Saturday, August 26, 2006

Getting a puppy = upgrading your lifestyle?

(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!)


Chuck said...

Dogs can definetly be expensive. As a coincidence, on Friday our dog hurt its leg playing and immediatly began yelping like a madman. A frantic trip to the vet ensued and after an xray we were releaved to find it was only a sprain and he should be walking fine in a day or 2. We were then $160 poorer.

- Chuck

Ms. MiniDucky said...

Having a dog, especially a large one, pretty much requires a whole emergency fund of its own. The cost for any non-elective [emergency, you can't opt out of it if you don't want to put the dog down] surgery for a large dog is astronomical these days. As chuck says, an xray and consultation alone will cost you a couple hundred dollars .... that said, I ended up with a rescued dog who is relatively large and ten years, $5000 or so later, the limitations on where you can live and the size of your yard etc. are definitely all realistic considerations. They're absolutely loveable and endearing but you have to do what's right for both dog and owner. Good research, Kira!

Ken said...

My two dogs cost me $800 total when I bought them.

Food and vet bills were relatively low, probably $100/mo averaged out over 7 years so far.

The biggest costs are sometimes not seen. What is the cost of racing home to let them out and driving back to where you were? What's the cost of the patches of grass that they kill or the tree they kill with their pee?

For me, I realized all the things I did for my dogs after I'd done them. I got a nice new fence, cause the old one was too short. I got hardwood floors, cause pee smelled on carpets. I got leather furniture instead of cloth, cause you can get the hair off of it easier. When I go on vacation, my dogs cost me $75/day to board which sometimes ends up costing more than my vacation. I got an SUV cause my dogs can't ride in my compact.