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Is Fish Keeping An Expensive Hobby To Start?




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Fishkeeping is a hobby that can be as expensive or cheap as you want it to be. You can choose to start with a small tank at a low cost or go all out with a 240-gallon marine tank and spend several thousands.

Typically, the start-up costs of fish keeping are relatively high. You will need to buy a whole host of things like a tank, plants, chemicals, filter, substrate, heater, and water conditioner. After the initial startup cost, there will be a weekly cost for food and maintenance. Not to mention purchasing new fish. Saltwater aquariums are by far the most expensive.

You only need to buy some of these items once, while others will take a while before you can repurchase them.

Thankfully there are ways to drive down the initial setup costs. Let’s look at how you can keep your costs as minimal as possible.

fishkeeping hobby

Fishkeeping Start-Up Costs

The exact initial fishkeeping cost will depend on various factors. Some include:

  • Where you live (the cost of electricity)
  • How many fish you want 
  • The available space
  • The choice between freshwater or saltwater fish

You will also have to take into consideration the maintenance costs of running your aquarium. 

You have two options of buying fish keeping equipment. One option is to get a starter kit that includes all the basics you need.

The starter pack is usually the cheaper option; it will cost a few hundred dollars. 

Alternatively, you can opt for a more customized aquarium.


With this option, you buy everything you need individually and design the tank to your satisfaction.

Creating your tank allows you to buy only the best quality equipment ensuring your aquarium lasts longer ( and costs you less in repairs).

You can set up a freshwater aquarium for about  $500 ( best case scenario $300). To get started, you will need a lot of equipment. But the most necessary include:

  • Aquarium roughly $100
  • A stand which costs about  $90
  • Filter  and cartridges for $40 
  • Lighting which costs close to $40
  • Heater for about $20

And that’s before you buy the fish, food, and lots of other sundries.

Bottom line, you need to make a substantial investment to get a good quality aquarium and equipment that will last the long haul. 

Should I Buy A Kit Or DIY?

The choice is entirely yours; choosing a DIY kit will be cheaper but may not serve you well in the long run.

A self-assembled kit will be of higher quality and gives you more flexibility to customize the aquarium – though this will be more expensive.

Tetra Aquarium 20 Gallon Fish Tank Kit
  • Tetra Glass Aquariums are made in the USA and are built to last with scratch resistant glass
  • The Tetra Aquarium comes loaded with an LED hood, that provides a natural daytime effect and a Whisper Filter that is whisper quiet while providing powerful, dependable water flow
  • Artificial Plants add a unique, natural ocean feel while giving your fish a place to hide which reduces fish stress
  • The Tetra Kit includes: one 20 Gallon Glass Aquarium, one LED hood, one Tetra Mini UL Heater, one Tetra Whisper 20 Filter, one artificial Boxwood Plant Mat, four artificial plants. Add gravel and fish to complete your aquarium
  • Aquarium Dimensions: 24.2″ L x 12.4″ W x 16.7″ H

Saltwater or Freshwater? Which one is more expensive?

It’s cheaper to set up a freshwater fish tank than a saltwater tank.

It could cost upwards of $1000 to set up a saltwater tank compared to the freshwater tank, which costs about half that amount.

When it comes to long-term maintenance, the costs are not significantly different. 

As a beginner, freshwater tanks will be kinder on your pocket. Apart from that, it’s a better beginner-friendly option. Here’s why.

  • Freshwater fish are more resilient. They respond well to different climatic conditions and are usually more adaptive. This means that it will be less rigorous when it comes to maintaining the water pH or temperature. Saltwater fish, on the other hand, can be more delicate and need more maintenance. 
  • Saltwater tanks are more specialized and need more initial tests and equipment than the freshwater kind. 

Fishkeeping On A Budget

The cost of starting shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a fulfilling hobby. Here are some tips for fish keeping on a budget. 

Buy preloved equipment

Buying a used aquarium, filters, and other trinkets will cost you a lot less than a new one. 

You just have to ensure it’s still in good working condition.

A good rule of thumb is to test it before you make your purchase. You can get good used tanks from people who are moving or other hobbyists who want out. 

Another option is to buy from markets like eBay or Craigslist.

If the seller has leftover food and other consumables, you can negotiate for that too. 

Adopt fish

A cheaper way to get some fish for your aquarium is to adopt a few from other fishkeepers.

There’s always someone who has a little more than they can handle.

You can get these for free. Apart from being a cheap way to get started, you’ll be giving these fish a new home. 

There are a few places where you can adopt a fish like the Ohio fish rescue centre.

Save on electricity

Use LED  bulbs to save on the cost of electricity. These bulbs are considerably more expensive when you buy them the first time, but they’ll save you more in the long run. 

Another significant saving you can make on heating is if you lower the temperature.

You can’t completely go without a heater since you need it to control temperature fluctuations.

But you can run it at a low temperature. Lowering the temperature works best if you have fish that thrive better in colder climates. 


Fishkeeping is quite expensive as a hobby. Unless you buy the starter pack, you will need upwards of $500 to get a freshwater tank running, even more, if you opt for the saltwater kind.

To keep your costs low, use some of the above tips to find bargains so you can get started. 

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