A CHALLENGING Side to Holiday cheer
Although generally a time of celebration and cheer, the Holiday season can also pose challenges for those with limited resources. Rampant inflation and a steadily escalating cost of living crisis, have ensured that many households across the country will find the joy of the season tempered by financial strain. The pressures of having to buy gifts, host meals and possibly make costly journeys to visit loved ones (even a couple of trips across town can cause a crunch given soaring gas prices) quickly multiply. Even those with relatively stable finances can find themselves buckling towards the end of the year.
At times of economic uncertainty, pets and their owners undoubtedly feel an extra pinch. An animal, no matter how beloved, is still another mouth to feed, another element in the scramble to sufficiently allocate resources. The cultural expectation of joy only adds to this pressure. Nobody wants to miss out on the fun, or feel that they are failing to provide for their loved ones, furry or otherwise. The need to stay within a tight budget while ticking even the basic boxes can be challenging, to say the least. Thankfully, strategic planning and creative thinking, make it possible for pet owners, even those working with lower incomes, to save money while ensuring that their animals enjoy a stand-out Holiday Season. Here are some practical ideas to help save money on pet care and supplies.
First Thing’s First: Remember What’s Most Important
While not a money-saving hack, or gift suggestion, this point is worth stating regardless: Put the essential needs of your pets first. Don’t let the financial pressures of the season prevent you from caring for your animals with the same attention and dedication you give them year-round. For example, make sure you meet their nutritional needs before buying them that new toy. It’s not worth swapping the quality of your pet’s essential care, even temporarily, for some fancy seasonal luxury that will probably be forgotten come January 1st. Finally, remember that the best thing you can do for any loved one (really the only thing that matters) is to give them your love and attention. Quality time and play is worth more than any toy or treat.
Do It Yourself! Homemade Treats and Toys
In my family, homemade gifts get a far better reception than those purchased in a store. After all, it takes considerably more time and effort to make something than it does to simply purchase or order it. Not that there’s anything wrong with spending money on your pets, but nothing you can buy will equal the thoughtfulness of a gift made by hand; something one-of-a-kind, which stands out from the offerings of an oversaturated consumer landscape. Since food is a huge part of many holiday traditions, consider making homemade pet treats with simple, budget-friendly ingredients. You can also use the prep and baking time as an opportunity to bond with your pet. Involving them in the process becomes a gift in itself. Check this list of recipes for ideas, or look online for a plethora of additional options.
Besides delicious edible treats, DIY pet toys can be crafted from common household items, providing entertainment for your animals at a minimal cost. For example, a stuffed sock or small bell tied to the end of some string can provide your cat with hours of entertainment. For dogs, consider tying up srips of old t-shirt fabric to make a low-cost tug toy. As with food recipes, the internet is a treasure trove of potential DIY gifting options, many of which encourage using recycled materials: good for your pet, good for the planet! To get you started, this video shows how to make a DIY catnip toy for that special feline in your life.
Smart Spending: Budget-Friendly Gift Ideas
If you don’t have time to go the DIY route, there are still ways to save money on purchased items. A variety of smartphone apps function as discount aggregators, compiling deals and coupons from across the web and incorporating them into a simple, easy-to-access list with direct links to the source of the discount. While these may not be pet-specific, many of the featured retailers stock animal supplies as part of their general inventory. You should also look for sales, discounts, and clearance items at local pet stores. Consider signing up for a consumer loyalty program that rewards you with points for consistently shopping at the same store or franchise. These discounts quickly add up. Finally, remember that you can repurpose everyday human items as pet-friendly gifts. A discount blanket, for example, can be transformed into a cozy bed for your furry friend. Including these items makes it easier to find a good deal.
Damage Control: Researching Discounted Veterinary Services can Save You Thousands
Veterinarian services are by far the most financially burdensome of all pet-related expenses. Even basic procedures can end up emptying your savings in a blink. In many locations, the Winter months carry additional health risks such as canine flu, or accidents related to extreme weather conditions. No matter how tight your budget is, vet care comes first. Don’t delay treatment just to get through the holidays. If your pet does end up needing a procedure, research local clinics or animal welfare organizations that offer discounted or low-cost services. Some of these may organize special events or clinics where pet owners can access essential services or free, or at a reduced price.
You Don’t Have to Do This Alone: Community Support and Networking
The kinds of resources available, and challenges faced, will vary from community to community. What works in one city might be ineffective or unavailable in another. Reach out to local pet care clubs or online forums to connect with animal owners who may be facing similar financial challenges. Sharing resources, tips, and even organizing swaps for pet supplies can help low-income pet owners support each other during the holiday season. Facebook is an effective platform for finding such groups. Of course, always exercise caution with your online dealings, being wary of scams, and mindful of where and how you share personal information.
DIY Grooming: Beautify your beast!
With a bit of patience and the right tools, you can skip expensive trips to professional pet salons and handle basic grooming tasks at home. Invest in budget-friendly supplies, such as nail clippers and brushes, and take the time to beautify your pets yourself. Not only does this save money, but it also strengthens the bond between you and your furry friend. Who knows, you might even discover a passion for the art!
As with everything in the modern world, you don’t have to take the DIY grooming journey alone. A plethora of online guides exist to demystify the process. YouTube is the best platform for video tutorials, while websites like WikiHow offer step by step text instructions. Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to suspend professional services indefinitely. An outing to an animal salon remains one of life’s true pleasures.
Embrace Second-Hand Bargains
Just as there are thrift stores for human items, second-hand markets and online exchange platforms offer gently used pet supplies at a steep discount. From beds to toys, exploring second-hand options can help you provide for your pets without straining your budget. Facebook Marketplace is a good place to start looking for used goods in your area. Craigslist can also work. Again, watch out for scams and exercise due caution when conducting any monetary transaction. When it comes to certain items, such as blankets or beds, make sure you carefully treat and sterilize each new item to avoid bringing fleas (or worse) into your house. But don’t be squeamish. Those of us who shop second hand can testify to the kind of quality bargains that await those with the patience to search.
Don’t Dilly or Dally: Plan and Budget Ahead
Planning is key to managing expenses. Create a budget that includes your pet-related expenses and stick to it. I repeat: Stick. To. It. Do your shopping as early as possible. When things get busy, a last-minute scarcity of essential items can drive up prices. Bear in mind that any online deals will need time to pack and ship. By planning ahead, you can avoid impulsive purchases and ensure that you meet your pet's needs without overspending.
Help is Available
While the current socio-economic climate can seem indifferent, even hostile to people's everyday struggles, it's important to remember that a sturdy support network remains available to help both individuals and communities navigate difficult times. PAWS/LA is one of several organizations that exists to assist qualifying low-income pet owners in Los Angeles County, providing free food and supplies as well as volunteer services and vouchers for emergency veterinarian procedures. Alongside our organization, a variety of other programs offer further options for those in need. If one group is unable to meet your specific needs, another may be able to step in instead.
Thankfully, pet care charities such as PAWS/LA operate in many cities and jurisdictions outside of L.A. County, and a few even function on a national level. A quick Google search can connect you with the support programs closest to you. If that doesn’t work, try reaching out to local animal shelters, pet food banks, or community programs, especially those positioned to fight homelessness and poverty. At the very least, these groups should be able to give you a list of nearby resources and point you in the right direction. Case and social workers are also great sources of valuable information. The precise services offered will vary from group to group.
Overall, this process can require some digging. Try and assume an attitude of persistence as you explore your options and determine the programs that you qualify for; don’t give up at the first hurdle!
Everything You Need is Right in Front of You: Parting Words in the Form of a Well-Intentioned Homily
The Holidays don’t need to overwhelm low-income pet owners. By adopting a thrifty mindset, embracing creativity, and tapping into community resources, you can keep your budget intact AND ensure that your pets get a healthy dose of seasonal joy. It can be difficult, but try not to get in your head about things. Stay on guard against unhealthy expectations. Consumer culture bombards us with messages equating joy with abundance, and our capacity for happiness with our ability to consume. Love quickly becomes a material proposition, with expressions of affection reduced to a state of mere transaction. To succumb to such messages would be to miss the point of the season. Forfeiting authentic joy in the pursuit of an artificial ideal is a real holiday tragedy. Quite simply, everything we need is already in front of us. The most valuable gifts we can give our pets are love, attention, and care--all of which come at no cost. If we provide these, we can safely say our Holiday Season was a time of abundance, and that we went above and beyond to provide for our beloved animals. Sure, the toys are nice; sure, it’s fun to own stuff. But at the end of the day, nothing you can buy beats a wagging tail or sniffly, wet-nosed kiss on a cold day.
Our blog is managed by Ryan Hilary with additional contributions from the PAWS/LA team. Are you a member of our community and have a great idea for a post (or maybe want to write one yourself?). Reach out to Rhilary@pawsla.org.