(A rerun of an article I wrote as a guest columnist at Five Cent Nickel a few months ago.)
My coworker brought in her brand new puppy for Monday and Tuesday, since temporarily there was no one at home to watch her, and I instantly had adorable-thing jealousy. She was a really sweet puppy, and when she went home Monday I was quite anxious for her to return on Tuesday. Getting to play with this tiny creature instantly reignited the I Want A Dog desire which had been relatively dormant since I left for college.
Right now I live in a two bedroom apartment with my boyfriend, two guinea pigs, and a cat. While we do have our own front door, we don't have a backyard or a deck or anything. When we were looking for a place to live, I really really really Really wanted something with a backyard, so that having a dog would be a possibility. (I'm more of a larger-dog person - so a shih tzu wouldn't really be up my alley.) We looked at a duplex with a wonderful fenced backyard, which was directly next to a large field, and I almost went for it because of the backyard. Never mind that the street was Very Scary - everyone else had pit bulls and long-unmowed lawns and I think there were rats in the field. Also, directly across the street was a teen-runaway center. The Craigslist ad had said it was in a "rapidly improving area." As we drove away, we passed a man painting the outside of his (concrete) building with a roller brush... Boyfriend commented, "See, it's rapidly improving!"
Nothing else with a backyard was in our price range, however... so the dream of having a dog had to die. But if I was really dedicated to getting a dog, what would it have cost me?
Well, I suppose we could keep a dog in our apartment. No one in our complex has one, but some people in the all 1 bedroom apartment complex kitty corner to ours have small dogs. But having a dog is in a small way like having a child - it's not the cost of actually feeding them, but the incremental costs of providing enough space for them. So realistically we would have had to get a bigger place, and in a high demand area like ours, that would have come at a price. Probably at least $200 more per month (right now we pay $695, which includes $10 a month for the cat.) And then the cost of the dog itself, which from the shelter would be about $75, and then its initial shots, probably another $75. Food and toys every month, let's say $25.
I think we could definitely swing the monthly cost of the food and toys, and vet bills, and the initial cost of the dog, And I'd need to build up the emergency fund since there is now another member of the family who may have an emergency. But what would really kill my budget would be the extra cost of the apartment. Because not only would Boyfriend and I be paying $900 a month for the place, but we'd have higher electricity and gas to heat and cool it (extra $50 a month, perhaps), and probably need to fight for a place to park, which Boyfriend would hate intensely. (Free off street parking is relatively rare in our area.) To get a place with a large enough backyard that was still in our price range, we'd definitely have to compromise on the distance to work - and right now, since I walk to work, I'd have to buy a car and drive to work. So another $300 a month there (conservatively.) Plus a parking pass for once I get to work, another $40 a month. I'd probably be taxed more since we might have to live outside the city, in one of the higher-tax-levels suburbs.
So all told, the direct cost of the dog over a year would be about $450. Indirect cost? More than $7,000. If I had an especially large dog that needed a larger backyard, even more. Looking into the future, I'd have to continue paying these higher expenses for the life of the dog - and if I decide to move to DC or San Francisco or something like that, probably more than $100k over the life of the dog since it would cost an arm and a leg to rent a place with a big backyard near the city. So if I had a large dog, I might not be able to accept future job offers in expensive cities, and thus limit the arc of my career. And you can't forget the opportunity cost of all this. Having to spend the money now means I won't save it - therefore I can't stick it in my IRA or spend it on a house. And having to wait five extra years to buy a house, or a significantly lower balance in my retirement accounts, is a huge drag on achieving my financial goals.
Keeping our living situation simple (and backyard-free) until I can afford to buy a house anyway is probably the best bet, I think. Maybe I'll just borrow my coworker's puppy....
(P.S. As I am writing this, because I generally compose entries and save them as Gmail email drafts, the ads on the side are for cute puppies for sale... Damn you AdSense, you tempting harlot!)