Here at Bitches Get Riches, we don’t just think pets are better than people—we believe it with every fiber of our ornery little hearts. Down with the anthropocene! We welcome our fuzzy lil’ treat-obsessed overlords!
Here are 23 ways you can save money on pets, from food and toys to veterinary care and boarding.
I’ll be the first to admit it’s pretty dog-and-cat-centric, so your mileage may vary. But in my defense, I treat my chickens like queens. I’ve even gone so far as to build them the Taj Mahal of chicken coops and feed them organic heirloom kale straight from the garden. So when it comes to barnyard animals, I have exactly zero experience in being frugal.
A lot of this advice will be about preventative measures: taking care of your pet’s health to avoid expensive vet bills or getting serious about training to avoid replacing expensive items like furniture and shoes. You can save money on pets by acknowledging that they are weird little creatures who don’t understand our strange and human ways, and that it is our responsibility to teach them and be understanding of what gets lost in translation.
Who knows! Your cat might think you want her to bat an expensive bottle of perfume off the bathroom counter to shatter on the floor! How is she supposed to know that’s wrong and bad when you yourself placed it so temptingly close to the edge???
The point is that pets aren’t inherently expensive. More than money, it takes time to make sure they fit happily into your frugal lifestyle… and you into theirs.
On with the frugal pet advice!
Save money on pets by choosing wisely
Frugal pet ownership begins with pet choice. Some animals are just plain expensive, while others are bargain bin cuties. But the research-averse shouldn’t worry: we did your homework already when we ranked 30 pets for financial efficiency!
1. Choose the right pet for your lifestyle
Dogs are cute, but they can be an expensive hassle. And while the purring inner motor of a satin-soft kitty is one of the universe’s most wholesome resources, cats aren’t ideal for people with allergies.
Likewise, young, energetic, curious puppies and kittens can take up far more of your time and money than a senior pet who just wants to sleep on a soft bed for twenty hours a day.
So maybe try an aging lizard if you have allergies or you travel frequently?
2. Adopt, don’t shop
Pet shelters are overflowing with animals you can adopt for a small fee… or for free! Meanwhile, you’ll pay top dollar at a breeder or pet store. So adopt, don’t shop!
And before you zip down to the comments to remind me that shelter dogs often come with “behavioral issues”: I fucking know. I adopted a fear-aggressive pound pup we had to muzzle-train. It was a ton of work. And I wouldn’t trade the experience for every purebred borzoi in the land.
3. Get a mutt
Mutts are cheaper to buy and care for. They so rarely have the same genetic health disorders as purebred animals, and you can get them for pennies on the dollar.
Plus, “breeds” are a vestige of Victorian eugenics. It’s so fucking weird we still do this to pets.
The notable exception to this rule is if your pet has a job.
Hunting dogs, herding dogs, ranch horses, and service animals of all kinds might be bred for particular behavioral traits and physical features. No judgment there! I’ve never met a Cavalier King Charles spaniel willing to swim through an icy pond to retrieve a dead duck or herd a flock of sheep across sprawling ranchlands. And I probably never will.
4. Don’t overcommit your time and resources
If you’re broke and have no time, choose your pet accordingly. I know some people consider animal companionship essential to their mental health. So I would never make a hard rule that some people just should not have pets. But they probably should think twice before getting high maintenance pets.
It isn’t fair to commit to properly caring for an animal and just… not. Whether or not it’s your fault, you owe it to any animal for which you accept responsibility to be responsible! So be realistic about your time commitments and maybe get a betta fish instead of a puppy if you work twelve-hour days.
Save money on your pet’s health and wellness
One of the biggest expenses when it comes to pets can be veterinary care. And I should know!
Within a few months of adopting my pound pup, he swallowed an entire sock, it got compacted in his lower intestine, and he required emergency gastrointestinal surgery to remove it. (Keep dirty laundry out of reach of your nasty-smell-loving dogs, people.)
5. Use an emergency fund instead of pet insurance
If I may make a prediction: this is the tip that will get the most debate in the comments. Come at me! But we’ve been over this, and most pet insurance is a waste of money at best and a scam at worst.
In general, you are far better off taking what you would pay in monthly pet insurance premiums and sticking it in an emergency fund. That way when your furry friend requires medical care, you have the money on hand and you don’t need to waste time filing an insurance claim that will eventually be rejected.
6. FFS, SPAY OR NEUTER YOUR PET
If you own a dog or cat, spaying or neutering is mandatory. Sterilizing your pets is good for the planet as well as their health. It’s cruel, dangerous, and impractical to forego it.
One of the reasons shelters are so full of perfectly adoptable, homeless dogs and cats is because of people neglecting to sterilize their pets. The overpopulation of domesticated animals is a human-caused problem and we have no excuse not to do what we can to fix it.
There are low cost clinics in every area. Some animals shelters will even pay you to spay/neuter a dog or cat after adoption, or at least reimburse the cost.
Even if you are confident your dog will never get pregnant (you’re extremely wrong), their biological urges will encourage them to escape, travel far from home, pick fights, contract other animal-borne diseases, and get reproductive-related cancers. So just give ’em the snip snip, ok?
7. Choose the right vet
Vets are expensive no matter what. They just are. So don’t waste energy trying to find the cheapest one. Find the best one for you. Mine makes house calls so my fear-aggressive mutt doesn’t stress around other dogs in a clinic waiting room.
If you need to drop $250 a year just for an annual exam, vaccinations, preventatives etc., at least make sure that money is going to someone who is helpful, a good listener, and respectful of the reality that costs are a concern.
If you get desperate, some veterinary clinics will give discounts for cash up front, or put your payments on an installment plan if you ask. And some cities will host free pet vaccination drives for low-income households, so keep your ear to the ground just in case.
8. Don’t outsource grooming and bathing
When my dog needs a bath, I don’t waste money on a fancy groomer. I simply tie him to a post like a political prisoner and spray him down with a hose. He hates it. It’s great.
If extensive grooming is necessary, local pet supply stores often have rental bath stalls. But a bathtub or even a kitchen sink can be an option for smaller pets.
9. Clean their teeth
Billion-dollar business idea: dog braces. Think about it.
But seriously, pets need dental care just like humans. This is another one to file under preventative care, as getting rotten or broken teeth pulled can be an expensive, harrowing experience. So brush your pet’s teeth (with special pet-grade toothpaste) or give them chew treats designed to clean their teeth.
10. Exercise your pet
One of the best ways to save money on pets is to take preventative healthcare seriously. And that means regularly exercising your pet.
I never need to clip my dog’s nails because he wears them down on the sidewalk during long walks and runs. And this large breed dog is 13 fucking years old because he has spent his life running, hiking, fetching, and walking his way to longevity.
Doctors are always saying a sedentary lifestyle will kill us humans. The same goes for pets! Proper exercise will extend the life of your pet and save you on vet bills. Plus, a properly exercised pet is one that won’t destroy expensive shit in your home because they’re bored and overflowing with energy.
Save money on pet food
Pet food is both the most necessary expense of pet ownership, and the easiest way to save money on pets. Unless your pet is a certain gaslighting, sweet potato-thieving little bastard who shall remain nameless. [insert accusatory glare here]
11. Don’t give them people food
The kind of processed foods we eat on the daily are just not meant for your pets. It can cause all kinds of expensive health problems and mess with your pet’s digestive system to constantly eat people food.
There are exceptions, of course, but we’ll get to that in a sec.
12. Get a budget food brand
The fanciest, priciest pet food brands are not necessarily the best. In our experience, Dog Food Advisor has the absolute best dog food ratings. Or you can consult your vet for a healthy budget food brand.
Don’t ever DIY cat food. But dogs are little garbage disposals—they can eat just about anything. So get the best food you can afford. But you’re not a bad pet owner if they get Kibbles ‘n Bits instead of Call of the Wild.
Remember how I said there were exceptions to the “no people food” rule? Whole foods like unseasoned meat, brown rice, sweet potato, and pumpkin can supplement your dog’s diet if your budget is tight and you need to stretch a bag of dog food until your next paycheck. But as always, consult your vet.
13. Make your own treats
One of my favorite ways to save money on pets is to make their treats myself. My chickens get veggie scraps from the garden, my dog gets offal from hunting and fishing trips, and it’s super easy to make sugar water in the winter for my bees.
Plus, dog biscuits require the cheapest ingredients. We recommend Doggy Dessert Chef for the best recipes! It’s a great way to get rid of liver and other unpalatable meats you might have in the freezer.
14. Shop in person
Instead of ordering pet food online, shop in person. Not only will you save money on delivery fees, but many pet stores will offer steep discounts—we’re talking 25-90%!—on soon-to-expire bags of food.
Save on pet supplies
The clearest way to save money on pet supplies is to buy only what you absolutely need… and skip the nice-to-haves. Your pets are not brand snobs, and they definitely don’t mind secondhand or homemade gear.
15. Cheapest toys = favorite toys
Pets don’t care how expensive their toys are. Case in point: my dog’s favorite toys are empty cardboard boxes. He tackles them and rips them to shreds with the kind of pure, unfiltered joy only exhibited by… well, by a dog ripping anything to shreds.
This goes double for cats. Those ancient Egyptian demigods only want empty paper bags and the post-it note you balled up to throw away anyhow.
So don’t waste money on expensive toys when they’re fascinated by common household objects.
16. Bargain-hunting, crafting, and secondhand supplies
The cheapest place for dog beds and toys in my experience is Home Goods. But really, you don’t need to buy brand new pet supplies in a lot of cases. Search secondhand shops and peer-to-peer selling sites like Craigslist or even Freecycle (emphasis on the “free”) for leashes, bowls, and crates.
And don’t overestimate your pet’s needs. Stuffing an old pillowcase with some worn-out blankets will do fine for a pet bed. And outdoor retailers sell carabiners and nylon webbing by the foot for cheap homemade leashes and harnesses.
17. Get long-lasting supplies
The cheapest pet supplies are those you only ever need to buy once. So focus on toys, bedding, gates, and leashes that aren’t easily destroyed by energetic, teething little monsters.
Get a bed with a removable, washable cover to extend its lifespan many times over. And buy them cow hooves instead of rawhide to chew on.
18. Listen to your pet’s needs
If your dog has no interest in fetch, there’s no need to waste money on an expensive ball-throwing machine. If your cat is happy with a teacup of fresh water on the counter, don’t get them an expensive water fountain.
What most pets need instead is your time and attention. And that’s free!
Save on training and enrichment
Nobody likes your untrained, unruly pet. Seriously no one. Least of all your wallet. Let’s unpack that.
19. Containment is care.
Leash 👏 your 👏 fucking 👏 dogs.
You will save so much money by just making sure your dog isn’t running out into traffic or approaching aggressive dogs or bothering people who are afraid of them. Not to mention all the time you’ll save not chasing after them when they get a whiff of freedom and sprint off into the hills like there’s a rocket wedged into their little butthole.
And cat owners, you’re not off the hook either! Outdoor cats are an environmental disaster. Keep them inside to save the local wildlife and your wallet. Unless you like exorbitant vet bills for parasite removal???
20. Invest in simple, effective training
Invest in good training. It will save you metric fuckloads of money on behavioral issues later on.
You don’t even have to pay for a professional trainer or obedience school! YouTube is a vast font of at-home, DIY training tips and tricks for pets.
For example: Kitty has fostered roughly a thousand dogs by now and she has crate-trained every single one. It helps the pups with anxiety and stress, and it saves her the expense of repairing the destructive results of that anxiety and stress.
Working with a trainer who specializes in aggression issues is literally the reason my dog is still alive. It also means we’ve never had to pay for someone’s hospital or vet bills because of a biting incident.
And training doesn’t need to come with a lot of hidden or ongoing costs! Research training methods that don’t require a lot of extra gear like clickers, shock collars, or constant training treats.
21. Take advantage of free services
Dog parks? Hiking trails? Car rides? All free.
Remember, your pet doesn’t necessarily want you to spend money on them. They just want your time and attention.
It takes a village
Before we move on to our final recommendations for how to save money on pets, lemme just rub this fact in: saving money on pets functions exactly the same as saving money in all aspects of your life. You need to spend money intentionally, thoughtfully, and according to your values. If you care about something (and you better care about your furry companions or else WE WILL FIGHT YOU), you should spend your money on it accordingly—with care.
Clearly, we’ve thought a lot about the intersection of pets and money. At least as much as we’ve thought about cartoons and money or social media and money or even the assholes of Reddit and money. If you too are pet-obsessed and could ruminate for hours about their goofy habits and charming ways, here’s where to start:
- 30 Pets Ranked for Financial Efficiency by Cold, Unfeeling Human Overlords
- Pet Insurance: Is It Worth It?
- So I Got Chickens, Part 1: Return on Investment
- So I Got Chickens, Part 2: Tragedies and Lessons Learned
- So I Got Chickens, Part 3: Baby’s First Egg
- Twelve Reasons Senior Pets Are an Awesome Investment
- Clementine: A Heartwarming Case Study in Risk Taking
- How to Get DIRT CHEAP Pet Medication, Without a Prescription
22. Take advantage of the friend trade
Kennels and boarding services can be super expensive. Especially if you want your pet to stay somewhere clean and warm, instead of shivering outside like the Little Matchstick Girl while they wonder what they did to deserve abandonment.
One way to save on this is to trade petsitting with your friends. It’s the perfect sort of friend trade because you can return the favor in kind, without guilt.
A close friend of mine is a nurse, and sometimes she needs me to stop by to feed and walk her dog when she’s working a long shift. And I’m happy to do so! And not just because her dog makes me feel like the Second Coming of Betty White. It’s because I know I can rely on her to take care of my dog and chickens too if I’m out unexpectedly late. Far cheaper than hiring a dog walker.
23. Crowdsource frugal pet advice
How about it, Bitch Nation? Do you have any advice for how to save money on pets? Especially if those pets aren’t puppers and kittos? Tell me how you skrimp and save to keep your leopard geckos and coral snakes alive!
And if you liked this article, you have our Patreon donors to thank! They suggest and request article topics like this one all the time. Plus, we let them vote on article topics every month, they get access to exclusive content, and they get guaranteed personal answers from your humble Bitches! That’s worth at least [checks notes] a counterfeit $10-bill!