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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.