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How to Keep a Pet When Your Budget's on a Leash

As times get tough, people have lots of ways to save money that don't include giving up their house pets.

When times get tough and money is tight, it's not only people that suffer -- pets can bear the brunt of economic troubles.

But people shouldn't give up their pets when times are tough -- there are a number of ways to save money and still be able to keep your loving little pooch.

While pet abandonment is nothing new, the


says that the "drastically increasing numbers are new, and many shelters and rescue groups do not have the resources to care for this fast growing problem."

The SPCA predicts that "pet abandonment will continue to increase as long as the mortgage crisis continues."

The main reason that people give up pets during tough economic times is that they don't have the money to take care of the pet. It's important to realize that it's possible to greatly decrease the costs associated with your pet.

The biggest recurring cost for most pets is the cost of food, but the amount spent on pet food can be significantly decreased by knowing a few simple tricks:

Buy What's Least Expensive

If you stick with a certain brand of pet food, you're going to end up paying more in the long run. The pet-food business is extremely competitive and new foods are being introduced all the time.

In order to introduce the new brand, the manufacturer will initially discount it and will often offer free samples. There is almost always some brand of pet food that is heavily discounted, which should greatly cut the price you pay for pet food.

Join Pet-Supply Manufacturers' Clubs

A simple way to receive special offers is to join manufacturers' newsletters. One way that pet product manufacturers keep loyalty is by creating pet "clubs" for the brands they sell. These clubs send out "invitation only" offers, free products, coupons, special promotions, and other news in an attempt to keep you loyal to the product.

This can greatly reduce the amount of food you need to buy if you sign up with all the manufacturers' clubs since doing so can result in

several free bags of pet food

per month.

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Join Store Pet Clubs

In addition to pet-supply manufacturer clubs, many grocery stores also have pet clubs. To become a member of one of these clubs, you typically sign up through the grocery store's loyalty card.

The exact rewards will vary from grocery store to grocery store, but cash rebates, free products or special check out coupons are all common rewards which can lower the price paid for pet food.

Checkout Coupons

When you get your receipt, many stores also print out coupons based on what you buy. Since pet products are highly competitive, pet food and treat purchases often elicit heavily discounted pet food offers from competing brands in the hope that you will change brands.

Pet-Store Rewards

Another place to find discounts is through pet store loyalty programs, such as at PetCo and



. Signing up with these pet store programs will net you such things as special offers, coupons, early announcement of sales and gift cards.

Make Your Own

Pet food is a relatively new invention meaning that it's possible to make your own pet food for a reasonable price. There are a lot of recipes for all different types of pets that you can find by

doing a search

which should allow you to find recipes that fits your budget.

Food Shelters

If you can't afford to spend anything on pet food, try contacting your local food shelter. In addition to food for families, they also receive pet food from time to time.

If you need help with pet food for a short period only during a particularly rough time, try calling your vet or a local animal shelter to see if they can help out. Often they are given free samples that they can share and if they don't, they will usually know where you may be able to get some help.

Negotiate Vet Bills

Another area that can get costly is veterinarian bills. It's important not to neglect your pet's health needs due to an inability to pay.

If you explain your situation, many veterinarians are willing to help out how they can to make payment for their services work. If you are unable to create a workable financial arrangement with your veterinarian, there are numerous organizations which offer low-cost pet care.

Many pet stores offer low-cost maintenance care and shots. You can also contact your local animal shelter and they should be able to provide a list of veterinarians that will provide low cost care for your pet.

If Worse Comes to Worse

If even after using these methods, you are in a position where you can't afford to keep your pet, keep in mind these things:

  • Do not abandon your pets. Leaving them locked up in the house with a large pile of food is one of the worst things you can do. It can be weeks and even longer before anyone visits the house. Abandoning your pet in a park or forest also can doom pets, which usually aren't prepared to fend for themselves in the wild.
  • Find pet-friendly housing. If the reason you are unable to keep the pet is because you can't find housing that allows pets, contact your local rescue shelter or vet for information.
  • Ask a friend. Check with friends and family and see if anyone can take in the pet until you get back on your feet.
  • Talk with local veterinarians to see if any will offer low-cost boarding while you are looking for a new home. Veterinarians may also be able to assist in finding a new home for your pet since they often come in contact with people looking for pets.
  • Contact a Rescue Shelter. If it's impossible to find someone to take in the pet, contact your local animal shelter. Also check with local rescue groups. When checking with shelters and rescue groups, ask if they are able to foster the animal for a period of time while you secure a new home so you can reclaim your pet later.

Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs