I flicked my phone on and off, wistfully glancing at a photo of Carlos, a soulful black pitbull from Animal Care and Control of New York’s Manhattan branch. The whiff of dog breath and drool hits you as walk into the shelter where dogs of different sizes— usually pitbulls or mixes—sit in tall cages, whining and barking at potential adopters or giving up on the whole game with look of resignation. This is where I should have been on a Friday evening, I told myself, but instead I’m out on a date.
As a 20-something-year old, love is an opportunity cost. Sure, it can fire up some serious serotonin, but at the end of the day it costs both money and time that you could have spent cranking out those cover letters to get an actual job. But as winter looms closer and the elections get gloomier, we all need some creature comfort. Are we better off with a four-legged or two-legged one?
A large dog costs $875 a year, according to a spokeswoman for Animal Care and Control. This includes food, medical expenses, toys and occasionally dog walkers. There is an additional estimated $560 for first-year setup costs that include things like a bed, bowl, leash, carrier, clothing and poop bags. All of this is assuming that you don’t splurge on toys, designer clothes or organic food for your pet. Depending on your landlord’s policies, a dog might nudge your rent up by $30 to $50 a month.
Contrary to popular belief, a dog can rake in the moolah as well. Rafael Mantesso, an artist, has 605k followers on Instagram for his dog Jimmy who poses amongst Mantesso’s quirky doodles. There is a print of him against a white surface that has two deer horns drawn on it or one that looks like he’s flying off with a dozen caricature balloons in his paws. Mantesso’s work became so famous that it is now compiled into a delightful book called “A dog named Jimmy.” While not all dog owners have the talent or inclination to be this imaginative with their canines, even something like a commercial involving your dog can put $50 to $400 in your pocket.
Now if only there was an organization called Relationship Care and Control that could break down the costs of a very different sort of love. But in a world where gender roles, relationships and how we get into them are evolving, they would have a tough time monetizing it as well. What makes it more complicated is that you spend differently depending on the stage of a relationship you’re in— whereas with a dog, it’s a straight leap towards love with no second doubts.
“Actively searching for a boyfriend means going on many first dates or still trying to impress someone,” said Anis Mebarki, an associate financial analyst based in San Francisco. “I usually paid $20 per first date in a bar, $40 in restaurants.”
Mebarki has been in a steady relationship for the past year and says that spending has increased for him compared to his single life.
“When we eat out, we go to a nicer places- like Yelp-four-dollar-sign-nice,” Mebarki said. “We spend about $100 all together for a meal out.”
Mebarki said when they were getting to know each other, he and his partner went out a lot, particularly to try out different restaurants. Now that they’ve moved in together, they cook more to save money.
But costs aren’t always split equally. Mebarki and his partner divide up their expenditure proportionate to their earnings, so there isn’t a huge hole in their wallet but they’re still paying their fair share.
Others, like Ananya Shukla, a corporate and institutional banking analyst, say that this unevenness is often not acknowledged. Shukla used to live with her boyfriend when she worked in New York and though they split rent, utilities, alcohol and air tickets equally, there were small costs—that of countless Ubers, laundry or small household items— that would add up.
“He would use my toothpaste or shampoo and I would run out of it quickly,” Shukla said. “I would go and buy some and we never split it.”
Shukla admits that her overall costs marginally decreased since she started living with her boyfriend. But she also owes this change to her transition from a social student life to post-grad life in an expensive city.
Couples who claim similar drops in their expenditure say they owe it to the comforts of home-cooked meals, which become increasingly common as the relationship progresses. But this is not always the case, particularly if your eating habits are drastically different compared to your that of your partner.
“Men eat a lot,” said Monica Espitia, a journalist. “What I would normally eat in a few sittings is something my boyfriend consumes in one meal and I find myself going to the grocery store more often.”
So what’s the verdict? I would choose both if I could. But a boyfriend is a volatile asset for a temporary alien in the United States and adopting a dog requires more paperwork than adopting a child. I would say, stick to whatever you’re not allergic to.