I thought I'd take a minute to outline the way I handle my horse finances.
When I first adopted Tristan, I was working in a year-long paid internship at my undergraduate college. My take-home pay was about $18,000 that year. I adopted Tristan for $150 on January 2.
Field board for Tristan for the first two years I owned him saved a lot of money.
That first year was really, really hard. I had been sharing a house with other college friends, but they all moved away at the end of December, leaving me with one roommate who was an acquaintance but not a close friend. It was a big, mostly uninsulated house on the side of a mountain in Vermont in a town with a population of 765. Yes, really.
I snuck into the college dining halls for breakfast and lunch every day. I ordered one, sometimes two, items from the McDonald's dollar menu on the way home from the barn every night. My roommate basically did not live in the house for the months of January and February, and the house was heated by wood stove and a furnace that took heating oil. I couldn't afford heating oil, and didn't entirely understand how to order it anyway. Every night I got home from the barn at 9pm after fighting with the snowy mountain roads, put wood in the stove, poured lighter fluid onto it, flicked a match into it, put on three layers of clothing, my winter coat, my winter hat, gloves, scarf, piled on blankets, and slept on the couch in front of the wood stove. Going up to my bedroom was not an option; the frost was half an inch thick on the inside of the windows.
Every weekend, all day, I worked at the barn to help pay for board and lessons. I picked up shifts during the week when I could. I borrowed a saddle until I could buy a friend's for $300. I bought a $20 bridle at auction. I owned one pair of breeches and the $75 clearance tall boots I had bought four years earlier.
That summer, I moved out of the house, down into the valley, closer to the barn. I lived in a studio apartment that was so small I actually kicked open my refrigerator door in the middle of the night. Really. I swear. It was stiflingly hot in the summer, and the only thing I owned to put my TV on was an upside down tupperware bin; one day it softened and practically melted underneath the TV and the whole thing sort of sagged sideways in slow motion. (Thankfully the TV was ok! It was probably the most expensive thing I owned at the time.) My budget for groceries was $20 a week, and I still worked at the barn constantly.
I still saved money. I was never in debt. I never went hungry. I was content and happy. So I don't tell these stories to make anyone feel sorry for me! I had graduated from an excellent college with no debt, I had great life skills, and I was willing to work hard.
Things slowly got better, and the lessons I learned in that first year have stuck to me. Our grocery budget is still $40-$50 a week for two people. I scrimp and save and budget and Tristan has never, ever wanted for anything. I make a decent living now, but I work in nonprofits: I'll never match my two younger brothers, who are a computer engineer and management consultant respectively.
Owning a horse is so insanely difficult. It is one of the stupidest things I could do with my money. But to me, it is worth every penny.
Here are a few lessons that still stick with me.
Have a separate bank account for horse finances. I've maintained this for almost ten years now, and it works beautifully. I estimate a monthly cost for board and farrier bills, and then I add in a small padding percentage. I have that amount automatically deposited each month, and that's where I draw money from. If I buy something for Tristan with my credit card, I pay from that account. I write checks from that account. If there's overage - from an extra pay day or the like - it goes into a horse-specific savings account. It's not a perfect system - things come up. But it is the best system I've ever found, because it helps cordon me off from temptation, and it helps me stick to a budget.
You probably don't need that. The newest best whatever it is. That fast food dinner or lunch. Cable. The fanciest new car on the lot. Whatever "that" is, you probably don't need it. You need good nutritious food, a safe, clean place to live, and ways to engage your mind and body. Your horse needs the same. Is it fun to buy extras? Sure. I've done it. Do you need it? As in, you can't live without it? As in, you're okay with it costing 2-3x as much because you had to have it and so you put it on your credit card? The number of things in that category is extremely small. Possibly nonexistent.
Be honest with yourself and your partner. Don't say that your future self will take care of that bill. Don't pretend you need that thing. Don't lie to your partner about money. This stuff will ruin you if you let it. Keep a constant, watching eye on what you do, on yourself, on your reasons for choosing the things you do, and on the ways in which the money is going in and out. It's so easy to slip and justify. Don't stick your head in the sand. Face up to it. Applying your willpower to this area of your life will unlock all the doors for you. It's that important.
Get by with a little help from your friends. I'm very conscious of inherited privilege on all levels. I've been lucky in many ways. I have a wonderful, supportive family who have backed me up and taught me good lessons. I have knowledgeable, wonderful, supportive friends who have helped me out when I needed it - ridden along in the truck for moral support, offered a barter system for goods and services, bent the rules to make things just a little easier, and shared their incredible experience with me so I can make better decisions. Don't underestimate the value - social, economic, on every possible level - of a good support network.
I don't mean to preach, but this is something I feel very strongly about, in all areas of my life. Nobody's perfect - so says my smidge of credit card debt leftover from a very bad fall, and my slooooooowly rebounding emergency fund from Tristan's vet bills - but when you internalize good principles, you put yourself in a MUCH better position to rebuild. Ultimately, that makes life safer and happier for both you and your horse.