I'm hating this economy more and more with every passing month. Its disheartening to see everyone struggling to make ends meet, to see companies lose business and lay people off. I have friends who have been applying for every job in sight and NO ONE is calling them back - not because they're not qualified, but likely because they are competing with thousands of other applicants for the same damn job.
Even for families who are working, so many people I know are struggling to make ends meet. Its hard with fuel prices still up a good 50 cents a gallon more than they were at this time last year. Lots of folks have found ways to avoid spending money on gas by carpooling or taking public transportation, but even so, the higher fuel prices affect the prices of our consumer goods, so its difficult to ever really escape the hurt.
With a house- and barn-ful of animals to house and feed plus two growing children, I have a lot of opportunities to tighten my belt. In my priority list, the kids come first. The animals get what they need, and sometimes things have to wait because we need school clothes or have a medical bill to pay. However, there are lots of ways I've found to make sure my pets get taken care of responsibly while spending a lot less money than I used to.
Did you know that you don't have to have a veterinarian vaccinate your animals? I think its more common in rural communities, but a lot of people just assume they have to go to the vet. If its a matter of not getting your pet vaccinated at all because of the cost factor, try doing it yourself.
For the dogs, I still have to have a vet administer their rabies vaccine (they don't sell those over the counter), but a great thing to do is to keep your eyes and ears open for free or low cost vaccination clinics. Some vets are fairly cheap for their prices, you can call around and see who is the lowest cost for your office visit. I had to get one of the dogs updated on rabies a couple of weeks ago, and I found a local, reputable vet, who doesn't charge you an office call if you're just coming in for rabies. I only paid $15 for the vaccine. For everything else the dogs, horses and cats need, I vaccinate myself. They're not that hard to give, all of the vaccine packages list the instructions for administration, and its a simple thing to Google websites that will give you step-by-step instructions with pictures.
In addition to giving your own vaccines, you can save money by not over-vaccinating. For any animals, the vaccine coverage you give should be equivalent to their exposure. Rabies is usually a requirement for dog and cat licensing, and if your animals are outdoors and exposed to potential rabies-bearing animals, they should always have that. Otherwise, vaccinate according to what they need. If you never leave home and your pets are strictly indoor, they don't need the same vaccine panel as an outdoor animal or one who is frequently boarded or exposed to other animals at places like shows, dog parks, trail rides, etcetera. Just keep in mind that if you don't vaccinate at all and the unexpected happens - your dog or cat gets outside or you have to travel unexpectedly - they won't be protected.
The best way I've found to save money on food is to buy in bulk. I rarely do this with perishable human food, since things spoil before we can eat them and frankly, frozen milk sucks ass. But dog and cat food has a longer shelf life and buying the big quantities saves me dollars. For the horses, this is pretty much the only way to get their food - grain comes in 50 lb bags. Hay is usually sold by the ton and prices vary from year to year and by feed composition. I stick with a lower-priced supplement that contains all of the basic necessities, and I never buy hay by the bale unless its only to tide me over between deliveries. It usually costs a few dollars more per bale than by the ton, and that adds up over time. I save a few hundred dollars a year buying directly from the hay grower.
Bulk is the answer for dog and cat food as well. Costco is my friend. The bigger bag I get, the less expensive per pound the food works out to be. I keep my dog and cat food in plastic storage bins to help make sure I don't get a pest problem. Mice LOVE finding bags of food in your garage; its the surest way to invite them to stay for the winter.
I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but when selecting a dog or cat food, I'm very careful to read the ingredients list. Most animals will survive on cheap food, but ideally, the balance to find is the lowest priced food that that has a meat product listed as the first ingredient in the food. I avoid corn fillers like the plague, or at the very least make sure they're far down the ingredient listing. The ingredients are always listed in order of the most to the least, so the primary ingredient is the first thing listed. Dogs and cats are carnivores. Animals in the wild might supplement their diet with grass, berries and nuts, but they are designed to eat meat as their primary food. Corn products are more difficult for their bodies to process and in simple terms, place a higher burden on the organs designed to filter the toxins. I think a lot of the kidney failures we see in younger cats is due to an excess of corn and other grains in the diet. Raw is best - but lets be realistic. Most people could never afford to feed their dog or cat a full raw diet. I can't - its horribly expensive.
I don't have to worry much about grooming, with a house full of short-coated doggies and kitties. Basics only for us - toenails, ears and teeth (occasionally), all of which I do myself. Even with long-coated breeds, though, its cheaper to buy a pair of good shears and keep them sharpened than it is to pay for a lifetime of groomer visits. You can save money if you did even half of your animal's grooming on your own. The only thing that I won't do at home is anal glands. My old boxer had surgery on a badly infected anal gland two years ago and now requires them to be emptied at regular intervals. I Googled some information on how to do it myself, and I know that I really could...but EWWWW. NOT. DOING. THAT.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the easiest way to save money on animal care is simply not to have animals in the first place. There's a saying I heard a lot on the show circuit when I was young: "The cheapest thing you ever do is buy the horse." Truth, that. My horses cost me at a minimum $2000 a year for just hay and shoeing. Add in supplements, grain, vaccines, tack and grooming supplies, plus the cost of irrigation and pasture care or boarding, you're looking at a serious chunk of dough. Horses live to be 30 or 40 - so you're signing on for the long term. Dogs and cats are no exception; in rescue we typically advise prospective owners that their new Fido will ad $1200 a year, more or less (big dogs cost more for everything than little dogs). The chickens are probably the most cost-effective of all of the critters at home. Sure, they're not fun to cuddle with, but for a minimal investment I no longer have to buy eggs. They're extremely easy to keep, too.
I'm not as good at stretching a dollar as some of my friends and relatives. My sister Vicki can make a penny squeak, she's so good at finding bargains. I do what I can, and continually look for ways I can do better. I carpool to work more days than I don't, I buy store brands when they're quality-equivalent, I turn off lights and occasionally I try to cut coupons. I will admit, though, that coupon shopping is a living hell for me with my ADHD brain. I can barely remember to bring my reusable bags to the store, never mind an envelope full of coupons, mostly expired, because I lack the mad sorting skills to put them into anything resembling useful order.
What are the things you and your family doing to survive the recession? Have you learned anything new about ways to save money? Are you surviving job loss? Tell me about it! Share your money-saving tips in my comments section. Lets all help each other to survive - and thrive.