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A "Tail" of Conspicuous Consumption
You may love your pets more than anyone else in the world loves their pets, but have you ever actually calculated how much money you spend on your pets each year? Some of the more obvious costs you’re thinking about right now include stuff like pet food and the occasional trip to the vet. Did you purchase any new pet accessories like collars, leashes, or toys? Did you sign your pet up for a monthly delivery service that brings your pet a collection of new toys and treats? Maybe some of your spending this year was part of the half-billion dollars that Americans spend on Halloween costumes for their pets. If you’re like me and 26% of other young adults, you bought your pets new costumes for Halloween. Last year alone, the average American household spent close to $700 on their pets!
Spending on pets has increased 50% since 2013, but household incomes have only increased about 32% over that same time period. The BLS does track pet spending at a more detailed level, but their last update was back in 2013. If you’re looking for more recent numbers, Senator Mike Lee’s office prepared a report in 2016 on pet spending. Spending per person may have leveled off over the past few years, but the pandemic may have actually spurred some growth in this particular industry. Morgan Stanley estimates that the size of the pet industry will nearly triple in the next 10 years, due in part to how young adults treat their pets:
Recent anthropological research suggests pet ‘moms’ and ‘dads’ really are parenting their pets like they would children. As the number of child-free couples grows, the desire to nurture a living creature turns their attention to their pets instead. That, in turn, means more spending on pets and pet accessories. Some of this spending likely falls into what Thorstein Veblen calls conspicuous consumption. This is spending that is primarily done to let other people know you’re smart, rich, or important. From Veblen’s point of view, it means spending more money on things than they’re actually worth.
Dogs have come a long way from working on farms, eating table scraps, or sleeping outside in a dog house. You can now order your dog their own orthopedic bed on Amazon and give them a tasty frozen treat known as a pupsicle. If your dog seems a little stressed, ask your vet to prescribe some doggy antidepressants. If that doesn’t do the trick, maybe your dug just needs some R&R time at a boutique doggy day spa. If you live in a large enough city, you can avoid the public dog parks and sign your pup up for an exclusive private dog park instead. At the very least, you can do like I did last year and get your dogs a cute Christmas outfit for the upcoming holiday season:
The pandemic led a lot of people to animal shelters where they adopted an estimated 57 million “pandemic pets.” Now that people are returning to offices, they’re realizing the cost of pet ownership may be more than they had originally bargained. It’s easier to care for a pet when you’re working remotely, but many new pet owners, particularly in larger cities, are now realizing how much services like doggy daycare or pet walkers cost. Some of them are cutting spending in other areas to keep their pets around, but even if they’re thinking of moving out of the city and into a home, their pet will likely influence that decision as well. In a survey by Realtor.com, about 75% of home buyers with pets said that they would pass on an otherwise ideal home if it wasn’t suitable for their pets.
One of the classic examples of conspicuous consumption used to be buying a house with more bedrooms than the homeowners needed so that neighbors and friends think you’re rich. Those bedrooms would mostly go unused throughout the year. Since pet parents are searching for homes specifically suited to their pets’ needs, perhaps the new example of conspicuous consumption will be purchasing homes with the intent to set aside one of those bedrooms specifically for their pet. If you’ve made a crazy purchase for your pet, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and tell me more!
70% of American households own a pet [The American Pet Products Association]
52% of households in Arkansas and Montana owned a dog, the highest rates in the country [American Veterinary Medical Association]
BarkBox, the monthly subscription package for your dog, has 1.05 million subscribers [Barrons]
Last year, $103.6 billion was spent on pets in the United States [The American Pet Products Association]
There were 10 million dog adoptions during the pandemic [Bloomberg]