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Aquariums are an epic hobby (especially when you throw plants in the mix), but they've understandably earned a reputation for being too expensive.
And that reputation is partially well-earned, especially if you have multiple tanks, uncommon fish species, are just starting out with no equipment, need good plant lights, etc. That said, there are ways to cut costs without sacrificing on your tank. Check 'em out:
1. Do your research to set up a balanced aquarium
A healthy aquarium is lower-maintenance and will have fewer maintenance costs long-term as result.
2. Buy used fish tanks/equipment
As long as you do this right, this is a fantastic way to cut costs when setting up a new tank.
For tips and tricks on buying used fish tanks, check out our other blog on it!
3. Stock with easy species
Beginner-friendly plants and fish don't cost as much to maintain. Easy plants that don't need as many nutrients or as much light can save you money on fertilizers, CO2 systems, and growing lights. You can also get fish that are a) easy to care for and b) are easy on your plants.
We have a couple more detailed blog posts for ya if you're not sure what plants to try:
- EXTREME aquarium plants - plants that can survive in very low light, high temps, low temps, and everything in between
- Plant options for a low-tech tank
- Easy plant species that can survive destructive fish like cichlids
4. Related to #3, learn how to propagate aquarium plants
I think folks hear the word "propagate" and conjure up images of some complicated scientific process, but it's surprisingly easy for many popular species. If you buy a tank and want to fill it with plants, costs can add up quickly. But if you buy 1-2 of each plant and propagate the rest, you can save a lot of money.
The downsides to this are it doesn't always work if you're new at it (or even experienced at it, sometimes), and it does take more time than simply buying an adult plant.
A banana plant (Nymphoides aquatica) is one of the easiest species to propagate.
5. Make friends with other hobbyists
I've gotten some of my best equipment and fish from other fish tank people. You can find some amazing deals in online aquarium groups/forums, at swap meets and club meetings, or at aquarium conventions.
6. Realize you don't have to get everything at a pet store
A lot of great equipment for your tanks doesn't have to be made specifically for an aquarium. A sturdy table, shelf, or even entertainment system can hold your tank just as well as an aquarium stand, provided it can handle the weight of a filled tank.
Though a local fish store is obviously a fantastic place to get substrate, you can also use sand, dirt, and stones (depending on the type/prep and your tank stock) from potentially cheaper sources.
7. Learn about cheap and easy alternatives for some equipment/accessories
8. You can sometimes adopt animals and aquarium plantsWhether it's folks leaving the hobby or an aquarist who simply wants a different fish, there is always someone trying to rehome aquatic animals/plants - usually for much cheaper than average market value. There are also rescues scattered across the world for every species you can think of.
This has huge pros and cons for you. The obvious advantage is cheaper stock for your tank and the chance to give an unwanted animal or plant a good home. It also sometimes leads to getting entire aquarium setups cheaply if the previous owner sends it with the fish. Additionally, you can often find crazy cool species that are harder to find in stores.
That said, you can run into several problems doing this. The biggest issue is scams, intentional or unintentional. There are fraudulent sellers online, but in this hobby, you more often run into folks who think they have one thing and it turns out to be something else when you go to buy it (e.g. the previous owner misdentified species, etc.).
The other major problem is the health and history of the plants and animals you're looking at. Unless you have records from a reputable source, you have no idea about:
- How old the animal is
- Whether the previous owner is being truthful about the fish or plant's health (or lack thereof)
- How they were bred/kept previously and how that might affect them moving forward
If you go this route, enjoy, but proceed with caution and make sure you quarantine and know who you're buying from.
9. Timers are your friend
Light timers are a great way to cut down on unnecessary electricity usage and to prevent problematic excess light.
10. Look into kits/bundles
If you're a total beginner or only want a small, low-tech setup, there are also starter kits that come with the tank, filters, lights, etc. Because they're bundled together, you usually wind up saving money.
The only problem with these is the equipment is fairly basic, and the kit may not have exactly what you need depending on what your goals are. They also typically don't come in tank sizes larger than around 55 gallons, averaging at around 10-20 gallons. So if you want a bigger tank, it's harder to find a bundle deal.
Of course, there's also good ol' DIY. If you're comfortable, smaller tanks aren't too hard to build, or you can try repairing a free cracked or broken tank.
There are also a million different ways to do DIY grow lights, filters, and more.
12. Find ways to make your home (and tank) more energy- efficient
Aquarium-keeping (especially if you have multiple tanks) can use a fair amount of water and electricity. With heaters, filters, air pumps, and lights, you have a lot of electrical components running 24/7. Making your home more eco-friendly and energy efficient can save you cash long-term in many ways.
You can also set up your tank more strategically to cut down on costs. If you put it in a location with steady temperature, your heater doesn't have to work as much. You can also stock it with fish and plant species that work with your tap water chemistry instead of having to treat the water with more than dechlorinator (e.g. I live in a place with very hard water, which doesn't suit all species).
If you're looking for a grow light, you can also choose more energy-efficient varieties like LED's over fluorescent bulbs (just know there are advantages and disadvantages to each).
13. Have good backup/emergency plans in place
Cracked tanks, malfunctioning equipment, and poor cord/water management can lead to ridiculously expensive home repairs if your tank leaks or causes a fire. And you run into additional expense if something goes wrong and you need to replace stock in your tank.
Knowing what steps to take in the event of a power/equipment failure, natural disaster, and so on can really help you out. Do you know what to do in a fish tank emergency? Find out with a quick read of our blog on it!
14. Wait for recurring sales
Several stores (big chain or local) have regular sales throughout the year. PetCo had the famous $1 per gallon sale where you could get larger tanks for a steal. Many local fish stores have recurring sales throughout the year, too. And online sellers (including Dustin's Fishtanks) will often have coupons and deals, like what we do with "Plant of the Week."
And of course, there's the ever-insane Black Friday/Cyber Monday, if you're feeling brave.
Spend smart on those planted tanks, and tank on!
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- Tags: aquarium, aquarium fish tip. Fishtank tips, Aquarium Maintenance, Aquarium Plant Propagation, Aquarium Tip and Tricks, Aquariums on a budget, blog, Cheap aquarium lighting, Planted tank, Planted Tank Startup, Rehabbing Old Fish Tanks, The Planted Tank