Personal accounts: An associate veterinarian paying down $110k in debt

VettedVetted June 2019
Volume 114
Issue 6

This week, this vet muses about the steep cost of therapeutic diets for her four catsand thats with the professional discount.


Why are therapeutic diets so expensive?

Editor's note: This article is part of our "Personal accounts" series. Money management is all about choices: where you live, the job you take, what you spend. But when it feels like the money's drifting out of the bank account much quicker than it flows in, it's hard to get a handle on where it all goes. We asked several veterinary professionals from different jobs and areas of the country to track their spending for one week. Our goal: to share what they've learned from a deep dive into the cost of living and the choices we make every day. Read them all here.

Job: Small animal associate veterinarian

Location: Eastern Shore, Maryland

Salary: Production with $50,000/year base salary. My monthly take-home income averages $4,000. If I make no production, which is very rare, my take-home salary is $2,900 a month. This has happened three times in two years. Those were rough months!

Length of time at current job: Two years. I've been at three different clinics in the past eight years. It was hard to find a place that was the right fit. That meant a couple moves for me to different cities/states in the past several years, which was tough on my savings account. I feel like I can't get ahead and really start to build my savings, especially with my student loan. I still owe about $110,000.

I ended up buying my first home last year. I'd rented a house the prior year, but the owners decided to move back in. I had about two months to find a place to live. Rental homes are few and far between in this area, and the rentals that are available cost more than what I'd spend on a mortgage, so I ended up buying a home. I got lucky and found a house that was perfect for my boyfriend and me. I had three cats and he had one, all males. The introductions went pretty well. The house did require new flooring and paint before moving in, so that was a big expense I had to put on a credit card.

My boyfriend is a registered veterinary technician at another hospital. He gives me $200 every two weeks to help with expenses. The rest of his income goes towards his car payment, retirement and savings for our future. He also usually pays if we end up eating out.

Here are my monthly expenses:

Here's a look at my spending in a week. Daily and weekly totals are rounded to the nearest dollar.

7 a.m. Wake up, feed the cats, scoop litter boxes and catch up on the Today Show for a few minutes. I pack lunch (leftovers) and grab a protein shake for breakfast on the way to work.

8 a.m. Stop at the gas station to return a Redbox movie. I grab a fountain Cherry Coke for the morning. Total: $1.06

8:10 a.m. Stop at Walmart to grab a box of breakfast sandwiches for my boyfriend-they're his typical work-day breakfast. Total: $8.88

9 a.m. Start with a full schedule, but a two-patient appointment cancels at the last minute. I take the time to catch up on lab calls, emails and Facebook posts for the clinic page.

12:10 p.m. Lunch is leftover Olive Garden from the weekend.

3:15 p.m. Leave work and stop by my boyfriend's dad's house to check on his 13-year-old Labrador retriever.

6 p.m. Try a new recipe for dinner for one-pot chicken and rice. Not bad. There are only leftovers for one person tomorrow, so my boyfriend will take that.

9 p.m. Relax a little before bed. We're fostering a kitten, so I let her out with some of our other cats. They all do well.

Daily total: $10

9:30 a.m. This is my regular day off, so I take advantage and sleep in. My boyfriend worked today, so he's up early and feeds the cats. I cleaned over the weekend, so I don't have to worry about that, but I definitely need a grocery store run. I grab a banana and head off.

10:15 a.m. Pick up the usual stuff as well as ingredients for dinner tonight, tomorrow and Thursday. I spend a little more than usual as they have Coke on sale, so I get four 12-packs for $12. They also have T-bone steaks on sale, so I pick up two to grill this weekend. There were a couple things the store doesn't have, so I need to run home to unload then head out to a second store. I hate that! Total: $92.35

12:30 p.m. Stop at McDonald's for a quick lunch, including a free medium Diet Coke thanks to a deal on their smartphone app. Total: $2.96

1 p.m. Second grocery store has a really good deal on ribeye steaks, so I buy two more. I'll freeze this pair for another weekend. Total: $52.45

2 p.m. I'm finally home to relax for the day to catch up on laundry and maybe start the new season of Orange Is the New Black.

6:30 p.m. Dinner is homemade Old Bay chicken wings and fries.

7 p.m. Chatted with DirecTV to cancel the monthly protection plan. I meant to do this months ago but kept forgetting. I don't think it's worth the extra $8.99 a month.

8:45 p.m. We're running low on Purina DM canned food for two of the cats, so I buy that along with a box of FortiFlora from the Purina for Professionals website. The cats love the taste of FortiFlora, so we give that once a day-with added Zylkene for anxiety for our high-strung boy. Two of our cats eat Purina DM canned food and Hill's Metabolic + Urinary Stress dry food because of weight issues. The other two eat Hill's w/d canned food and Royal Canin Urinary + Satiety dry food, because one of them has issues with severe pancreatitis and high cholesterol. We're trying him on a low-fat diet trial and so far it's helping a lot. It's so nice to be able to take advantage of the staff feeding programs each of those companies offer. It makes a big difference. Sometimes I do wonder how we expect owners to afford therapeutic diets. I barely can. Total: $46.06

Daily total: $194

Today's the largest payday of the month, because it includes the bonus from last month. One credit card payment goes out today. Total: $150

7:30 a.m. Wake up, feed the cats, scoop the litter boxes and grab a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Today is my long day at work, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

10 a.m. I get an email that my monthly Chewy autoship order of six 15-lb jugs of cat litter shipped out today. With four cats, we go through a lot. Plus, I'm pretty OCD about keeping the boxes clean. I dump and clean entirely every two to three weeks. Total: $52.22

12:45 p.m. Lunch is leftover chicken wings from last night. Very good!

3:15 p.m. Another two-patient appointment cancels at the last minute. What is it with this week? Ugh …

8 p.m. I transfer money to my parents for my student loan as well as my cell phone. My parents offered to refinance their house to pay off my student loan a couple of years ago. I now pay them back for that loan, but I will save a lot in the long-term due to the much lower interest rate. I'm on a family plan with them for the cell phone, which also helps me save a little. Total: $1,150 for loan, $45 for cell phone

Daily total: $1,397 

8 a.m. Usual morning routine. Bowl of cereal for breakfast. Took the foster kitten in with me to work for the day to visit everyone at the clinic.

10 a.m. I had two sick patient appointments this morning that were fairly complex. Ran late with both. It stresses me out to run behind.

12 p.m. Lunch was leftover chicken wings again. Still tasted good!

3:30 p.m. We had three back-to-back euthanasias, which were tough on all of us. One was an FIP kitten. I hate FIP. I treated myself to a 7-Eleven Slurpee afterwards to try to brighten my afternoon and filled my car with gas. Total: $1.06 Slurpee, $22 gas

7:30 p.m. I made tacos for dinner then relaxed catching up on a couple TV shows.

Daily total: $23

8 a.m. The usual morning routine: bowl of cereal and off to work.

12 p.m. Salad and some watermelon from home for lunch.

4 p.m. Off work. Beach traffic is bad heading home.

7 p.m. We have birthday dinner out for my boyfriend's grandmother at a nice restaurant in a nearby town. She turned 83. We both have the seafood buffet-delicious-but we probably didn't get our money's worth. We enjoyed a couple cocktails with everyone as well. Boyfriend took care of the bill, which was close to $100.

Daily total: $0  

8 a.m. I took my car into the shop for an oil change and tire rotation. The tire rotation was free, because I'd bought my tires from the shop earlier this year. I did notice this week my car's A/C didn't seem to be cooling like it should. They weren't able to look at that today, so I have to bring it back during the week. Ugh ... I hope it's not too expensive. Total: $65

8:20 a.m. Stop by Chick-fil-A to pick up a couple chicken biscuits for our breakfast on the way home. Boyfriend pays.

3 p.m. Visit with my boyfriend's family for the afternoon. Nice day for the pool!

7 p.m. Delivery from a local restaurant for dinner-pizza, wings and some subs. Boyfriend's dad treats.

9 p.m. Drive home in an awful storm. It was very scary, but thankfully we made it home safely.

Daily total: $65

10 a.m. We both sleep in, then head out for Sunday breakfast at a local diner. Total: $22

11 a.m. Swing by the pet store for some kitten food for the foster. We pick out a collar with a bell so we and our boys know where she is. My boyfriend takes care of this.

11:30 a.m. Quick stop at the local wholesale club for cranberry juice and flavored water. I see a coupon for the shampoo I use, so I grab a double pack of that. Total: $18.82 for the drinks, $8.93 for the shampoo.

12:30 p.m. Cleaning house this afternoon, then some TV.

6:30 p.m. Steaks on the grill for dinner. Tasty! Relaxed rest of the evening with some TV. Tomorrow starts another week!

Daily total: $50

Weekly total: $1,739

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