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Fishkeeping on a budget

January 11, 2015
aquarium on a budget

Aquarium keeping is a notoriously expensive hobby. Contrary to what some beginners think, you don’t just need a fish tank to get started – you also need a filter, heater, substrate, fish food, water conditioner, a backup fund for medication and endless other small necessities. This can really drive up the costs, which is definitely not what you want if you’re someone with a smaller budget. Luckily, though, there are a few things you can do to reduce the costs of getting started and keep the electricity bill down. The most effective tips are listed below!

Buy used

The single most effective trick to keep the cost of setting up an aquarium down is to buy used. There are plenty of sites where you can buy everything you need for prices that are much lower than those at actual aquarium stores. The price of a used, good quality non-damaged aquarium is usually less than half of the store price; even when it’s as good as new. Filter, heater and extras like fish food, air stones and leftover medication are often included for a very low price or for free.

To make sure you’re not buying a damaged aquarium, always tell the seller you are coming over to view it and possibly buy it. If you’re buying equipment, ask if you can test it first. If you get there and it turns out the product is damaged or doesn’t look like the photos, offer a lower price or politely tell the seller it’s not what you’re looking for. I have personally never had to do this, though, and I buy all my aquariums used! Sellers are usually very honest and I’ve actually had some great conversations and viewed wonderful aquariums in their homes.

goldfish aquarium

This 65 gallon aquarium came with a canister filter and handmade cabinet and only cost around $150.

Adopt fish

Similar to buying your aquarium and equipment used, you can also adopt (part of) your stock from other fishkeepers. This is especially relevant if you’re interested in keeping fish like goldfish and bettas, but works for other species as well. There are always people looking to rehome fish – sometimes their entire stock. Because reselling fish is almost impossible, they are usually offered for free. Apart from saving some money this is also a great way to give fish a new home or save them from life in an unsuitable setup like a bowl, so definitely something I’d consider if I was setting up a new aquarium!

aquarium thermometerKeep the temperature lower

Another big part of your aquarium electricity bill is the heater, which is necessary in almost all types of setups. Even in subtropical aquariums a heater is recommended to prevent temperature fluctuations!

Because these aquarium heaters use a lot of energy, a great way to keep your yearly electricity costs down is to stick to a lower temperature. This means choosing fish that do well in slightly lower temperatures (for example, 23°C/73.5°F instead of 26°C/79°F) or choosing a temperature that is at the lower end of the range your current stock prefers. A few degrees can save quite a lot of energy, especially in larger setups!

Use quality equipment

Sometimes you can save money by buying products with higher initial costs that are cheaper in the long run. Getting a quality filter, heater and aquarium can save you a lot of money (and frustration).

If your filters keep breaking, this not only means having to get new ones but also dealing with continuous problems with your aquarium’s cycle and possibly sick fish. This is a lot more expensive in the long run than just getting a proper filter. Although there are many great aquarium equipment brands, my personal favorite is EHEIM. I actually wrote a review of one of their heaters a while ago, which you can find here.

Use LED lights

Although they are often a bit more expensive to buy, LED lights can save you quite some money in the long run. They use significantly less power than regular bulbs, which will help keep your electricity bill down. Because aquariums use a lot of power, saving on those costs can really help make a difference! Another great advantage of LED lights is that they are much better for the environment.
You can buy LED aquarium lights on Amazon!


The aquarium on the right is lit with an LED. dennerle-eheim-lampen-080612-01 by @N06

Save money on plants

Planted aquariums are quite attractive (and a must for many fishkeepers), but can get pretty expensive. Many plant species require extra products like CO2 and plant foods. Plants are also often overpriced in regular aquarium stores. This means there are quite a few ways to save a bit of money here!
There are plenty of places where you can find cheap plants, like aquarium forums and groups. People here often give away plant trimmings for a low price/shipping price or are willing to trade them! To prevent having to buy expensive CO2 dispensers, extra lights, root tabs and liquid plant foods, go for easy plants. The plants on this list of easy aquarium plants don’t require any extra products at all.

Repair broken equipment

This may seem like an obvious one, but I actually see fishkeepers throw away tanks and equipment that could possibly be repaired quite often. For example, many quality brands offer replacement parts for pieces of their filter that break easily, like the impeller and intake. Replacing a single part is not too difficult and much cheaper than buying a new filter.

This not only applies to equipment, but to the actual tank as well. If your aquarium starts leaking, don’t just throw it out! Check what caused the leak first; it’s usually just a problem with the sealant, which means you can re-seal the aquarium yourself. This is not the easiest thing and requires some patience, but aquarium silicone is not expensive so it’s usually a better option than buying a whole new tank. You can also often find leaking aquariums for free and repair them yourself.
A great guide on repairing a leaking aquarium can be found here.

If you have any more tips & tricks for other aquarists with on a budget, leave a comment below! A big thank you goes to the followers of the Aquariadise Tumblr for sharing theirs.

Cover photo: Curso Aquascape by dguarch

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  • Reply Josh September 22, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Hi Mari! Great tips on keeping the fish costs down. We mentioned it in our recent article 🙂

    • Reply Mari September 24, 2015 at 9:34 am

      That’s great, thank you! Unfortunately I got an error trying to view the blog, though 🙁

  • Reply The 3 Biggest Threats to Fishkeeping | Swallow Aquatics Blog February 26, 2015 at 11:32 am

    […] as Mari at Aquariadise advises, there are ways to keep the costs of fishkeeping down. Mari advises adopting some of your fish, […]

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