Rebecca O'Connor

Pets v children: financially speaking, it’s no contest

Pets v children: financially speaking, it's no contest
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There’s a whole swathe of wannabe parents buying pets to 'practise on', according to recent research.

More than two million British dog owners bought their dogs to limber up for a baby, the Direct Line survey found. Meanwhile, a third of dog owners without children feel like parents and one in 20 childless dog owners believe owning a dog is more work than having a baby.

It’s hard to know whether to feel more sorry for the dogs or the children. Babying a dog is a sure-fire way to psychologically destroy it and if you reckon that pampering a pooch is anything like the mind and body annihilation that comes with raising an infant, then when you do bear the bairn, you’d better get up to speed pretty quickly, for its sake.

I know: I’ve got both. The dog came nine months before William, the first son. I thought the dog was hard work - until the child.

It’s not just the work involved in caring for canines versus children that’s worlds apart; plucking the odd thorn from a paw and going for a walk every day is a holiday compared with looking after a baby - essentially a form of torture to which you are bound through love and the clear obligation to keep another human being alive. It’s also the cost.

I overspent on the dog. He cost us £850. He had a £180 carrier bag when he was a puppy that he went in four times. We went to the vet almost every three weeks as I worried about this and that - the time he ate dental floss caused sleepless nights and about £200 in vet visits for that one ailment alone. He had toys, blankets, puppy training (£15 a session), a pet sitter (£12 an hour), gourmet treats, constant walks (cost in hours not worked: unknown). And the insurance - a steady £15 a month for the last five years (£900 already). With the regular food, trims, flea treatments and worming, we’re up to a total of about £5,000.

Looking back, most of this expenditure was madness. But still not a patch - not even a tiny dab - on the cost of the first four years of William’s life.

First, there’s all the stuff you have to buy when they are little. A buggy, a car seat, a carrier, a cot, cot accessories, clothing, nappies, large boxes of wipes, breast pumps, cot mobiles, muslin squares, moses baskets, moses basket stands, another buggy because you didn’t like the first one, humidifiers, night lights, creams, washes, gro-bags, bottles, milk powder, sterilisers, a rear view mirror so you can see if they are still breathing while you are driving, new clothes because they grow out of the first set in five seconds, a bigger car seat, a new buggy seat, weaning pouches, a high chair, a new carrier because the first one is now too small, 50 bibs, toys, more toys, more clothes, their first scooter…

Then, if at least one of you works, the childcare. Don’t be surprised to pay £8 an hour for nursery care, £10 an hour for a childminder and £12 an hour for a nanny. So imagine working for three days a week. Unless you have free family help, you are looking at a bill of at least £240 a week, assuming you work full days. That’s one child. Add another before school age and you can see how children dwarf your mortgage repayments pretty quickly.

William starts school in September. We paid a premium to move to an area with an outstanding state primary (£50,000-ish, probably). We’ve spent roughly £800 on his childcare every month since he was one. That will be a grand total of £38,400 on childcare alone for one child. Theo has cost £560 a month in childcare since he was six months - £7,840 so far as he is 20 months now. This figure will go up to £600 a month from September and will remain at roughly that until he goes to school in 2019, even with the help of vouchers. So that’s another £24,000 to fork out before he goes to school.

In the last two years since Theo was born, I estimate we’ve spent an extra £5,200 on food. Our electricity bills have gone up by £30 a month since we had them both: £600 in the last two years. We spend probably about £40 a month on toys, books and other entertainment for them (and I include in that the TV package that contains childrens’ channels: essential in our house).

Add to this the stress of making sure it's all covered, the graft required to pay for it, and the constant logistical (and emotional) nightmare of work and childcare, and you can see why parents of young children have wrinkles. You don’t hear many dog owners blaming their wrinkles on little Digger.

If you are thinking about dogs or children, or both, then don’t get the dog because it is good practice - it isn’t. But it is a lot cheaper.

Rebecca O'Connor is the founder of Good With Money and a former financial writer at The Times