If you think you're spending too much on your pet, read this!Recently I’ve begun to suspect I spend too much on my pets. One day last week, I watched as my 14-year-old parrot stepped delicately around the $25 rope play toy I had bought him. His destination? A shiny $0.99 chip bag that makes fun "crinkly" sounds. That was when I started wondering exactly who I’m buying those pricey parrot toys for…and decided to take a look at what I spend on my pets and how much of that is justified.

What Americans spend on pets

When I looked it up, I discovered that nationwide, we spend nearly $56 billion each year on our pets. Wow. So where is all that cash going? Here’s a breakdown of what we spend and where we spend it.

  • Pets (purchasing the pets themselves): $2.31 billion
  • Food: $21.57 billion
  • Medical: $14.37 billion
  • Supplies (OTC medicines, toys, health/wellness products):$13.14 billion
  • Services (grooming, boarding, training, pet sitting, etc.): $4.41 billion

Pet spending is recession-proof

According to U.S. News, the money we spend on pets stays constant regardless of what the economy may do. In fact, during really tough recession years, pet spending tends to increase!

Where to cut back

Spending on high-quality pet food, vet care, training services—these expenses all speak directly to our pets' quality of life. But not all of our pet-centric spending is strictly, well, necessary.

Here are some examples:

  • Time magazine reports we spent $370 million this past year on pet Halloween costumes!
  • We spend $11 billion annually on designer toys, strollers, dishes and accessories.
  • $5 Billion is spent annually on holiday and birthday gifts for our pets.

What this means for you and me

Statistics indicate that the average household spends anywhere from $500 – $1,500+ on pets annually (for more see Kiplinger).

What to do to cut spending

Experts suggest starting with these tips if you need to cut back on pet-related expenses.

1. Create a pet budget

Creating a pet budget is about more than just controlling costs. It’s also about looking at what you spend on and deciding what expenses are reasonable—in advance.

What to do:

  • Make a list of non-negotiable annual expenses (vet visits, food, medicine, etc.).
  • Add a line item for a "pet emergency fund"—aim for 3 months essential expenses.
  • Add up last year's spending on "extras" (toys, treats, etc.)—reduce this by 50%.
  • This will give you a working pet budget for the next year.

2. Consider pet insurance…or self pet-insurance

If your pet is a breed that needs a lot of medical care or is known to develop certain health issues with age, consider pet insurance or "self-insurance" to reduce your out-of-pocket medical costs.

  • What to know: The average cost of pet insurance is $1/day – $365 per year.
  • You have two options: Purchase pet insurance or self-insure (through an emergency fund).

Pet Insurance Options: Use this handy comparison chart to compare up to 3 plans side-by-side.

  • VPI: Our family has used VPI for years. You can choose comprehensive care, everyday care, or emergency care. Monthly premiums range from $10-$35 based on what you choose.
  • Pets Best: You can choose from four levels of benefits with a deductible as low as $0. You can also get a 5% multi-pet discount (available in most states).
  • 24 Hour Pet WatchThe QuickCare Complete Plan includes wellness and a $100 annual deductible; the website can help you get a quote for your pet in your state.

3. Identify easy areas where you can start saving

Here’s a list of common areas where, with a little guidance, you can often start saving right away.

  • Medicine: Programs like RX Savings Plus and 1-800PetMeds can help you save on necessary medications (both routine and emergency, prescription and OTC).
  • Grooming: PetSmart and Groupon both run grooming specials regularly. But the best way to save is to book a lesson to learn to groom your pet at home!
  • Food/Supplies: You already have mad couponing and deal-finding skills, so now it’s time to use them. (Did you know you can use your Target Cartwheel app to redeem pet coupons too?) Plus, if your pet takes a special kind of food or certain supplies, be sure to check with the manufacturer directly (such as these special offers from the makers of Science Diet® foods and supplements).
  • Sign up for savings: If you’re not a member of PetSmart's Pet Perks and Petco's Pals program, you’re missing out on discounts, rewards incentives, free shipping days, sales and clearances, and much more! Plus, check out PetSupermarket.com to get plenty of online deals plus free training articles and healthcare information.