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Getting a pet

Getting a pet can be exciting for the whole family—and a whole new set of responsibilities. Here are tips to help you adapt the conversation so that your preschooler, preteen, or teenager gains money skills from the conversation that can help them later. 

In addition to what you need to do to care for your new pet, you need to prepare for any changes in your family’s money situation. Here are a few tips on having a successful conversation.

Some topics may be sensitive for your family. Keep in mind that children absorb much more than the words you say—they’re aware of your moods and attitudes too. Start a conversation when you sense it can be productive and comfortable.

Young children | School-age children to preteens | Teenagers and young adults

For young children (ages 3-5)

Below are ideas for how to approach a conversation. For young children, conversations don’t always need to be about dollars and cents—instead, you can help them build the self-control, planning, and problem-solving skills they’ll need as adults. You can also try to work into the conversation other skills that your young child can work on, like practicing counting, waiting for what they want, thinking flexibly, and staying focused. See more about milestones your young child is reaching and how to help them.

Problem solving

Ask your child to imagine they are the new pet. Talk about what they will need on a daily basis, like food and water. Talk about the things the family might get for the pet—food and water dishes, toys, or other gear—and divide them into things the pet needs, and extra things.

Goal setting

Your child might want to save up to buy something for the pet. Help your child set up a goal and take steps to reach it, a little at a time.

For school-age children to preteens (ages 6–12)

Below are ideas for how to approach a conversation. At this age, your child can build habits, values, and rules to live by to support future financial well-being. You can try to work into the conversation other ideas that are appropriate for your preteen, like how to help them fit their experiences into the world around them, establish a system of values, resist peer pressure, and build automatic habits. See more about milestones your preteen is reaching and how to help them.

Building habits

Set up a habit for your preteen to take care of the pet, as an example of how habits can make behaviors automatic. For example, they could remember to set out food for the pet at the same time as the family’s meal.

Reinforcing values

Talk about the ways having a pet reinforces the values in your home, whatever those might be. Pet owners have many different reasons for caring for an animal, and your family’s reasons in your family can guide decisions about pet care routines—and spending.

For young children and early readers, read the Money Monsters Learn What Things Really Cost book to explore the responsibilities that come with owning a pet.

For older school-age children, you can read our Owning and caring for a pet handout together and complete the Paying for a pet student activity , then discuss the costs of owning a pet.

For teenagers and young adults

Below are ideas for how to approach a conversation. You can also try to work into the conversation other ways your teenager can practice money skills, like doing their own research, comparison, and decision making. See more about milestones your teenager is reaching and how to help them.

Comparison shopping

Enlist your teenager’s research skills. Pet food comes in many varieties, and your teenager can help you gather information from stores or shopping websites and compare them in terms of nutrition, cost, and other factors. Your teen can research and choose a vet, or help estimate the cost of food and care for a pet like yours over time.

Career planning

See if your teenager is interested in the jobs related to the pet care industry—animal shelters, pet stores, veterinarians, training, day care, animal talent agencies—the list is long. Even if your teenager isn’t drawn to these jobs, it can be good practice in researching different ways people prepare for and develop careers.