether it’s a cat who curls up with you on the couch or a bird who sings every morning, having a pet is a great feeling.  Yes, this weekend I did get woken up by a paw gently tapping on my face because one of the cats was hungry, but all was forgiven later when he curled up next to me and started purring.

Just be aware of what you’re getting into when you adopt a pet.  Puppies and kittens are adorable and who doesn’t want to bring one home?  But check your budget first.  I am often tempted by adoptable puppies online, but I know that my budget doesn’t have room for a dog.  My work day is long and I would have to hire someone to walk the dog every day.  That right there would break my budget.  So no dog for me.  The cats are probably pleased by that decision.

Like any big purchase, do your research first.  And make the decision that’s right for you.

What does pet ownership cost-

YNAB Goes to the Cloud - A Review

The best budgeting app has gone to the cloud. Good or bad-

For years, I have been talking about YNAB – You Need A Budget.  This is my favorite budgeting program.  I have been using it since it started in its first iteration – an Excel spreadsheet.  Then they created a desktop version.  The desktop version got a mobile app and you could sync the two using Dropbox.  Now YNAB has gone to the next level – their latest version is entirely cloud based.  No need to sync using Dropbox.  No need to be on one specific desktop computer.  Your budget is available everywhere.

But this version has a number of changes, and as a long time user, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this.  But I started using the program in January and by the time my 34 day free trial was up, I was ready to subscribe.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not perfect.  But one of the benefits to a cloud based program is that they are constantly making tweaks and updates and adding features.

(Oh, and if you LOVE the desktop version, no worries.  It’s definitely still available.)

So for the newbies, what is YNAB?  Well, they explain it better than I can, but it’s more than just a budgeting program – it’s a budgeting method.  There are four rules:

  1. Give every dollar a job.
  2. Embrace your true expenses. (ex: not just what you owe this month, but your annual expenses as well)
  3. Roll with the punches
  4. Age your money.  (This used to be live on last month’s income, but they’re expanding it.)

If you want to learn more about the method, check out my archives or just go over to their website and learn more.  And now onto the new app itself.

direct-import-setup

One of the big changes to YNAB is auto-import of transactions.  It used to be that you could download transactions from your bank and then import them yourself.  Now those import automatically.  But don’t worry, you can’t miss them.  YNAB tells you that “Hey, you have one new transaction on this account.” You click to import, then you still have to categorize and accept that.  That means nothing can easily sneak in.  I used to import weekly.  Importing much more frequently makes me focus on the individual transactions instead of looking at them as a whole.

Don’t want to link your bank info to YNAB?  That’s okay, you can still do it all manually.  Not a problem.

category-underfuned-bill

 

One thing I really like is how your budget shows you where you’re underfunded.  You can schedule your recurring bills in YNAB, and then when it’s time to budget for the next month, you can easily see where you need to be putting your money.

cc-category-goal

 

 

Along the same lines, you can set goals.  For example, I know that in September and December, my property tax bill will come due (50% each month).  I won’t get the bill until sometime in the summer, so I don’t want to schedule it as an upcoming bill.  Rather, I’ve estimated what I think the bill will be and decided, “Okay, I need to have $X in that budget category by December.”  I plug that into YNAB, and YNAB prompts me to budget the appropriate amount every month.  Say I should be budgeting $500 every month, but in January, I only have $450 to budget.  No big deal – YNAB will allocate that missing $50 over the remaining months until December.

This is also really helpful if you’re trying to save up for a trip or to make a big purchase.  Seeing your progress towards a goal is a great feeling.

YNAB deals with credit cards in an interesting way, and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, but I think it’s okay and it’s probably great for people who are working to pay off their credit card balance.   Each credit card gets its own line in the budget.  But as you make purchases, the funds are moved for you.  Here’s an example.  I have $100 in my grocery budget line.  I spend $25 on my Visa on groceries.  When I input that amount, $25 is subtracted from my grocery budget line and moved to my Visa budget line.  See, the money is there to pay for that expense.  This allows you to keep using your credit card as you’re working to pay it off, if that’s something that you want to do.  You can chip away at the debt while still using the card and not adding to the debt.

One big downside that I can see to the new cloud based budget is that if the system goes down, no budgeting for you.  If you don’t have an internet connection, no budgeting for you.  That said, for me, it’s worth the risk.  The added accessibility means I’m looking at my budget much more frequently and keeping it more up to date.  So even if it’s not available one time I try to check it, I’m still able to use it more than I was.  (And I haven’t noticed any downtime yet.)  This style of software is becoming more and more common, and is probably the direction a lot of programs are going.  (For example, I drafted this in Google Docs and made the pinnable image in Canva, both online programs.)

What does it cost?  $5 a month or $50 a year (if you’re a previous user, you get a lifetime 10% discount).  And yes, when you’re working to get out of debt, spending money doesn’t always make sense.  For me, I think it’s worth it.  And if you’re unsure, try them out.  They have a free 34 day trial, and it’s a TRUE trial.  You don’t have to give them your credit card number or anything and then cancel before the 34 days are up.  Nope, just create an account and try it out.  If it’s not for you, no harm, no foul.

I’ve said that I’ve let my budget get out of control over the past few months, and it’s my own fault for not working closely with my YNAB budget.  This new program is perfectly timed for me and I’m excited to be getting started.

Surviving the Storm

Snowzilla has come and gone in the Washington, DC area and I have emerged unscathed.  As of this writing, I’m not sure of our official snow totals, but everything I have heard has said at least 2 feet, so let’s go with that.

It turned out to be not so bad.  Don’t get me wrong, 2 feet of snow isn’t nothing, and it’s going to take the city quite some time to dig out.  But in most places, the power stayed on, and my cable even stayed connected, so while I was housebound, there was plenty of warmth and entertainment.

Watching the city prep for the storm was pretty entertaining, however.  There was a huge run on the grocery stores.  Shelves were emptied.  My friend told me Costco ran out of meat.  Let me repeat that.  Costco.  Ran out. Of Meat.  Not just rotisserie chickens or anything like that.  Their entire meat department was cleaned out.

Admittedly, we were being told to be prepared to be stuck at home for a week.  And depending on the size of your family, that might necessitate a bit of stocking up.  But I think people perhaps went overboard.

Unfortunately, people also took advantage.  I saw something online about a guy who bought a bunch of milk and bread and was selling it.  $20 for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread, $35 for both.  Talk about taking advantage of the situation.  Some people will tell you this is just capitalism at its finest.  I think it’s awful and selfish.

Personally, I didn’t have to go out for anything.  I had done my grocery shopping the Friday before and I had plenty of food in the house.  I’m still set.  And since my power stayed on, there were no issues with cooking.  But I was prepared.

I made sure that I had things that didn’t need to be heated, like granola bars and protein bars.  I also have a bunch of canned soups that I can heat up on my gas stove.  These are things I keep around in general.  It’s never bad to be prepared for a winter storm or a summer storm.

I have a woodburning fireplace and plenty of firewood.  Late in the fall, I had the chimney inspected and cleaned, so I knew that the fireplace was safe to use.  Wood fires don’t necessarily heat a home as well as some people think, but if the power is out, it’s a great option.  Plus it just makes for a nice, relaxing evening at home.

One thing I did, just in case, was kept the house warmer than normal.  I raised the thermostat by a few degrees so that if the power did go out, the temperature had that much further to drop.  This will raise my heating bill this month, but I think it was a worthwhile expenditure.

I learned an interesting tip from a neighbor.  In the cold, if your power goes out, when your house starts to get cold, set up a tent in the living room or make a blanket fort and hang out inside.  The small space will stay warmer thanks to the body heat.  Plus it’s a fun way to entertain the kids trapped inside the house.

I also made sure that I had a shovel and good boots.  There was a run on shovels at the store earlier this week.  If you don’t have one, don’t wait til the snow is coming to buy one.  Go get a shovel on a nice, 50 degree day.  They’re easy to find and no one will fight you for it in the store.

Be careful when you go out to shovel.  It’s easy to injure your back and people do have heart attacks while shoveling.  There are mixed messages as to whether you should go out and shovel as the snow is still coming down or whether you should wait.  I did both, in a manner of speaking.  For my main sidewalk and the public sidewalk down the front of my yard, I shoveled a few times.  For the sidewalk towards my driveway, I only shoveled once.

Shoveling the 4 inches that fell Friday night was just stupid.  It didn’t make an impact.  But shoveling the 14 inches on Saturday afternoon before the blizzard picked up and dropped another almost foot of snow?  Definitely worth it.  Sunday morning was much easier, plus I could actually find the sidewalk.  Plus it had just been nice to get out of the house on the previous day.  I removed the snow in layers rather than try to just lift two feet of snow.  No injuries here.

And of course, when you do go out, be sure to dress properly.  Frostbite isn’t good for anyone.

So we’ll see how long it takes the city to dig out.  While we get mocked by northerners, and while our city officials perhaps don’t always make the best decisions, we also don’t have the number of plows that colder cities have, so it could take us a while.

Did you get hit by this snowstorm?  Have you ever been in a blizzard?  What tips do you have?

Surviving the Storm

Keeping Up With the Joneses

Comparison.  Though it’s often referred to as a trap, I think it’s both good and bad.

“If he can do it, maybe I can too” versus “I’ll never be able to do it as good as he can.”

But I think comparison is especially difficult when it comes to finances.  We want to have what someone else has.  The neighbor gets a new car and suddenly your car doesn’t look so great anymore.  Your friend goes on a stellar vacation and you start looking at travel websites.

Comparison is a great way to get yourself into financial trouble.  But I think it can also be a great way to learn some money saving tips.

A friend of mine, we’ll call him Mr. Jones, goes on fabulous vacations with his wife almost every year.  They’ve done European river cruises and they’ve spent time in Australia.  Some years, the vacations are “smaller,” like a week in Germany, and sometimes they go all out.  Now, I know what Mr. Jones and his wife do for a living and neither of them has a particularly high income job.  And we’ve discussed his plan to get their student loans paid off early (completed last year), so I know he pays attention to debt.

So finally, I said “I’m so jealous of your trips.  You guys must have great money management skills or know some great tips for finding good deals.”

And then he explained his methods to me.

It’s all about prioritization.  What in your life takes priority?  Obviously, they need a roof over their heads and food on the table, but beyond that, where do they want their money to go?

Mr. Jones and his wife live very frugally.  They own a small house.  It’s a bit of a fixer upper, so they are slowly working on it, but it’s more than liveable now.  So they bought it for a much cheaper price.  Rather than do all the work at once, they do a lot of trips to places like Habitat for Humanity Restore, so they buy a lot of the things they need at a significant discount.

Mrs. Jones loves bargain shopping and plans the weekly grocery trips accordingly.  She hits up a number of different stores in order to get the best prices.  They often spend less than what I do on food, and there are two of them.

They are big on using something until it can’t be used anymore.  Fewer disposable items, more reusable items.  Even plastic bags get reused. Why spend money on something when you don’t have to?

Now, nothing they do is all that grand.  A lot of people trying to save money are doing similar things.  But the big difference is that the Joneses then go and take extravagant trips.  Why?  Because they can afford it.  They save in other areas so that they can splurge on these trips.  (And of course, they’re bargain hunting for the trips too, but that’s another story.)

So from the outside, someone who doesn’t know the Joneses well, or just sees their photos on Facebook, may think they lead this fabulous life.  And they do.  But for them, it’s all about priority.  When I bought my house, I spent more than the Joneses did because I didn’t want a fixer upper.  I don’t have the skills and I certainly don’t enjoy that sort of work.  So my priority was getting a house that didn’t need a ton of work.  I also loathe grocery shopping, and while I will shop sales and use coupons, the idea of spending a couple of hours going from store to store with a detailed list of what to buy where sounds awful to me.  I can’t imagine doing it weekly, but Mrs. Jones loves the adventure.

So instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses, why not think about your priorities.  Maybe they go on great trips, but maybe you aren’t spending your evening putting up drywall.  It’s all about what you love and where you want your money to go.

PERFECT

Who’s Ready for Tax Season?

It’s 2016!  That means it will soon be time to file your 2015 tax returns!

Okay, I admit, I am one of very few people who actually enjoys tax season.  But to me it’s like a game.  Put in all of these numbers and see where you land.

Yes, your tax return isn’t due til April.  But I’m a big fan of filing your return as early as possible, and even though you probably don’t have all of your documents yet, you can start getting prepared.

Sit down and make a list of all of the paperwork you need.  And then check off the items as they arrive.  Right now, I have a file folder on my desk to collect the paperwork as it comes in.  So far, I have my property tax bill from last year and my charitable donations records.  That means I’m awaiting a lot of documents.  Keeping a list of what I’m waiting for helps keep me organized.  That way, I know when I’m finally ready to finish my taxes.

Most documents are due to you by the end of January.  That’s not an outright rule, but in general, you can expect to have all of your documentation by the beginning of February.  If the deadline has come and gone and you’re still expecting some paperwork, don’t hesitate to reach out to the person who should be providing it.  I made that mistake last year, which is part of the reason I made a list for this year.  

Be sure to not forget about any documents.  Did you do any freelance work this year?  Earn any money from a blog?  How about investments?  Even your interest on your savings accounts counts.

And of course, there are the deductions.  If you’re a blogger earning income, you can count your hosting as a business expense, for example.  And charitable donations are a huge and easy deduction.  

Personally, I use TurboTax to complete my taxes because it’s what works for me.  I could just do them for free by hand, but I’m always convinced I’ll do something wrong, and I’ve never had a single complaint about TurboTax.  I’m not formally endorsing them or anything, but I’m happy with the choice.  There are a number of great options out there in varying price ranges, and if your situation is more complicated, going to an accountant is never a bad plan.  

My biggest tip?  Do your taxes as soon as possible.  Once you get all those documents in hand, sit down and do the work.  Don’t wait until the last minute.  If you’re due a refund, this gets it in your hand much sooner.  But what if you owe money?  You can always complete the forms and then submit them closer to the deadline.  This is one area where the digital methods rock – I submit my taxes online and never have to venture to the post office.  The last thing you want to do is be stuck in line at the post office on tax day.

So what are you waiting for?  Start getting organized now!  You certainly won’t regret it come tax time.  

Who's Ready for Tax Season-