Owning a fish tank is high up on many people’s lists as a wanted pet… and for good reason. Most basic fish tanks are not only fairly simple to maintain, but studies have shown that watching an aquarium in action has very soothing effects on the mind. They’re great conversation starters, and they help boost knowledge and responsibility to people that have never had to care for an animal before.
But just as with any pet, having fish costs money. If you want to be a responsible fish parent, you’ll need to make sure you can provide a certain budget to mimic a natural, biological environment. So, what does a fish tank cost to maintain? It depends on a number of factors, including start up costs and ongoing maintenance. Read on to see how I’ve broken down these essentials along with some basic costs.
The Cost of Maintaining a Fish Tank
Start Up Costs
Sure, you can call it a day with your most basic fish bowl and a betta fish for $35-$75. Your ongoing cost will mostly be a small container of fish flakes ($5-$10) and water conditioner ($10-$15) every few months. But let’s consider that you’re wanting a more spacious, community-oriented tank. Then, your initial costs and continuing maintenance price will vary much more.
I’ve listed some essential tips on purchasing an aquarium kit in my article Finding the Best Aquarium Kit for Beginners, but for the most part, if you’re looking to have an all-inclusive starter pack that may help cut back on your initial costs then a kit may be the way to go. These vary greatly in price and are outlined in my article.
On the other hand, if you prefer to go independent and purchase the essentials separately, then we’ll consider a 25-30 gallon tank as a good starting off point. Some aquarists recommend not going any smaller as anything less than 15 gallons is considered unsuitable for a freshwater habitat community. If you don’t have a solid place to set your tank, then you’ll also need to consider a stand.
Here’s a break down of the most basic start up costs:
|Light & Hood||$30-$40|
|Ph/Ammonia Test Kit||$9|
|Plants – plastic or real||$25-$35|
|Algae Scraper/ Glass Cleaner||$7-$15|
Then Come the Fish
These could range from a $4 guppy to a $250 angelfish, unless you’re going for the rare breeds which could cost you in the thousands. But we’ll put bets on that you’re just looking for something visually appealing, low-maintenance, and cost-effective. You can expect to spend around $20 on top level fish, and the same for mid level fish and bottom dwellers.
Most aquarists highly recommend getting inexpensive fish at first to start cycling the tank, that way if they die before the tank is fully cycled, then you know you haven’t dropped tons of money on amazing fish. If they’re survivors, then it’s just meant to be!
Now that everything is hypothetically set up, you can consider the continuing maintenance costs.
The type of fish food you choose is dependent on your fish breeds. For example, if you have an aquarium with a variety of fish you may need to get a couple types of fish food. A typical sized container of fish flakes or pellets for tropical fish or goldfish can be around $10, or about $30-$40/year. And the same for Plecostomus or other bottom feeder disks.
If you have carnivores, then you’ll most likely need to pick up some frozen bloodworms, which if you feed a cube per day, you’ll be spending approximately $6-$15/month for these tasty morsels.
Chemicals & Test Kit
Whatever you do, don’t forget the chemicals. This includes water conditioner, ammonia neutralizer, and stabilizers. You can buy these separately or you can find kits that provide all or most of them. Per year, these can range about $50-$80 if you’re going for the whole lot. Some people just get by on water conditioner, but you’ll want to have other chemicals ready in case you have an ammonia spike or your pH suddenly goes off balance.
Of course, you won’t know if you have an issue with the water quality until your fish turn belly up, so having a test kit is an essential preventative. You can expect to spend anywhere from $15-$50 per year depending on the size of your tank and the type of test kit you choose to get.
Filters are an essential part of keeping the tank functioning by neutralizing ammonia and nitrates as well as removing contaminants and debris. The filter cartridges also act as a biological filtration system where healthy bacteria can grow and keep the tank healthy. It doesn’t last forever, though, so you you’ll need to have extra filter cartridges handy.
The most commonly used filter device is the external power filter that sits on the back of the tank, drawing water in and pumping it out through the replaceable cartridge. You can expect to pay around $40-$55/ year for the cartridges.
If you’ve noticed your fish seem a little “off” along with other symptoms such as open sores, red eyes or gills, bloated stomachs, or bulging eyes it’s crucial to your affected fish and the health of his fellow tankmates that you use fish medication. A bottle or two of medication can cost you about $20-$30 per year. I highly recommend keeping a bottle of Stress Coat and/or Melafix on hand, as these two products by API are well-known for preventing and treating minor fish afflictions.
Other things to consider
After covering the costs of all of the bare necessities to be a responsible fish parent, I hope I haven’t scared you off. If you have a few extra bucks to spend, or if you want to add some aquarium accessories to your running gift list, take a look at these nonessentials that may make your life a little bit easier and your tank more pleasing to the eye.
1. Automatic fish feeder
If you tend to go out of town a lot, are a workaholic, or want one less responsibility in the household, an automatic fish feeder is a clever investment. I go more in depth on the best automatic vacation feeders in my article here, but you can pick one up pretty easily between $21-$30, including a the app-controlled automatic fish feeder that’s even compatible with Alexa.
2. Sump Pump
If you have a very large tank, like 150-240 or more gallons, a sump pump (submersible pump) would be ideal for cleaning out your aquarium. Instead of using a gravel vacuum, which would take you ages in a tank this size, the sump pump does it all for you without having to dump the water bucket nearly 50 times. Although very convenient, they’re cost is a little on the hefty mark, asking around $100 or more for the pump and tubing. You can read more on sumps and sump pumps here.
Décor (Driftwood/Rocks, Etc.)
Decorating your tank is one probably one of the funnest parts of being an aquarist. There are so many different routes you can take with this. If you want a more natural approach, you can check out the types of aquarium driftwood, which also lists the best and most affordable ones on the market.
If you opted in for live plants in your aquarium, then you will most likely benefit from not only a good lighting system, but some plant fertilizer as well. Since these are to help your live plants stay alive and healthy, it’s recommended to go for the gold and purchase a high quality fertilizer. Two highly recommended brands are Seachem Flourish and API Leaf Zone.
Many people say they notice positive results in just a few short days. You can buy different sized bottles from $7 to $22, and most basic tanks require only a capful per 10-20 gallons during major water changes.
Last but not least: your electric bill
This is one of the last things people think about when wondering how a fish tank costs to maintain… the electric bill. If you want to really know your budget, you’ll need to know how much wattage each piece of your equipment has, which you can find on the package.
Canstarblue.com.au has a great break down of power usages for the most standard-sized aquariums. The electricity costs will vary from country to country. But you can work it out by finding out how much the average US kWh rate is.
So, for example, if you want to find out how much electricity your filter will cost, you will multiply that watts (20w for the filter) by how many hours in a day it will be running (24h) and then multiply by 365 days of the year. Then you will divide that by 1,000 to get the kWh.
Bear with me. Here’s what it looks like:
20w x 24h x 365d = 175,200
175,200 1,000 = 175.2kWh
Then to find out how much it will cost, let’s pretend your US kWh rate is 11 cents. You will multiply this by the kWh:
$.11 x 175.2kWh = $19.27
Therefore, in this example your filter will cost $19.27 from your electric bill each year. Not too shabby.
To get a full cost reflection, you will need to do these steps for each of your aquarium pieces.
I haven’t scared you off yet, have I? Good. Having an aquarium is worth every penny, but you have to remember that you’re not only caring for live animals but you’re also attempting to mimic their habitat in a glass box. Hopefully this article helps to answer your question on how much it costs to maintain a fish tank.