Aquarium Keeping on a Budget
Keeping freshwater or saltwater fish can become incredibly expensive. Not all of us have hundreds to thousands of dollars to spend on aquariums, equipment and livestock. College students can be especially strapped for cash while still wanting to enjoy having a fishkeeping hobby. Luckily, you do not have to have an incredible amount of cash for this hobby. As long as you realize you may have to settle for a 5, 10 or 20 gallon fish tank, you can create great aquariums on a budget! There are plenty of tips, tricks and “hacks” in this hobby to save money when you’re on a budget. This article will cover some ways that you can save money but still enjoy aspects of this hobby.
1. Freshwater vs. Saltwater Fish Tanks
I’ll start by saying, if you are not very experienced and/or also on a budget, avoid setting up saltwater a fish tank. They can become very expensive and they’re definitely not as forgiving as a freshwater aquarium. You will need to purchase items such as marine salt, refractometers, live rock, and much more, which increases the cost by a lot. Saltwater aquariums become even harder to maintain successfully if you’re working with a small aquarium. It’s best to start with a freshwater fish tank to get your toes wet, and grow into setting up saltwater once experience is gained and you have a larger budget.
2. Utilize Aquarium Sales & Buying Used Fish Tanks
You can often snag aquariums on sale at Petco if you’re looking to setup a fish tank for your dorm, apartment or home. Petco has $1 per gallon sales from time to time for many different fish tanks. You will more than likely have to purchase the aquarium in person during these sales and supply can become limited. Regardless, it’s a pretty sweet deal if you can buy a 20 gallon fish tank for 20$.
Purchasing Aquariums Online
You can also purchase used aquariums from sellers who are getting out of the hobby, upgrading their setups, or getting rid of unwanted fish tanks. I am always a little hesitant when purchasing used aquariums because you never really know what you’re getting from sellers. All we can do is hope they’re being honest about what they’re selling. If you’re a risk taker, you can always go online and try to snatch a deal on Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, Craigslist and other websites/apps. I would highly recommend conducting a leak test if you go this route.
Conducting a Water Leak Test for Your Fish Tank
You can conduct a leak test in a few different ways. Physically inspect the silicone to guarantee there is no damage or peeling before starting. Next, you can fill the fish tank halfway with water. Wait a day, if you do not see any leaks add water to reach 75% capacity and wait another day. After that, raise it one more time until it reaches 100% capacity. I would wait at least 2 days at this capacity to see what the aquarium does. If you do not see any leaks or bowing of the glass you should be good to go.
The other way is fairly similar to the first method except we will skip a few steps. I would still inspect the silicone before starting but in this method we will simply fill the aquarium with water until it becomes 100% full. Let the fish tank sit like that for at least 4 days and inspect it from time to time for leakage. If there are no leaks, you should be ok to use the aquarium. If there are leaks, you can attempt to scrape and re-silicone the edges, but that’s an endeavor when you’re on a budget.
3. Setup a Jarrarium
Jarrariums are fantastic for someone who is on a strict budget. Most of us have a vase or empty jar laying around to create a jarrarium. If not, you more than likely have a thrift store or craft store near you that has both jars and vases to use for a jarrarium. There are two types of jarrariums. An open top or closed jarrarium. I will go into the details of each below. Both can be setup and kept successfully with minimal expenses.
Open Top Jarrarium
This type of jarrarium (like the name suggests) has an open top. This allows you to get into it to trim plants, do water changes, and more. Here is a setup guide for an open top Jarrarium. An open top jarrarium will require a little more work around it because water will evaporate overtime. You may be able to keep snails in this setup. It is not really suitable for fish or shrimp unless it is 5 gallons or larger. You can make a jarrarium as simple as elaborate as you would like.
A closed jarrarium can probably be one of the best things to keep when you’re on a tight budget. All you really need is a jar that has a lid. The only other step to take is to go to your nearest creek, stream, river or pond and take a scoop of water from it. Added bonus if you get some dirt, plant matter, and muck. Now simply close it up and put the jar somewhere with indirect sunlight. Once the muck inside settles and clears you will see different critters grow and move around overtime. These jars are fun to care for and are incredibly informational. They help show what lives in our waterways.
4. Equipment on Sale
You can purchase equipment such as filters and lights at stores, online, or from sellers trying to get rid of their aquarium equipment. Lights are easy to test if you meet with a seller who is trying to get rid of them but filtration systems may not be as easy. Being patient when shopping around is key. I personally would not recommend purchasing heaters secondhand. They are an equipment that can become faulty overtime, so I would purchase a brand new one. If you need guidance on heater systems, check out this article that discusses some of the best heaters for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums.
5. Equipment on a Budget
I am personally always window shopping for cool new equipment to use for my fish tanks. Unfortunately, I am not made of money so I cannot buy the nicest and feature rich pieces of equipment. In this hobby, great deals pop up from time to time. but there are alternatives to certain equipment for sale if you’re ok with not having the fanciest and the best.
Aquarium lights are important but you may not need to spend 100$+ on your aquarium light. Depending on the size of your fish tank and overall needs, you may be able to settle for a budget light. One that comes to mind that I personally use is the NICREW SkyLED Plus Aquarium Light. It doesn’t come with all of the bells and whistles some other lights may have, but it gets the job done. I like using this lights simple controller and it has a very nice low profile. Follow the link above to check the product out.
If you want to setup a jarrarium and a standard aquarium light won’t fit above it, why not “create” your own. You may even have some of the materials needed to build a light fixture for an aquarium. I have used something similar to a Tight Grip Clamp Lamp Light combined with a bulb from the Sunco Lighting 4 pack and made a light feature for a jar of mine. I would recommend taking a walk through your hardware store, where you might find these or something similar for cheaper.
Filtration on a Budget
Filtration systems for smaller fish tanks are not incredibly expensive. I personally would recommend using either a power filter or a sponge filter for your small fish tank. However, if you have an oddly shaped jar or vase you are using for a jarrarium, you may be limited to only using a sponge filter. If you’re looking for information on power filters, check out this article that talks about some of the best power filters for freshwater fish tanks. You can also learn or get a refresher on how to use a sponge filter. Both filter systems are incredibly easy to setup, maintain, and excellent for smaller budgets.
6. Aquarium Supplies on a Budget
There are hundreds of different types of supplies available for freshwater and saltwater aquariums. Some of them like de-chlorinators, fish nets, and fish food are very important. However, there are certain supplies we may be able to swap or replace altogether with something cheaper. The following section will discuss a few different supplies that have alternatives for someone on a budget.
Algae Scrapers and Glass Cleaners
You will often see aquarium hobbyists using magnetic glass cleaners and algae scrapers. Smaller ones are not incredibly expensive. but we can make the money go a little bit further by picking up Multi Functional Magic Sponge Erasers. These sponges are great for cleaning aquarium glass! Do NOT add any soaps or cleaning solutions if you’re using these sponges for your aquarium. A 50 pack will go a long way and you can also use some to clean around your house, dorm or apartment!
There are manual algae scrapers you can purchase to clean the glass in your fish tank. An easy way you might be able to save a few bucks is to use an old gift card instead. It’s made of plastic so it shouldn’t scratch your glass, and you probably have one sitting in your wallet that has no funds.
Aquarium Decorations & Substrate
Buying brand new aquarium decorations and substrate can become very expensive. If you’re not very picky about the specifics of your fish tank, consider looking on Craigslist, Reddit, Facebook Marketplace, or OfferUp for decorations and substrate. Reddit has a sub-reddit devoted to people selling and giving away all things for fish tanks. There are countless amounts of people getting out of the hobby or getting rid of old decorations, substrate and equipment. Why not capitalize on that and get yourself stuff for your fish tank, for cheap.
I would highly recommend cleaning everything you purchase that is used. Do not use cleaning solutions for anything that goes into your aquarium. I would clean decorations in a bucket with water and either vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Be sure to give it a thorough rinse with water afterwards. I would also put used substrate into a bucket, add water, churn the substrate, drain the water, and then repeat 3-4 times. This will help get rid of a lot of built up gunk.
There are definitely more things out there that can be done to save a few dollars here and there when getting into this hobby. I wanted to name a few that are no-brainers or that can be easily achieved. If this is your first time considering getting into this hobby, do your research and plan before jumping in. It can save you plenty of cash in the long run.