Pet healthcare expenses

As a veterinarian, I am faced almost daily with pet owners who aren’t prepared to pay for their pets healthcare expenses. Just wondering how the YNAB community pays for their pets healthcare and plans to have the funds available if needed. How do you use YNAB to budget for wellness care versus when your pet develops an illness?

How many of you have faced an emergency or significant expense that required hospitalization or surgery? How did you pay for it? How many of you have pet insurance or some thing like it to help you pay for expenses that you cannot pay out of pocket?

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  • I don’t have pet health insurance because while I love my pets, there is an upper limit to the money I am willing to spend to save their already short lives. Fundamentally, to me, they are animals. There is also the fact that highly expensive surgeries and procedures also often go hand in hand with making my pet miserable when they can’t understand what is happening to them and so it's often merciful as well as good on the pocketbook to just let them go.

    I have a line for vet emergencies in my budget just like I have lines for every other kind of emergency. It’s not at max right now but I’ll probably max it at around $3000 which is a bit more than I paid once to put my cat in ICU overnight for something we knew we could likely fix with a short hospital stay.

    Like 7
  • Category for Vet, monthly addition, cover overspending if it's not sufficient at the time. It's not used for spending guidance, per se, but those funds are not present elsewhere, meaning spending decisions elsewhere are impacted.

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    • dakinemaui 

       

      That's what we do, too. Put a bunch of money into the vet category every month. I also have a category for pet medications.

      Like 1
  • We have a vet category, although that is mainly used for well visits and vaccinations for our cats. When one of our cats needed emergency care in the past we have pulled from our emergency fund. I suppose we should set up a pet emergency category to avoid that situation in the future. We do not have pet insurance because I've been told by friends and relatives that are vets that it's a waste of money. 

    Like 1
  • I would think that having a vet category would be wise for routine wellness care and minor problems. Some of you may have pets that have chronic conditions where you can predict the monthly cost of medication and monitoring. You could also include these costs that are more predictable in the vet category. I agree with using the emergency fund for unexpected and more expensive diagnostics and procedures.

    I’ll have to disagree with vets who say that Pet Insurance is a total waste of money since you cannot predict when an unexpected large vet bill occurs or the amount of the bill. Therefore insurance can be part of an overall plan to help pay these bills until sufficient money is available in the emergency fund.

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      • WordTenor
      • I have the honor to be your obedient servant
      • WordTenor
      • 7 mths ago
      • 2
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      dkvet Are you here to sell us pet insurance, or to find out how people budget? 

      Given that these are your first two posts, I am suspicious. 

      FWIW I have a category called "Dog" and one called "Cat" and everything routine for both animals goes in there. 

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      • Superbone
      • YNAB convert since 2008
      • Superbone
      • 7 mths ago
      • 4
      • Reported - view

      dkvet Your last paragraph explains why we use YNAB for not just pets but all of life. I do not need pet insurance. I am prepared for any outcome with my dog.

      Like 4
    • WordTenor I agree with all of your values around pet care based on your responses here.

      I suspect however that dkvet was only trying to address a point made by Ruth that some relatives who are vets had suggested insurance was a waste of money. I don’t believe he/she is necessarily peddling insurance.

      dkvet’s suggestion was sensible that insurance could be worthwhile in circumstances where someone may not have sufficient savings in an emergency fund (they were clear they were referring to this scenario, not that it’s necessary for everyone).

      Like 1
      • WordTenor
      • I have the honor to be your obedient servant
      • WordTenor
      • 7 mths ago
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      Blue Wildcat I agree there is a charitable reading, and that is it. I do wonder if that is the case. Being a longtime veteran of various forums, however, I am hyper-suspicious when someone joins a forum and immediately asks questions that seem geared mostly for their own gain. 

      Perhaps dkvet will stick around and read journals and participate in the community and will gain lots of evidence about how people handle vet bills. 

      Like 1
      • Ruth Elizabeth
      • Soil Scientist
      • Sapric_Histisols
      • 7 mths ago
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      dkvet I guess waste of money was a poor choice of words. They told me we would end up spending more money for pet insurance than we would ever likely get out of it. Their suggestion was to simply put money aside in case of emergencies, which is what we do.  

      Like 3
      • PhysicsGal
      • Nerdy female homo sapien
      • physicsgal
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Ruth Elizabeth This is good to know.  We just adopted two baby kittens and are bottle feeding them, so we are going to have to decide this soon.  

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      • LoaferDude
      • furious_falcon
      • 6 mths ago
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      • Reported - view

      Ruth Elizabeth 

      Well, it depends on what pets you have, what your situation is, what insurance options are present and such. 

      For example, I love and adore dogs and always wanted a golden retriever. I have been a student in graduate school until September 2019. While at grad school, during the course of an internship, I saved up enough money to get myself a golden retriever. From where, how, choices, interviews can be a story in itself. But at the end of the day, goldens are really popular and good bloodlines are expensive. I ended up paying 2500 USD for a pure-bred golden and he is my love and joy.

      Now comes the evaluation part. I put most of my savings into getting a golden. I was a student on a limited stipend. Let us be clear. I did not make a rash and stupid decision where I bought something expensive where I could not care for it. I had factored in all my costs before making the decision. The problem arises when you considered emergency vet bills. As a student, I definitely did not have the leeway to maintain an emergency fund to tap into. So, I just decided to factor in pet insurance into my monthly expenses. Yes, it was expensive, ranging from 60 USD-90 USD, but with the coverage, I got peace of mind. The company covered everything, head to toe, including wellness medication such as flea and tick meds, heartworm preventatives etc. Did anything happen to him during that period? No. What did I get for paying that much? Pretty much my semi-annual and annual vet visits were covered and I had peace of mind.

      When I started working in October of 2019, now I have a much more stable financial situation and not so hard pressed for money. I still don't like the idea of paying thousands of dollars out of pocket, so I started evaluating dollar to dollar how insurances stacked up. Till now, my main concern was end to end coverage. Now I did not care about wellness and such because I could afford to pay more and do away with that. So after evaluating multiple insurances and deductibles I was willing to take on, I pay 29 USD a month in pet insurance. Taking someone's example above, seeing they have set aside 3000 USD to pet care, I get around 100 months, I get about 7 years peace of mind and coverage for all accidents and illnesses (no, I did not do the math wrong, I accounted for increase in insurance premiums as my pet ages). My dog turns 4 in June and 7 years from here puts him well into his old age. At that point, insurance or not becomes moot and the decision will be about being humane or not. 

      So, if you look at it from one angle, since I got a great bloodline from a reputable breeder and he's an angel, just having a single broken nail in four years till now, you could consider it a waste (if you discount the peace of mind). But with the peace of mind, and going forward, as he grows older, it is going to pay for itself. So I would argue that it is not a waste. 

      TL:DR; It depends on a lot of things. It is impossible to outright call it a waste of money. Insurance companies are in it for a profit, but if you are careful, you can make the most of it and it can give you and your pet peace of mind at similar costs, or slightly higher ones, depending on your situation. 

      P.S: I am ignoring special cases here where you have dogs with pre-existing conditions that insurances will not cover etc. Or some alien corner case I could not think of. :D  

      P.P.S: Pic for dramatic effect. :P 

      Like 1
    • LoaferDude He's gorgeous!

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      • LoaferDude
      • furious_falcon
      • 6 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Faness Thank you. :) 

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      • TerbaTron
      • my mom is an accountant. I think I love budgeting
      • Green_Boat.7
      • 6 mths ago
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      LoaferDude He is a very handsome pup! 

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      • DexterCat
      • DexterCat
      • 6 mths ago
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      Ruth Elizabeth  that is true of any insurance. The insurance company can only make money if, on average, everyone spends more on premiums than the insurance company pays out. It makes sense to have insurance for things that are so expensive that it would be financially crippling to have to pay for it yourself. It makes less sense to have insurance for things that you could just save up for in advance. For example, see what pet insurance costs, and set aside that amount in your pet category each month but don't buy the insurance. There's a very good chance that by the time something happened to your pet, you would have enough money saved up to cover it. In the meantime those funds can sit in a savings account earning interest for you. Once you reached your personal limit of how much you would spend on your pet you can stop saving.

      Like 2
  • I bought insurance before Bowie even came home with us.  Unfortunately, I'v found that insurers have lots of ways to wriggle out of any kind of payment whilst simultaneously increasing premiums by 30% per year, and decided, after they diagnosed Bowie with a 'whole-body illness' following a prescription of eye cream, that we will be ceasing pet insurance and self-insuring with a large "Bowie Medical category".  We've also had serious discussions about our 'Cut Off Point', the point at which we would stop seeking medical intervention.  For us, this occurs if an accident would result in lots of surgery and/or recovery/rehabilitation.  We want Bowie to have a good life and don't consider 'living in pain in the hopes of having a better life' to be part of it.  (Totally personal choice, to each his own.)

    Like 3
  • We have pet insurance for 3, a dog and 2 cats, and ave had pet insurance since the day we got them.  they are essentially healthy, but that could change. the pet insurance has saved us thousands more than we have paid over the past 9 years for the dog and 2 years for the cats.  

    So... I have category line item in the budget for pets and a line item under that for Wellness,  and a second group line item  for Miscellaneous food and litter, meds, toys etc. that we have every month, by varies.   The wellness is drafted so that is what we know we are going to pay and it covers all vet  visits, all shots and well care like blood work and teeth cleaning and originally covered his neutering.  

    Meds  and other testing like for one of the carts heart murmur test, and allergy tests, etc.are discounted if there is an infection or  something requiring additional.   To cover that I have a 3rd  group line item for Emergencies and we budget an additional $150  a month for those random expenses .  Since our vet is open the same as the store hours, we never have to pay for weekend or evening extra costs.  

    If we don't use the $150 for the Emergencies group under Pets, I move it to a sinking fund savings account where it is accounted for and budged under that account.  We pay expenses costing under $150 in a month with current money,  If it goes over and we can't cover it from the Miscellaneous category, we move it in from savings and pay the bill.   We plan to max out the emergencies group in the sinking funds at $3000.00.  If an emergency is more than$3000.00,  then we will determine where to pull the excess from, or make a hard decision about life expectancy with treatment and quality life.  Hope this helps. 

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  • I have pet category that is used for all things related to two German Shepards and one “came with the house” cat. Like others, I contribute to it monthly and have a cap set. I’ve had the category since starting YNAB, but the cap has only been in place for a few months.

    last fall when the six year old shepherd developed a limp I used a credit card with 0% interest for one year to pay for her bilateral knee surgery. The initial vet and surgeon visits plus xrays came out of the budget.

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  • I'm a veterinarian.

    When I speak to my clients about pet insurance, I encourage them to look at the options for insurance. The deductible and co-pay amounts vary depending on the company and the policy. Also, insurers will put lifetime limits on policies and discount policies may have more exclusions.

    I tell them that an emergency where a pet requires surgery or a short hospital stay that could be life-saving might cost up to five thousand dollars. Some of the more high-tech specialty surgeries and diagnostics can get to the low five figures fairly quickly, but those things are rare. And then I tell them if you want to be able to make those choices and you don't have an emergency fund, savings or credit card that you're comfortable using, then you should consider insurance, but to be aware that most companies reimburse the client after the expense is paid.

    I know in Europe a larger proportion of pet owners have health insurance for their pets.

    From my point of view as a vet, if a pet is insured it can help to make some of the decisions easier. I always offer clients the best options for care first, and if there is insurance the budget is less of a concern. It also causes me to have to fill out forms (which I dislike) and deal with the insurance companies, who seem to think faxes are the limit of technology. But anything that makes it easier to help my patients is welcome.

    That said, I'm thrilled to see pet categories in the budget - your pets are lucky, YNABbers!

    Like 3
  • Thanks everyone for your help. My wife and I have been using YNAB for several years and really like it. We had used Quicken before, but the budgeting was weak. We really wanted something that allowed envelope budgeting. We pay for everything with a credit card, so we love how funds are transferred from spending categories to our CC category so we never have to worry about being able to pay it off every month. We also get a nice cash back refund every year from CC company.

    I do have a blog and podcast pertaining to pet insurance, but I know everyone doesn’t want or need it. I appreciate your candor. 

    I am really looking for ways to help pet owners at least have a plan. It’s obvious that YNAB causes the people who use it to think through how they will pay for their pet’s healthcare. But you’d be surprised how many people show up with a seriously ill or injured pet and are in shock that #1 - it happened to them and #2 how much it’s going to cost to treat their pet. 

    I appreciate everyone’s experience in how you are using YNAB when it comes to your pets.  I don’t want this thread to be about the pros and cons about pet insurance, but if you do have pet insurance, how you integrate it into YNAB?
     

    Like
      • Couch Cat
      • Lavender_Violin.3
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      dkvet Where do you practice?

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      • dkvet
      • dkvet
      • 6 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Couch Cat   I retired at the end of 2018 after 42 years in small animal practice - since 1980 in Memphis, TN.

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      • Couch Cat
      • Lavender_Violin.3
      • 6 mths ago
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      dkvet Very cool. I'm a small animal clinic owner in Ontario, Canada, for 13 years now. 

      I hope you loved the job. I do, and it never feels like work. ;)

      Like 1
    • Voracious Reader
    • YNAB broke is not the absence of money, but rather the judgment that it has something more important to do.
    • Orange_Cheetah.3
    • 7 mths ago
    • 1
    • Reported - view

    My cat has two line items of her very own. I sort my True Expenses by the ones with due dates that I know and the ones with dates that, by their very nature, will be "surprises". 

    Under the predictable true expenses, I have a sinking fund with the costs of her annual shots and exam. Under the unpredictable true expenses I drop $50 monthly, just like I drop $75 monthly toward unexpected auto repairs. In the event it's not sufficient, I do have an account I can access which offers me 90 days same as cash for vet bills. If even that weren't sufficient, my cat and my car are the two places that I will, if necessary, unashamedly hit up the Bank of Dad for a no interest loan. I don't like to do it, but I will if need be. I don't charge my own medical bills, because I'm insured with a flexible spending account, so most providers are willing to wait a bit and work with me if I need a little extra time. Veterinarians don't generally have that luxury, so her bills get paid right away.

    Like 1
  • dkvet said:
    if you do have pet insurance, how you integrate it into YNAB?

    Check out the Getting Started material. It will be obvious. You've really been using YNAB for several years, huh?

    Like 1
      • dkvet
      • dkvet
      • 6 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      dakinemaui    I am familiar with how YNAB works. The reason I asked the question was to get all the varied ways that people use YNAB to budget for and cover vet expenses including emergencies stuff. And if they had pet insurance, did they have a category set up for that e.g. premiums, deductible, copay, etc.

      Like
      • MXMOM
      • MXMOM
      • 6 mths ago
      • 1
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      dkvet we lost our dog Max last August. But he had his own lines in the budget. One was general pet expenses for food, grooming, and regular vet visits. We funded this monthly and rolled over any remaining balance. We also had pet insurance which had its own line.
       

      We are huge supporters of having pet insurance at least when still in debt. Max was a sock eater and had 3 operations to remove them when they were life threatening including the third operation WHILE HE STILL HAD STAPLES FROM THE 2nd surgery). All in the surgeries alone totalled $30,000. And the first surgery was when he was about 5 years old. Healthy and amazing in every other way. Without pet insurance we would have had to euthanize him because we didn’t have the money for the surgery. Amazingly we had the insurance and Max lived to age 13 1/2 and provided my kids with  a childhood full of fabulous lifelong memories. In Max’s honour, we continue to fund the pet insurance line and put that $$$ directly to debt repayment cutting our debt free date by 13 months. 
       

      I know you weren’t asking about pet insurance but I wanted to take the opportunity in this pet related post to tell Max’s story. We used Trupanion insurance which was basic insurance that didn’t cover wellness expenses just unexpected costs and was a straight 80% payment of the expenses. I recommend staying away from the plans that cover annual visits and heartworm meds etc. and just budget for those as normal expenses. 
       

      Like 1
  • I currently am owned by 2 Ragdoll kitties. The older one is 14 and I have been debating about insurance for him. Both cats have always been extremely healthy. They are indoor only cats and I made the decision not  to vaccinate them but instead to do yearly titers to test their immunity.  Since starting to use YNAB, I have accumulated a decent sized emergency fund for them and if it becomes necessary, I will use that to pay for vet expenses. Last year I lost my dog to cardiac issues after spending close to $9000 trying to save her. I’m not sure I would do that again despite the feelings of loss when we had to put her down. 
     

    When I recently asked my vet about insurance, she told me her experience with these companies has been less than stellar in terms of them actually paying out. Maybe others have had better luck. 

    Like 2
      • Olive Branch
      • Librarian/Info Pro
      • olive_branch
      • 7 mths ago
      • 1
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      KnitPurlKnit I had insurance for my cat until I had to let him cross the bridge two years ago. I signed up for the policy when he was maybe 2 or 3 and did not have reason to file a claim until he was 13 or 14. It turned out to be worth it for us - he lived to be 17 and needed increasingly expensive meds, etc. in his last few years. I'm fairly sure (though this was pre-YNAB for me) that I got back significantly more than I paid out in premiums. The calculus would have been different, of course, if he'd had a brief final illness or passed suddenly. 

      Even so, I will probably do it again for any future pets, in combination with a sinking fund(s) in the budget for vet care. It allowed me to provide my kitty with a decent quality of life until I couldn't, if you know what I mean.

      The claims process was initially cumbersome, but at some point the insurer switched to online claims using vet/pharmacy receipts and copies of vet records. They no longer require the vet to fill out forms; I think several insurers have gone that way, and it really simplifies everybody's life. Reimbursement took 1-2 months if I remember correctly.  In my cat's last few months, they (24PetWatch) changed their policy structure and doubled or tripled the premium when I renewed. However, when I filed the final claim, they refunded me for the unused part of the term. 

      The bad news is, it may be difficult to obtain comprehensive coverage for your older kitty at this point - they generally like to start collecting premiums when the pet is young and less likely to actually cost them anything in the immediate future. At least that was the case last time I looked - there may be more options now. 

      Like 1
    • Olive Branch I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your kitty. Never easy, no matter how old they are. 

      Extremely informative post so thank you. I’ve had dogs and cats my whole life (my kids used to tell me that I loved the furry critters and took better care of them than I did my children——>they may have been on to something) and in all those years, I’ve never had insurance. I don’t like to think how much money I’ve spent trying to heal them over the years.

      But this last round with my dog really knocked the wind out of me. I desperately wanted to save her and probably went too far. My then (now ex) husband had a fit when he saw what i spent. And no insurance.

      I hadn’t thought about the fact that it might be hard to get a policy for my older cat. I’ll have to do some research and now may be a good time to look into a policy for the 2 year old.

      Thanks for the info!

      Like 1
      • Olive Branch
      • Librarian/Info Pro
      • olive_branch
      • 7 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      KnitPurlKnit Out of curiosity (stuck inside) I just Googled "pet insurance for senior cat," and apparently there are now several companies that don't have an age limit for purchasing a new policy that covers illnesses rather than just injuries. The premiums will be higher for an older cat, and none of them cover pre-existing conditions, but if your older cat is still in good health, you may still have a window. ; )  You'll find links for comparison sites as well. And I'd definitely check out insurance now for the younger kitty - the younger you start, the (comparatively) cheaper it will be, although there may be premium increases over the years. 

      So sorry about your dog. I know what it's like to want to do anything to have more time with them. Even with insurance, I seriously increased my credit card debt during my cat's last couple of years, with only passing thoughts of "Can I afford to be doing this?" Have never gone back to figure out exactly how much I spent on him. I would mostly do it again, but more mindfully. 

      Like
  • I have a category for my pets. It includes regular expenses (food, litter) and vet visits. We utilize the average spend for most categories and let it rollover. I hit one year with YNAB in February, so we'll see if I have enough going into the vet this year. I find the idea of potentially splitting the category into three interesting: regular expenses, annual vet, unexpected vet. But don't know if I'll go forward with it.

    A few years ago, my cat needed to have $1,000 unexpected stuff done due to a blocked bladder. We signed up for CareCredit, received 24 months of free financing, and paid it off early. TBH, that's my back up plan if we don't have enough - our CareCredit card.

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  • Thanks everyone.  As some have suggested, I need to spend more time on these forums. Unfortunately, I often don't do that unless I'm having a problem, and if I can't find the answer, I contact YNAB support directly. Perhaps I can learn some tips and tricks with YNAB that I don't know :)

    Your replies have provided me with great insight. Indeed there are multiple ways to use YNAB when it comes to pets and their vet bills. I also appreciate many of you sharing that you have thought out what you would do in case of an emergency or potentially large unexpected vet expense. As I said earlier, when I was practicing, I frequently saw clients facing unexpected expenses that it seemed it never occurred to them that something like that would ever happen.

    As some of you have alluded to, it boils down to whether treatment can offer a pet a reasonable chance at survival and a good quality of life afterwards - even if there might be ongoing treatment.  Even though your vet can't predict either of these with 100% certainty, they usually can give you a decent prediction of odds to help you make a wise decision. It is our job as vets to help you make informed decisions. Sometimes I advise clients to take at least the first step to get more information that will guide a long-term decision. The fact is clients usually present their pets to the vet with a set of symptoms or problems, not a specific disease or diagnosis, and in many cases, without doing some testing, imaging, etc. - you are often lacking necessary information to make an informed and wise decision. 
     

    For example, my daughter noticed one day that our Beagle had a swelling on either side of her neck. After doing some tests, she was diagnosed with lymphoma - an almost always fatal disease. But, it is also one of the most responsive cancers to chemotherapy with minimal side effects. I elected to treat her knowing that she most likely would eventually die from the disease, but also had a reasonable chance to go into remission and live symptom free for an average of about a year. To me, it was worth it especially for our family. She did indeed go into remission and lived a little over a year before symptoms returned which didn't respond a second time to chemo and I have no regrets. But, I knew what I was likely facing when I made the decision. As veterinarians, that is what we owe our clients and patients.

    I wrote a book about pet insurance from my perspective as a veterinarian and advised readers to use a program like YNAB to help them budget for their pet's healthcare expenses. It's refreshing for veterinarians and their staff when clients have a plan in place for their pet's healthcare needs.

    Like 1
  • I largely agree with  WordTenor that pets are animals and we should use common sense regarding the money spent to prolong their lives.  That being said, my wife and I have had 2 pets where we have spent an unreasonable amount of money to try and prolong their lives, and I am the one that is largely to blame for that.  Because of that, we do have a pet insurance plan for our current dog.  I decided to do that because at the very least it puts a boundary around the amount of money that will be spent.  Our dog does require some medication, and in the past couple of years we have met the deductible and started getting some money in return.  For our household I think that the cost/benefit analysis works but your mileage may vary.  We budget $150 a month for pet care and the insurance premium is included in that amount.  Every once in a while something more expensive comes up and we have to whack a mole from somewhere else but it is usually adequate.

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  • While I also believe pets are animals, they don't understand sickness so I have a low threshold for torturing to fix something, we are fortunate to have good pet insurance through my wife's work.  I save the deductible for our insurance in an account and would tap the emergency fund as needed.  

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