What is the true cost to setting up an aquarium? Obviously no-one can accurately answer this, how long is a piece of string? BUT let’s make some assumptions and try and put a number (very roughly) on how much a fish tank could set you back.

  • We are going to assume that we own absolutely nothing for starting the tank.

  • We are going to assume we have a place to put the fish tank already so won’t require a stand.

  • We want a community tank that is lightly planted with real plants.

So now we have these assumptions out of the way let’s break down a list of all the required products we’ll need. We'll then look at some of the most important and big costs for starting an aquarium and how we can save some money. You’ve been warned.. Aquariums and fish keeping is not cheap!

Disclaimer: some of these prices are based on my own experience and you will definitely find different (better) prices out there.


Tank ($135) - 18 gallons is about as small as you’ll want to go for your first tank

Leveling Mat (free) - typically included

Hood (free - $10) - depends on the temperature and humidity of where you live. You may need a condensation lid.

Filter ($31.99) - a simple hang on the back filter will work really well in a basic setup

Light ($63.31) - lights aren’t cheap but it’s worth getting a good one so that your plants grow well and that you can see your fish properly

100W Heater ($26.51)

Substrate ($10-20) - if your focus is on plants then you should spend a bit more here

Test Strips ($10.59)

Thermometer ($7.95)

Algae Scrubber / Net ($14.99)

Food ($10)

Siphon ($7.99)

Decorations ($32.99 + $19.99)- both rocks and wood

Additives - ($15-20) water conditioner and starter bacteria

Plants ($30) - 6 plants at 5 dollars each should be enough to get started with a lightly planted tank

6 neon tetras ($18) prices from liveaquaria.com

6 harlequin rasboras ($24) prices from liveaquaria.com

4 corydoras ($20) prices from liveaquaria.com

Bucket ($4) trust me you’ll need one

Aquarium Safe Glue for decorations ($10)

Background (free - $10) - you can paint a background on if you want to save money


That comes to a whopping (worst case) grand total of $528.31!!

Eye watering isn’t it. And this is just for a fairly basic community aquarium.

Tips: let's see how we can save some money

You can see however that a large chunk of that money goes on just the tank and light.

Keep an eye out at your LFS (local fish store) to see if they have any deals on tank kits (an aquarium with all the equipment included). You can often save a lot of money by just being patient (but let’s be honest with ourselves no-one can ever wait that long). And the same goes for the decorations if you can source your own rocks and wood from nature then go for it, just make sure they’re thoroughly washed, cleaned and sterilised before you use them in your own miniature habitat.

Maintenance

It's also worth briefly discussing the cost of maintenance. The painful part will always be the setup but don't forget - a fish tank isn't something you just turn off at night.. electricity bills, while not huge for a small tank like this, will roughly cost about $50 a year to run. Your other costs will go into food, additives, fish medicine and liquid CO2, I typically top up all of this once every 3-6 months, also buying replacement sponges for my filter. You can expect this to cost an additional $50-100 max per year.

Conclusion

I don’t want this to put you off purchasing your first aquarium but it’s important to understand what you’re getting yourself in for. The best way to make this hobby affordable is to be resourceful, speak to friends and family and see what you can make do with until you can afford that big upgrade to your dream tank.

If you are one of the lucky ones who is planning that dream fish tank then check out our comprehensive checklist here