I’ve been wanting to adopt a puppy, but at this point in my life, I know that getting one may mean I need to restructure my budget — and most likely give up a vacation every year. How will I know if dog ownership is “worth” losing that time away?
–Puppy Kisses or Margaritas on the Beach?
Dear Puppy Kisses,
Is a dog “worth” the expense? There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and the one that makes sense for you depends a lot on your lifestyle right now. Here are a few things I would consider, which can help you make the best choice for you.
The “random Tuesday night” test
One technique that can help you suss out whether a dog is worth the expense for you is to try what I call “the random Tuesday night” test. How would each of these purchases make you feel on a random Tuesday night? Of course, the vacation likely wouldn’t have any effect. But on a random weeknight, the puppy will make a profound difference in your life. You’re going to be walking the dog and hanging out with the pup on the couch. How does that vision make you feel? Happy? Relaxed? Or does it stress you out, since you work late nights at the office or have frequent work travel plans?
The point this exercise makes is to really recognize how a puppy changes your daily life. A vacation can be an amazing experience for the days you’re away, but usually, you’ll reset to the same place you were before once you return. Really thinking deeply about the change in your lifestyle a puppy will bring can help you decide if this is the right move for you.
New experiences and new opportunities
It’s also important to remember that there’s so much you don’t know yet about having a puppy because it’s something you’ve never experienced. Right now, you’re worried you might have to give up a vacation. And that may be true. But having a puppy will open you up to a whole new community. For example, you may become friendly with other dog owners, and find a way to trade dog-sitting duties. Or you may find that the happiness and novelty you get from adding a pup to your life may make you not miss those vacations as much as you thought you would. Or you might just find some way to turn a few days off into a low-cost getaway with your pup.
The unexpected costs
And of course, it’s important to audit your budget and see how a pup would fit into your expenses. It may be helpful to talk with another dog owner to hear some of the ups and downs of their experiences, or things they wish they had known. (And going back to that “random Tuesday night” experiment, remember that a random Tuesday night may also involve some house training and accidents if you adopt a puppy!)
Bottom line: Both experiences may change your life. But one experience will change your day-to-day existence dramatically. Knowing this may help you choose.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Tuesday for her next column.