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How to Set a Horse-Friendly Budget

An ode to Dave Ramsey and my dad.

Sporting an outfit I splurged on in a moment of excitement after walking into a new tack store. I almost had to sell a kidney to afford that show and the new outfit.... Photo by Wayne DeLisle

Sporting an outfit I splurged on in a moment of excitement after walking into a new tack store. I almost had to sell a kidney to afford that show and the new outfit…. Photo by Wayne DeLisle

Budgeting has not always been my strong point, especially when I find myself staring at the ad for a handsome 2016 gray Warmblood colt out of a well-known stallion with “jumper prospect” painted all over him. I began rationalizing in the back of my head all the countless reasons why I NEEDED to purchase this colt — by the time he was old enough to back, my OTTB Joey would be well rounded in his training; I can only really afford a warmblood if I buy one as a foal and raise it myself; seriously, he is so cute and I need all the cute things in my life.

I had the funds to buy him burning a hole in my pocket and even partially had my husband on board when my dad dropped by my office one day. He had with him a stack of Dave Ramsey CDs he wanted me to listen to on my commute each day. A budget-conscious guy, my dad has spent my whole life drilling good financial decisions into my brain, so I took the CDs in an attempt to save myself from a lecture.

On the drive home that afternoon, I popped the first of the series into the CD player, knowing that my dad would ask me what I learned from them. Two days later, I am on CD number three in the set and I am finding that it is time to make some tough decisions in our family’s budget in order to prepare us for the future and continue to allow me to ride and show. Out went the dream of my cute warmblood colt and in came the reality of an emergency fund to prepare for the huge what-ifs in the horse world.

Step One: Figure out what the heck is included in your entire budget!

In order to set a true equestrian budget, you first need to sort out your real life budget to find the exact amount you have for your monthly horse expenses. Rent/mortgage, insurance of all kinds, car payments, hospital bills, etc. — all the adult things that none of us like but we have to pay or we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle.

Since I am married, I had to have that icky Budget Roundtable meeting with my husband so we could combine our incomes and our payments. Dave Ramsey made mention in one of his CDs that in relationships, one will always be the Nerd and the other will be the Free Spirit. I am definitely the latter. My self-diagnosed ADD was in high gear thinking about my new Ogilvy jumper pad that I am getting for Christmas and how cute Joey was going to look in our upcoming Christmas card photoshoot as Wayne went on and on about compound interest and the stock market. Blech — boring!

After you sort out your main expenses (because sadly, Joey does not MAKE me money, he is considered a “hobby”) then you are able to take the remaining funds and divide them up into your equestrian budget.

Step Two: Have an emergency fund because horses were not born in bubble wrap.

It is a big joke amongst my family, but I have terrible luck — both in life and my equestrian pursuits. My first horse, Lance, kicked himself in the field and fractured his splint bone. Yep. You read that right. The goof got too excited playing with his friends one day and he kicked himself and broke his own leg.

My sweet Lance, post injury. He's now loving life while at my college barn and being spoiled rotten by the cutest Junior rider ever. His injury was unexpected and taught me the importance of saving for the the unknown. Photo by BooksnPens Photography

My sweet Lance, post injury. He’s now loving life while at my college barn and being spoiled rotten by the cutest Junior rider ever. His injury was unexpected and taught me the importance of saving for the the unknown. Photo by BooksnPens Photography

He is happily living out the life as a low level hunter with the cutest teen rider in the world right now, but at that time I was sinking under his vet bills (I would have lived in a cardboard box to provide him with the best care and I almost did) and struggling to find a balance financially. That combination ultimately led to the decision to find him a suitable home and take a few years off to establish myself professionally. Living through that experience has totally changed my outlook on being a horse owner and made Dave’s next suggestion easy to follow: set back three to six months of expenses for an emergency fund.

Now just because that idea is fantastic and I know I am on board doesn’t make it any easier to save that LARGE amount of money. Discipline is going to come into play here — it will be so easy to opt out of making my weekly contribution. I have chosen to have my money pulled out of my account and deposited straight into a money market account so we have some return on our money, but there is no penalty for an early withdrawal.

Colic happens. Lameness happens. Horses were not born in bubble wrap, although I really think they should have been, and the health and happiness of your four legged friend is going to require a sum of money one day. I can almost promise that. Having that money put back will make emergencies not feel like emergencies anymore.

Step Three: Do you really need 12 saddle pads?

Finally, start laying out your monthly equestrian budget. Insurance, board, farrier, SmartPaks — these are all recurring expenses that happen monthly. (I highly recommend carrying insurance on your horse, especially if you compete and have put some time and money into him/her. I found some EXTREMELY affordable quotes that will definitely help us in the case of colic, accident, or his death.)

Then factor in what I call the potential expenses: vet bills, show fees, trailering fees, etc. Not as regular as the first set of expenses, but you know you are going to spend money on them here and there. I set back an amount into my savings account each month for horse shows. If there is a local horse show I can attend that month for that amount of money, great! If not, then I have a larger amount for a nicer show or a show that is going to require us to stay the whole weekend.

The day I made the biggest investment of my career since returning to the saddle, the day I bought Joey. Horses are a continuous investment. Buying the horse is the cheapest part. Photo by Wayne DeLisle

The day I made the biggest investment of my career since returning to the saddle, the day I bought Joey. Horses are a continuous investment. Buying the horse is the cheapest part.
Photo by Wayne DeLisle

And finally, the hardest part for us hardcore equestrians, budget your shopping habits. I try to avoid tack stores, because it is a known fact I will go in with a dollar amount in mind and blow that budget out of the water within 10 minutes. If there is something you really want (a new saddle, a few show shirts, you know — all the stuff that makes us happy inside) save up and pay cash for it! Sometimes, having cash will allow you to negotiate, but watching that cash grow towards your goal will always make you more disciplined about not buying that Route 44 Sonic soda every day (guilty) so you can put it towards your goal.

Try to understand the difference between WANT and NEED. You WANT new Tailored Sportsmens, but you NEED a new helmet because your old one has had a few falls in it and your safety comes first. Shopping used also helps you find one heck of a bargain and makes your purchases more budget friendly!

Nobody likes setting a budget because it means you are going to have to dig down deep and find some responsibility and say no to your 10th pair of polos that you realllllly want because they match a saddle pad. In reality though, if we don’t have a budget as horse owners there will be a moment when you are in a little bit of a hole and looking for a way to climb out. Take it from someone who knows! Having the stability of savings and a conscious budget will make you sleep easier at night and help you make adult decisions that will better your life!

Now… if only I could win the lottery…

Meagan DeLisle has spent her whole life clipping photos of horses out of magazines and dreaming of the day that her photo appears in one. She spends her days balancing her new marriage, a demanding career, and a desire to spend every free moment in the saddle.

Meagan and Joey. Photo by Cassie Zimmerman.

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