Don’t Feed the Alligators

A Personal Finance Blog from a Small-Scale Landlord’s Perspective

Archive for June, 2008

In the fall of 2000, ScrapperMom and I made our first big purchase together: We bought a puppy. As two engineers are apt to do, we researched this purchase to the Nth degree: What kind of dog? Who from? How much? Vet? Crate? etc…

When we finally took the plunge, we ended up bringing home an adorable 20 pound Great Dane puppy (from a reputable dealer…). Two years later, we decided that one 120 pound Great Dane was not enough for one household, and that our little deer (pun intended) needed company during the day, and so we made the mistake of bringing home another Great Dane puppy.

Val on Bed

Orion on Bed

ScrapperMom wondered recently how the dogs fit into our financial picture, and Gather Little By Little spurred me on with a recent post about the rising cost of spending on pets.

Below is the result of the report I ran in Quicken to find out just how much we have been spending on our small horses:

Cost of Unconditional Love

Category Cost
Vet $6,589.43
Food $6,555.09
Supplies $4,962.79
Training $3,687.50
Boarding $3,645.00
Dogs $1,966.90
Dog Walkers $1,362.00
Doggie Day School $1,102.50
Damage Repair Payments $218.16
Registrations $209.74
Books $171.43
Supplements $155.15
Dog Shows $132.45
Fines $40.00



Yes, you read that right. We have spent thirty thousand, seven hundred, ninety-eight dollars and fourteen cents on our dogs since the fall of 2000.

For us, this was a shockingly large number on first inspection. That’s $335/month, on average, for the last 92 months. That’s a little over $11 per day. I can think of worse ways to spend $11, but I still felt that this spending was pretty high in the grand scheme of our general finances, especially when our budget in the “Dogs” category for the past year has only been carrying about $150/month.

My next step was to see how the spending varied over time, since there was definitely a dual (large) income, no kids period where a weekly trip to Petsmart was no expense spared. So I ran a new report:

Dog Cost Chart

This report is really inconclusive. On the one hand, it’s looks like spending has tapered off since about early 2007. This correlates with the birth of our daughter, so it’s really no surprise that we have paid less attention to our pooches (sorry, pups!) and consequently spent less on them. On the other hand, spending was way up as recently as the middle of 2006.

In looking at ways to cut spending in the future, I identified a number of categories that are not likely to see much new spending anytime soon: Dog Walkers, Day School, and the Dogs themselves. Additionally, there are some categories that are really not fair to charge to the Dog account, such as boarding, since this is really a vacation expense that gets budgeted for separately. A number of other categories don’t see much spending in the first place.

Val and Orion

With the elimination of all of those expenses, we’re still at a $233/month average outlay. There’s a pretty good chance that we won’t be doing as much training, since we don’t have that much time anymore, and the supply bill should stay pretty low since most of the costs there were “startup” costs of ownership. That basically leaves food and vet bills. If you count only those two categories, we’re right down under the $150/month budgeted amount.

I’m sure that we’ll have to end up spending more than this per month, since we’ll inevitably have to buy supplies and other items in the coming years. Maybe we can look for ways to save on food and vet bills for now, and bump the monthly budget up to something like $175 and see how it goes.

How much do you spend on your pets? How much have you spent on your pets? What have you done, if anything, to cut costs on them? What is your cost for unconditional love?

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Jumping in with both feet

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: Felipe Skronski

This week I have had little time for writing since I have been getting our yard in shape to host a graduation party for a good friend of mine. My friend is graduating from MIT on Friday — ten years after most of his classmates. I am thrilled to be hosting this party, and thrilled that my friend is graduating. I think it must have taken an enormous amount of courage, and clearly a great deal of effort, to go back to school after being away for 9 years, to finish an undergraduate degree. I think this is, in many ways, far more difficult than graduating on time.

This friend of mine has been very successful in a pretty decent job for the last 9 years, and that’s what makes this all the more courageous: he didn’t really need to do it. Clearly, having a degree from MIT will certainly help his chances for future employment, but nearly 10 years of experience as a circuit designer and programmer will also count for a lot all by itself.

So KUDOS to you, friend! (You know who you are) and best of luck to you and yours with whatever comes next!

Courage does not seem to be in short supply this week, and I would like to highlight a couple of other cases:

  • Some friends of ours confessed this week that they are selling their house. Their house is for sale because they can no longer afford to make the payments. I do not know the details of their inability to make the payments, but I do know that they assessed their situation and made a hard decision — a VERY hard decision. Clearly this is the right choice for them, and I applaud it. I believe that this gives them a new lease on life. Starting over is hard, but without the baggage of a downward spiral of debt and possibly a bankruptcy looming, this family has a great chance of succeeding in the end.

    Owning can be significantly more expensive than renting in our market, and if I had it to do over again, I might have looked a bit harder for places to rent rather than buying our current house. It is clear that in many cases, even with the decline in the housing market, that renting is still quite a bit cheaper than buying in our market. I hope that this family will be able to save quite a bit of money to use to buy their next home when the time is right.

    Our friends have expressed embarrassment over their situation. I don’t think that they have any reason to be embarrassed. We, as a society, are constantly bombarded with advertising and mass media suggesting how we should live, what we should own, drive, etc. Yet most of us learn no more in public schools about money than perhaps how to write a check and balance a checkbook. Who still writes checks as the basis of their finances? This training certainly does not translate into our credit driven economy and as such, it’s no wonder that failures like this occur — in fact it’s surprising that it doesn’t happen more often. I hope our friends make the best of this experience to wipe the slate clean and use this as a great learning opportunity.

  • Lastly, my dear wife showed a lot of courage this week in realizing that she was wrong to spend our money without consulting me. I actually did not even say much to her about how I felt about this, and the next thing I knew she had written a blog to expose her transgression to the world. The 10% that we may have to forfeit for backing out of the agreement she signed is still a lot of money, but I think that it was money well spent if it does nothing but serve as a reminder to both of us that we care for, respect, and love each other enough to consider our partner’s feelings. This is truly a case of “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” (not that this was at all close to “killing” us…)

Have you witnessed any random acts of courage this week? Have done something courageous yourself?

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