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10 Ways to Save Money With Your Aquarium

Save Money on Your Salwater, From Setup, to Livestock to Long Term Expenses

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As hobbies go, saltwater aquariums are not the cheapest way to go. The initial equipment costs a lot of money, as do the fish, invertebrates and corals. Here are some ways that you can save money on your saltwater aquarium hobby, from initial setup to buying equipment, livestock to ongoing expenses.

Here are 10 ways to save money with your aquarium. Most of them are pretty common sense, some of them might surprise you.

Fish Compatibility

Something that every aquarist should already understand: Don't buy fish or invertebrates which are not compatible with what's already in your tank (Something will die).

Some critters just don't play well together. Not in the wild, not in your tank. That cute little Triggerfish in the LFS's tank will eventually grow up to eat all of the snails and hermit crabs in your tank. Do the research before you buy.

Buying Livestock

Bar Chaim's Blueface Angelfish
Photo by Bar Chaim

It just seems like common sense: Don't buy sick livestock (anything less that perfect). It will probably die.

Even if the LFS guy (or gal) tells you "it will probably be O.K." and offers you 10% off that Yellow Tang that has signs of ich, burnt fins and cloudy eyes, don't buy it! If it was "probably going to O.K.", the LFS would hang onto it, heal it up and sell it for full price.

If you take a sick fish home, you are just inserting another problem into your tank or you will have to quarantine the problem and heal it until you can put it into you main tank.

Trust me, even if you feel sorry for the fish, it just isn't worth it. Even if it lives, you saved, what, 10%? If it dies (which it probably will) you are out all that money.

Knowing What to Look For when purchasing livestock can save you a lot of money.

Buying Corals

Pink Mushroom Leather Coral
Photo By Phyllis Daniels

Don't buy corals that are above your experience level. It is easy to spend a small fortune on even just a few corals. Why buy something that that is beyond your current experience level? If you are just starting out, it is probably best to stay with Easy Corals until you gain the experience and confidence to move on to the more challenging corals. Do the research before you buy, take it slow and you will save a lot of money.

Buying Equipment

Photo by PriceGrabber

Buy quality equipment whenever possible. The cheap stuff is usually cheap for a reason (lower quality materials and construction). When you are just starting out in this hobby (or even if you have been in it for a while), the cost of almost everything can be jaw-dropping. The temptation is to save a few bucks and buy a cheaper piece of equipment. You might have to pay half again as much for a quality heater over the bottom line heater, but it will last 3 times as long.

Read product reviews before you buy. Learn from other peoples' mistakes/experience and you will save money in the long run.

Do-It-Yourself

Anthony Miralles' 18g Reef Tank
Photo by Anthony Miralles

If you want to save some serious money: Do-It-Yourself. Whether it is cleaning your own tank or building your own tank. It might seem like a lot of hassle, but building you own custom tank cabinet, your own custom tank or even assembling and installing a DIY Auto Top Off System not only saves some serious money, but it allows you to make your aquarium system "yours", with your own personal stamp on it.

Coral Frags

Red Mushroom Coral (Discosoma sp.) Image
Photo by Debbie Hauter

Remember that LFS guy that you bought that Red Mushroom Coral (the one that is spreading all over your tank) from a year ago? He would probably be more than happy to trade the individual corals back from you in exchange for cash (or more likely a store credit). That Colt Coral that is getting way too big for your tank? Take some cuttings from it and sell/trade those.


Make sure that you have a market (check with the LFS guy first)before you bag up the frags and hit the road. 5 bucks here, 10 bucks there adds up pretty fast.

Water Changes

Image by Getty

Instead of doing repetitive water changes to reduce nitrates, think about using the "Vodka (or ethanol) Method to Reduce Nitrates". A pint of cheap vodka (or a bottle of ethanol from your local drug store) costs less than sea salts and it is a lot easier to squirt 5 ml of vodka into your tank twice per week that it is to do a water change.

Shopping Online

Oceanic 29g BioCube HQI Aquarium System Image
Photo by PriceGrabber

When you have determined which fish, invertebrate, coral or piece of equipment you are going to buy, shop around. Whether it is Aquarium Equipment or Aquarium Products, if you are shopping online, don't forget to look at the shipping charges. Buying from your LFS might end up being cheaper.

LED's

Marineland Reef Capable LED Lighting System
Photo by PriceGrabber

For long term money saving, take a serious look at LED Lighting on Your Reef Tank. The initial outlay is more than "conventional lights", but the payback can be huge over time!

Take a few minutes to do the math to see how much you can save. For example: The Marineland Reef Capable LED Lighting System fixture (for a 48" - 60" tank) has a total of 48 1 watt 10000K LED's, plus 8 1 watt 460nm (blue) LEDs for a total of 56 watts. Compare that to what you have on your tank now and compute the electricity savings.

The LEDs will run for 50,000 hours before requiring replacement. The PC, HQI and fluorescent bulbs last about 1 year (4,380 hrs @ 12 hours per day). That is a 12 to 1 ratio. How much are you paying for bulb replacements, every year?

Compare Prices

Where Are the Really Good Deals?

Some fantastic deals on aquarium equipment and aquarium complete systems can be found at garage sales and in the classified ads in your local newspaper. You might have to patient, but there are people out there who just want to get rid of that aquarium that's been taking up room in the garage or back room for a long time.

People who are moving often don't want to hassle with moving a tank, also. Not long ago, I saw a 100g complete reef system sell for $100. Keep your eyes open.

Keep in mind that, when buying used equipment, there are usually no guarantees, so inspect used equipment carefully before purchasing.

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