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Are You Being Manipulated into Overspending on Your Pet?

Frivolous pet items are marketed as fun for you and your pet, and it’s strongly implied you’re a better owner if you buy them, writes Amy Hamilton Chadwick.

12 September 2023

Kiwis love their pets: we’re one of the world’s leading nations in terms of pet ownership, with an estimated 67 per cent of households owning at least one. We spend billions of dollars on our pets each year, mainly on essentials like food, vet bills and medication.

But then there are the items that your pet almost certainly doesn’t need, such as multivitamins, water fountains, automatic litter boxes, and $150,000 collars. Most pet owners can recall at least one item their animal had no interest in. In our house it was the drinking fountain – our cat much prefers the water in the bottom of the shower.

Your pet and that Halloween costume

With kids, it’s easy to see why parents get sucked into buying pointless items; your children will claim they have to have it.

But your pet never asks for anything, so why are you forking out for a dog Swandri (actually bloody adorable) or a calming diffuser plug ($89.99!) or an owl ornament for your fishtank (surely owls don’t belong under water)?

The primary answer is marketing. Frivolous pet items are marketed as fun for you and your pet, and it’s strongly implied that you’re a better pet owner if you buy these items.

Your cat would probably prefer not to wear a Halloween costume, but you’ll see them advertised everywhere and popping up all over social media. The next thing you know, you’re spending $27 on Yoda ears, when even the model cat looks like it immediately batted them off as soon as the photo was taken.

How to spend less on pets

Considering the high cost of living in 2023, you may be looking for areas to cut spending – could you spend less on your pet?

You know what your pet really needs – the right food and the right healthcare. Those are two areas where you don’t want to skimp, because taking care of your pet’s health is your main responsibility as an owner.

However, you can shop around. You may find there is comparable food available at a lower cost, and buying in bulk could save you money in the long run. Vet costs, too, can vary widely, so it’s worth researching prices at different clinics.

Beyond the essentials, try to ignore the urge to buy things your pet doesn’t need. For instance, it doesn’t know when its birthday is, and it doesn’t need a Christmas stocking. If the kids want to give the pet a Christmas present, get the kids to make something.

DIY pet toys are an easy swap for shop-bought ones. As far as your dog is concerned, an old T-shirt is just as good as a tug toy from the shops. Cats are even easier; instead of buying a kitty wand, just tie a bit of string to a stick and attach something your cat likes to the end. We have some cute sushi-themed cat toys in the house, but they gather dust while she bats cable ties around the floor.

Another great way to save money is to cut down on the cost of pet care when you’re on holiday. Can you work with your neighbours? If you feed their cat when they’re on holiday, they’ll probably feed yours. Ask around for trustworthy house-sitters who will take care of your dog instead of paying for kennels.

Finally, don’t take on another pet if you’re struggling with the cost of living, or your mortgage is about to roll off its fixed term and you’re facing higher costs. Pets deserve good care, so if you can’t afford to take care of those essentials, defer pet ownership until you’re in a better financial position.

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