If you’re working on creating a financial plan, you’ve no doubt heard that one of your first steps should be stashing away money into an emergency fund.
What might be less popularly discussed is the idea of having an emergency fund for your pet as well.
So, what are you to do in the event of a pet emergency?
Here’s a look at the ins-and-outs of pet medical care and how a pet emergency fund might help out.
Budgeting for a Pet
Whether or not you consider your pet to be part of the family, there’s no denying that they take up a part of the family budget.
According to the ASPCA, the total average annual expenses for a dog can run to $1,800 or more.
These expenses are considered normal. They cover everything from food and basic medical checkups to toys, treats and grooming.
These are not expenses that should be covered by an emergency fund.
Rather, you should be working them into your monthly budget, just like you would for your own personal expenses.
Sometimes, however, things suddenly come up, above and beyond typical expenses.
This is where having a pet emergency fund will come in handy.
Pet Medical Expenses
If you own a dog, you can expect to spend about $235 annually in recurring medical costs, according to the ASPCA.
However, atypical procedures can get expensive quickly.
How expensive? Take a look at these sample costs:
- Diagnostic procedures: $1,000 to $2,000
- Removal of bladder stone: $1,846
- Ruptured cruciate ligament: $3,289
- Orthopedic surgery on a shattered leg: $7,000
If you’re only expecting to spend $235 annually for medical expenses and you get a $7,000 surgery bill for your pet, the money will have to come from somewhere.
Having a pet emergency fund can help you avoid going into debt or having to make a horrible decision about the fate of your pet simply because you don’t have the money.
What About Pet Insurance?
Pet insurance is one way to avoid facing a catastrophic medical expense for your pet.
Insurance prices can vary wildly based on the terms you select.
Factors that affect your premium include:
- The size of your deductible
- The amount of insurance you want
- The reimbursement level you select
For example, you might be able to choose from a deductible of between $100 and $500, an insurance cap of $5,000 or $10,000, and a reimbursement level of 70 percent, 80 percent or 90 percent.
Monthly pet insurance costs might range from $25 to $50.
The actual rate you pay will be based on your specific insurance parameters.
Even with pet insurance, however, you’ll likely still face at least some expenses if your pet needs medical care.
At the very least, you’ll owe your deductible. At most, you might still be on the hook for thousands of dollars, based on your reimbursement level and total policy cap.
Thus, even with pet insurance, an emergency fund makes sense.
How Much to Set Aside
The good news is that it’s usually easier to set up a pet emergency fund than it is to set up one for humans, simply because of the amount of funds required.
For example, most financial advisors recommend that individuals set aside 3-to-6 months’ income.
For pets, you can generally get away with saving much less.
As a general rule, the larger the pet, the larger the expenses.
For example, if your pets are tropical fish, you generally won’t have to set much aside; fish generally don’t need to be treated for broken legs or animal bites like dogs or horses might.
If you’re one of the one percent of U.S. households that has pet insurance, you can use the specifics of your policy as a starting point for your suggested emergency fund level.
For example, if you have a $250 deductible, an 80 percent reimbursement level and a $5,675 vet bill, you’ll be on the hook for $1,335. On the lower end, for a policy with a $100 deductible, an 80 percent reimbursement level and a $2,940 expense, you’ll still owe $668.
Thus, you might want to start with an emergency fund of somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000. If you want to be covered for more catastrophic expenses, you could bump the savings accordingly.
If you do not have pet insurance, you’ll have to increase the size of your emergency fund if you want to be covered. With no policy covering your pet expenses, you’ll be responsible for all of the costs out-of-pocket.
In the two examples above, services rendered totaled between $2,940 and $5,675. In the case of serious pet emergencies that require hospitalization or surgery, these amounts can be reached easily.
Thus, you might want to establish an emergency fund more in the range of $5,000 or more.
How and Where to Save
Setting up a pet emergency fund is just like setting up one for yourself.
Since an emergency is by definition a surprise incident, you’ll want to open an account that has easy access to your funds.
The best option is probably an online savings account.
Savings accounts are liquid instruments that can be accessed without having to sell any securities, incur costs or commissions, or face any delay waiting for funds to settle.
Online savings accounts can also offer high yields.
While you’re waiting to use your emergency fund, the savings will automatically be reinvested and compounded.
Most online savings accounts have no fees or minimum balance requirements.
You can fund your account with an ACH transfer from your checking or savings account.
If you’ve already got enough money to fully fund your pet emergency fund, you can send over your money right away and be done with it.
Otherwise, you can set up monthly transfers of $100, $200 or whatever you can afford until you reach your emergency fund goal amount.
When to Tap Emergency Fund
Just like your personal emergency fund, you should only tap your pet emergency fund in times of an actual crisis.
If you pay monthly premiums for pet insurance, that cost should already be factored in to your monthly household budget.
Similarly, when you take your pet to the vet for an annual checkup or a routine procedure, you should already have that money set aside as part of your typical expenses.
However, when there’s a real emergency or a higher-than-anticipated pet expense, that is when you should tap your pet emergency fund.
If you do draw down your emergency fund, remember to replenish it.
Just because you had one expense doesn’t mean you won’t have more in the future.
In fact, if you have to bring your pet to the vet for a procedure, or if your pet was diagnosed with some type of illness, you should plan on additional expenses coming down the road.
For that reason, if you’re ever below the target amount of your pet emergency fund, make a plan to start saving until it’s fully funded once again.
If you’re like the vast majority of Americans and you consider your pet to be a part of your family, start saving with that in mind.
In addition to the routine medical costs you can expect to pay every year for your pet, there’s a high probability that there will be unexpected expenses along the way as well.
Pet insurance can cover some of these costs, but in most cases, you’ll still owe at least part of the bill.
And if you’re one of the 99 percent of Americans that don’t have pet insurance, you’re fully exposed to the cost of any emergency procedures for your pet.
Having a pet emergency fund can give you peace of mind that you can cover these expenses and bring your pet back to health as soon as possible.
Along the way, you can earn high interest on those funds by stashing them in an online savings account.
And if you’re fortunate enough to never have to use the funds for a pet emergency, you’ll have another pool of money to tap in case you have a personal emergency.