Tropical fishkeeping on a budget
While aquarists far and wide agree that fishkeeping is a fascinating hobby and trade, it can easily become an expensive one as well. The staggering number of new products always being released is enough to make anyone believe that an aquarium is a major investment. However, if you keep things simple and aren’t afraid of a little bit of DIY work, you can enjoy an amazing fish tank without breaking the bank in the process.
There are two major elements to keeping a tropical tank on a budget: reducing your start-up costs and keeping your tank maintenance low-cost. Making the correct choices in both aspects will ensure that you end up saving significant sums of money in the long run.
Reducing start-up costs
The first opportunities to save money come when you begin collecting supplies to set up your fish tank. Depending on what products you buy and the sources from which you buy them, you can end up earning yourself substantial savings, or spending an unnecessary fortune.
Naturally, getting a smaller tank will decrease all of the associated costs that you will have to deal with afterwards. However, small tanks can be difficult to properly take care of, so you are encouraged to choose a small tank only if you feel like you have enough experience to make it a success, especially if you are on a budget.
Some of the best deals for aquarium equipment can be found through second-hand sources such as classifieds sections and fishkeeping forums. Buying second-hand equipment can vastly reduce your start-up costs, but must be done carefully. Everything has a shelf life, and you can expect to replace used equipment more frequently than you would if it was new.
Creatively sourcing your aquarium supplies can help you save in many ways. For example, you could forego using expensive substrates like black Tahitian moon sand and instead opt for pool filter sand that, while not specifically made for aquarium use, is cheap, clean, and natural enough to use on a budget without risking the health of your fish or affecting your filtration.
Sometimes people will give away a leaky aquarium that is otherwise sound. Such an aquarium can be repaired for just the price of a tube of silicone and a bottle of nail varnish remover. Use a blade to remove the old silicone from the inside of the aquarium. Thoroughly clean the joints. Then spread a thin bead of silicone and reseal the tank. Use a finger along the seam to smooth the silicone and voila a new tank. You can also re-seal any tank that springs a leak.
Another great way to save money on your start-up costs is by making your aquarium setup a DIY project. Many common aquarium appliances can be made using various household and workshop items:
- Sponge Filters – If you buy a simple power head and a brick of filter sponge, you can use a plastic tube to connect the inlet of a power head with the other end of the tube inserted into the sponge. Point the outlet towards the surface of the water and you have a surprisingly good filter at a fraction of the cost.
- Sumps and refugiums – Ambitious DIY aquarists can build their own sump with relative ease. If you have spare tank handy and don’t mind doing a small bit of plumbing work, you can enjoy the benefits of a sump without having to pay for one! This is a great option for tanks that are damaged or scratched.
- Aquarium stands – You can use a solid piece of furniture to place your aquarium on. A table of exactly the right size can be purchased and used. These can be bought second hand and used. Make sure that they are sturdy and level and support the whole of the aquarium base. If needs be place a solid sheet of wood on the base to support the aquarium.
Aquarium lids – This is an ideal DIY project. If you have some DIY ability this is an ideal first project that will not be costly if you make a mistake. Materials can be bought from your local DIY store. You can also improve your design over time.
Collecting your aquascape decorations locally is another way to save some cash on your setup. Why pay for exotic Amazon driftwood to be delivered to your door if you have a river or a forest nearby? With a little bit of time, some careful selection, and a thorough cleaning and soaking, you can get your entire tank’s decoration done for free. Rocks and stones can be collected in the same way.
Making choices that save money over time
There are lots of ways that you can enjoy tropical fishkeeping on a budget, and a great deal of them rely on reducing the long-term costs of keeping a tank. Putting any of these cost-saving measures into practice with your tropical fish tank will ensure that you keep your expenses low.
- Make your tank plantless—Live plants are wonderful additions to tropical tanks, but they need lots of light and those lights need lots of energy to run. If you want to save money in the long run, you might want to leave the plants behind.
- Use low-maintenance, low light plant varieties and keep them nourished with inexpensive LED lights whenever possible. Incandescent and halide lamps can get costly over time. Buy a few easy varieties that grow fast.
- Do your own repairs. Most filters have repair kits that are used to replace parts that wear out. The kits are a fraction of the price of a new filter.
- Condition your water slowly—If you want to avoid conditioning your local tap water with expensive chemical products, let the chlorine naturally evaporate before using it in your tank. You can even try collecting rainwater if your tap water is too hard.
- Grow your own live food—Fish food is a constant cost that continually adds up over time. If you choose instead to invest some energy in cultivating brine shrimp or daphnia or digging worms from the garden, you can enjoy an effectively unlimited supply of high quality live fish food.
- Make your own dried fish food – There are many fish food recipes based on prawns, spirulina or spinach, flour, eggs, fish and other ingredients mixed in with multivitamins. The recipe is blended together then baked on a low heat to dry. The result can be broken into small pieces and frozen.
- Insulate your aquarium – Heat loss can result in additional energy costs and make your heater work harder, wearing it down faster in the process. Insulating your aquarium to minimize heat loss will save you money over time—even if it is only partial insulation.
- Set up a low maintenance Walsted aquarium.
- Set up a temperate aquarium without a heater.
- Stock your aquarium by breeding your own fish. To obtain different species just advertise and swap your excess brood. It may take some time, but you will obtain the variety of fish that you want for just the price of the initial adults.
- Buy young fish and grow them to the size you want. Adults are more expensive to buy and won’t adapt to your aquarium as well as young fish.
Common cost-saving mistakes
Some beginning aquarists, in an attempt to save cut corners and save money, make a number of grave mistakes that can end up costing them the entire aquarium if left unchecked. A few examples of these are listed below:
- Buying cheap low quality equipment such as heaters, filters and lighting is a bad mistake. A heater that fails can chill your fish or even get stuck and cook them! A filter that fails will pollute your water.
- Using sunlight to light your aquarium—A tropical aquarium needs both heat and light, so placing your aquarium in direct sunlight seems like the perfect cost-saving solution right? Not quite! Rather than killing two birds with one stone, this will probably kill your aquarium population by causing an uncontrollable algae bloom.
- If you don’t buy a heater, tropical fish will slowly die of cold at night or in winter.
- Insufficient Filtration – Yes, larger filters tend to cost more, but it is always better to err on the safe side and go for a larger filter than to find yourself suffering from insufficient filtration.
- Not testing the water—Water testing kits are not the kind of product that you want to skip out on in order to save some cash, even if you are an experienced aquarist. Be sure you know your water’s ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels, as well as its hardness and pH before you start adding fish.
- Do not try to repair a tank with a cracked glass. Finding and fitting a new pane of glass is as difficult and costly as buying a new or second aquarium.
- Buying cheap fish that are unhealthy. By all means shop around and see if someone is giving away fish or selling at a low price. But always make sure that the fish you are buying are healthy and the other seller’s fish are also healthy. Sick fish don’t just die they also pass illnesses to your other fish.
If you avoid these three common pitfalls and follow the guidelines set out above, you should be able to enjoy significant savings on your tropical fish tank. If you get lucky enough to find good deals on your tank’s necessities, you can end up with a beautiful aquarium at a fraction of the price it looks like it cost!