Do you know that song, “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” Well, about 20 years ago, the little girl singing that song was me.

At 12 years old, I was hands-down dog crazy. Maybe it was from watching too many episodes of Benji, or from my obsession with the Littlest Pet Shop toys, or just the universal truth that dogs are some of the most beloved pets on the planet. I wanted nothing more than to have an adorable, tail-wag-ready fur baby of my own.

I would scour through the classified sections of the weekly mailers and local newspapers looking for “the one.” On Sundays my mom and I would go to the local animal shelter to see what doggies were available.

The one problem? My mom was on the fence about getting a pet. We lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment and simply didn’t have enough space for a dog. But when we moved into an actual house, my mom conceded. We ended up taking home a golden cocker spaniel that we found through the classifieds. She was the runt of the litter, and the last one of the bunch to be sold. I loved her more than anything.

Although I was only 12 years old, I was very serious — even a bit geeky — about being a pet parent. I checked out books from the library on how to properly care for a dog. Although my mom paid for most of my dog costs, I took care of her most of the time. I made sure my pup was trained properly, fed her, and took her on her walks.

Further Reading: Check out these tips for affordable pet care.

The Cost of a Dog’s Vet Visits

It wasn’t until my dog got older and she started to suffer from health issues that the vet bills started to bite.

I was in college at the time, and a trip to the vet would cost on average $250. And the older my dog got, the more trips she had to the vet.

I wanted to make sure that she was happy and healthy, and that she had the best care possible; but there were times when I struggled with her medical bills. I knew I could ask my mom to help, but she worked two jobs and had her hands tied paying her mortgage and putting both me and my brother through school.

After all, this was my pet, so I felt responsible for footing most of the dog costs. My mom helped when she could, but I didn’t want to ask too much from her. I had to dip into my savings to pay for my dog’s medical expenses. And looking back, it was a lot to take on, especially since I was a broke college student and living off of financial aid, scholarships, and student loans.

My dog passed away several years ago, at the ripe old age of 16 and a half years old. We could tell she was in her final days and arranged for an in-house visit from a vet to put her to sleep. However, a few days before the scheduled appointment, she passed away naturally. We ended up cremating her, and her ashes remain at my mom’s house. It was probably one of the most difficult things our family had to go through, and I cried for three weeks straight.

Further Reading: Learn how to prepare for the worst with a pet emergency fund.

How to Prepare for the Cost of a Dog

Here’s what I recommend you do to prepare for and mitigate the cost of a dog if you’re considering getting a family pet:

  1. Make sure that everyone’s on the same page.
  2. Research pet insurance options.
  3. Look at cheaper alternatives to pet ownership.

1. Getting on the Same Page

There were times when I felt that my mom and I had different opinions on how to care for my dog. And I learned the hard way about what could happen if you don’t suss things out with your family beforehand. Making sure that my entire family was on the same page with responsibilities and expectations would have eliminated stress related to her care.

2. Pet Insurance

There is a host of options for pet insurance. Take the time to do the research and figure out which plan fits your needs — if any — and budget. Shop around, and if you feel comfortable enough to do so, ask for recommendations from fellow pet parents. It’s also helpful to set up a separate fund to pay for these expenses – that way you won’t get blindsided.

Further Reading: Get the lowdown on pet insurance.

3. Alternatives to Pet Ownership

If you find that it may not be the best time for your family to get a pet, there are a lot of other ways you can enjoy furry companionship without the expense.

For instance, consider taking on a side hustle as a dog walker or pet-sitter. I currently pet sit for both dogs and cats, and not only do I get to spend time with some awesome animals, I get paid for it. You can also volunteer at a local shelter or pet adoption fair.

You’ll also want to look for more affordable pets. The average cost of raising a dog is $23,410. If you can’t afford a dog or cat, please be responsible and look for a pet with less expensive costs when it comes to food and medical care. For example, perhaps a fish or an iguana would be a great pet for a young child. It could teach them responsibility while being a better fit for your budget.