The Cost of Keeping Fish (Every Cent Counted)


When I first started with fish keeping it was hard to get a grip on what everything will cost in the beginning and every month. So I decided to make a bit of research of what the cost really is to keep fish, to the cent.

What is the cost of keeing fish? The cost of starting a fish tank is $474.82-$760.69 and the monthly cost is $25.10-$35.98. The price depends on where you live, size of the fish tank, types of fish and the products you are getting for your fish and fish tank.

There is more than you actually think that should be counted in the cost of a fish tank. Some things are a necessity and others are just good to have. And the math is not always easy to do.

What Is It That Costs?

Starting Cost
Necessay (Optional)
Monthly Cost
Necessary (Optional)
Monthly Cost the Fish Tank Lifespan
Necessary (Optional)
Fish Tank$199
($206.71)
$10.98$11.39
($11.41)
Furnishing$74.28
($130.95 Gravel, $227.42 Sand)
$0.15
Material$51.20
($71.28)
$9.81$9.92
Fish$22.69$0.95
Plants$53.91
($71.46)
($3.73)$0.11
($3.88)
Food$20.36
($31.11)
$1.70
($5.28)
$1.72
($5.34)
Water$0.08$0.06$0.06
Water Test$24.79$0.99$1.04
Medicine$27.88$0.06
Shrimp and Snails($27.92)($0.73)($0.79)
Energy$0.63$1.56
($4.40)
$1.56
($4.40)
Other($48.97)($0.10)
Total Cost$474.82
($760.94)
$25.1
($35.98)
$26.96
($38.10)

It is impossible to tell how much a fish tank exactly costs. There is a lot to consider. It all depends on where you live and what stores are available for you.

In this article, I will try to straighten any question marks out by trying to find out every little expense that is easy to miss. I will explain every expense in dollar, and you are free to translate it to your currency to get a better sense of how much starting, and keeping, a fish tank will cost you. Initially and monthly but also how much it will cost you per month during the lifespan of a fish tank.

I have not tested all the products I am doing my examples of. I try to behave like a normal consumer while counting on prices and I will use the mean price in the USA when needed just to get as accurate as possible with the prices. The products that I actually recommend are on my recommended page. The price will differ if you choose to go with these products but I guarantee that the recommended products are worth buying. The prices in this article are correct at the time of writing.

I chosed to categorize the different expenses to get a bigger picture of where the costs are going.

First Things First – The Fish Tank

At first, you need a vessel to keep your fish in. That is the fish tank itself. And fish tanks come in all different sizes and shapes and it is quite difficult to switch tanks so you must choose the right one.

The right fish tank is a fish tank that is not too small nor too large. A small fish tank makes it difficult to have a balance in the water parameters and too large makes it take up too much space and needs a lot of furnishing and plants. Also a lot of fish. A larger fish tank makes it easier to keep a balance in the parameters though.

A fishbowl is not recommended since it is hard to get a good flow towards the bottom and the fish is suffering inside the small space. I would not recommend (although it is possible and cheaper) buying a used fish tank. You never know what the tank has gone through and there is a risk of it cracking and causing an expensive mess in the end.

The size I recommend for beginners and is what I started with, is 55 gallons (200 liters). It is easy to get a balance in the tank and is a nice size for furniture and also does not take up too much space.

As stated before these tanks come in a lot of shapes but I found a good value in PetSmart’s Top Fin Essential fish tank. For $199 you get a lot of necessities included, such as the tank itself, LED-lamps, thermometer, filter, and heater.

All in all, the fish tank, is $199 and since it is a glass tank it should last a long time. A glass tank can last up to 40 years if nothing unpredictable happens to it and that boils down to $0.41/month for the entirety of the fish tank’s lifespan!

A table to put your fish tank on is also an expense. You probably have a table at home och could find one cheap. Be sure that the table can hold the weight of the fish tank filled with water and furniture!

What will probably break before the tank is the pump in the filter. A pump is lasting about 10-15 years and that means you will replace it during the life of the tank and a better alternative than the one included in the kit is Tetra’s Whisper EX70.

The EX70 is costing $28.43 which translates to $0.24/month for the filter.

A downside with this kit is that the lamp is not replaceable. Well, it is replaceable but you have to change the hood where the lamp is fitting which makes it more expensive than the alternative where you can change just the bulb.

The hood for the fish tank is costing $84.99 and should be replaced every year and that will be a continuous cost of $7/month. You could save a lot of money here by buying a fish tank that is a little more expensive, increasing the initial cost but lower the continuous cost.

In the filter, some cartridges should be changed every month. The role of these cartridges is to filter the water coming through the pump and the pump must be working. Otherwise, the pump could get damaged and if the pump is not working you could kill your whole fish tank!

I recommend you buy the cartridges in bulk to get a better price per piece. You can find a pack of 12 for the price of $47.78 which equals $3.98/month.

Something that is not crucial but good to have at home is silicone to fill in the edges of the fish tank. You do not need it straight away but silicone needs, in about 20-30 years, to be replaced. It is crucial to get silicone suitable for fish tanks. Other types of silicone could be damaging to the fish and living creatures in the fish tank.

You could also use silicone to fasten some furniture. But it is not necessary either. A tube of silicone is costing $7.71 and the cost per month will be $0.03 for the silicone.

Furniture

That was the fish tank itself, now to the furniture of the fish tank. You want to make the environment for the fishes as close as possible to the one they are living in their natural habitat.

First of all you something at the bottom, the substrate. There are mainly 2 different types of substrate to put in the fish tank, sand, and gravel. I would recommend gravel if you don’t have any bottom-dwellers that sives through the bottom. Then you need sand.

I would also recommend a darker bottom. That makes the fish more comfortable and they will have more vibrant colors.

How much substrate you need is up to you if you want “hills” at the bottom or if you just want a flat sand bed. The rule of thumb is that you need 1 pound of substrate per gallon in the tank (0.5 kg per 3.8 kg).

If you go for gravel, the price will be $4.99 per 5-pound bag (2.3 kg). You need 11 of these bags to follow the recommendation which adds up to $54.89 if we follow the rule of thumb.

With sand, it will cost a little bit more. A 5-pound bag of sand will cost you $13,76 and get the right amount will set you back $151,36.

The substrate will be a one-time cost since it will last the day your fish tank is breaking down. Rocks have survived as long as the planet has been around! If we calculate the monthly cost for the substrate during the lifetime of the fish tank it will cost you $0.11/month for gravel and $0.32/month for sand.

The next thing to buy is the background for the fish tank. It is not necessary to have it, you could go without it but I would say it is almost a necessity for a fish tank to have a background.

That’s because the fish in your tank will feel a lot more safe, knowing something is blocking the line of sight of a potential predator. Also, it will look a lot better with a background with a nice motive behind the fish tank than to see the wall behind.

The price of backgrounds could vary a lot. It all depends on the size of the background which is decided by the size of the fish tank. It also depends on the quality of the print of the background. Some want a nice quality print and others don’t. Personally, I would go for a somewhat nice print since it will be in the background with furniture in front of it so it will not be a focus point in the fish tank.

At the same time you don’t want the background to look too bad that it will affect the look of your fish tank.

The background is a one-time cost if you don’t want to change it later on. It will last with the fish tank. The size of the print is important. It is better to buy a little bigger background and cut it into shape than to buy too small.

A print that is fitting our fish tank is costing $19.39 which adds up to $0.04/month for the lifetime of the fish tank. To adhere the background to your fish tank you could use tape but it will not look as good as if you use a specific type of glue made for adhering backgrounds to fish tanks. That type of glue is costing $6.99 and is just needed for the background. So no continuous cost for the glue and it makes it cost $0.01/month.

Wood and stones to furniture the fish tank are optional but recommended. They provide hiding spots for the fish (and eventually the shrimps) and the wood and stones are also helping with regulating the pH of the water. This could be a big cost if you want a lot of exclusive stones and wood or if you want bigger pieces.

The wood and stones mustn’t be poisonous to the habitants of the tank. As wood, I would recommend driftwood which costs $22.99 for three different pieces. They will last practically forever and will therefore cost $0.05/month for 40 years.

The stones are the same thing as with wood. Stones have been around since the birth of earth and will be around forever so the stones you put in the fish tank should last forever if your water is not too acidic and the stones too alkaline. Then the stones will slowly dissolve.

Stones will cost you $26.69 ($0.06/month/40 years) for a set of six stones in different sizes and shapes. If you feel like saving some bucks you could get stones for free. I have an article going through everything in detail about how to get stones from outside into your fish tank safely.

You could also get plastic decorations for your fish tank. I have chosen not to include them. That is because it could cost from a couple of cents all the way up to a lot of dollars. I have also never put any plastic decorations in my fish tank. It is a matter of preference if you want them or not. They do not fulfill any requirements other than making the fish tank look as you want.

Living Creatures and Plants

Now that you have your fish tank and have decorated it nicely, you want to put in some living creatures and plants. That is the whole reason for having a fish tank, to have fish to take care of and look at.

As you might know, here is a category where the cost could run away towards infinity. The cost of fish and plants depends on how rare the species are, how big they are, and the amount that is needed.

We start with the plants. To get a nice look it is generally recommended to have some higher growing plants and some lower growing plants. You should get plants you like and are of the level of difficulty that you can handle.

Some plants are harder to take care of due to the level of light, nutrition, and more. For a beginner, you should get plants that are easy to maintain.

With this in mind, I chose the plants called Cryptocoryne, Java fern, and Vallisneria. All these plants are easy to maintain and are perfect for the beginner and not too expensive. Cryptocoryne costs $6.99/plant and I recommend getting at least 3 of them to fill out your fish tank. That adds up to $20.97 for Cryptocoryne.

The Java fern is a popular plant and is one of the plants I started with at the beginning of my fish tank journey that I’m on right now. Java fern goes for $4.99/plant and I recommend at least to buy 3. That is $14.97 for Java ferns.

The last plant I recommend is Vallisneria which also is a popular plant for beginners. They go for $5.99 per plant and the recommendation is to have 3 of these to fill out your 55-gallon fish tank. The price for the Vallisneria is $17.97. This makes the plants altogether add up to a total of $53.91 and should last the whole life of the fish tank if maintained correctly. The monthly costs during a 40 year period will then be $0.11/month.

It is possible to buy plants from other people and get them cheaper. These plants are so popular that it should not be any problems for you to find anyone selling these plants for cheaper. Be aware that you might get parasites and snail eggs to infest your fish tank if you go this route. You don’t know the quality of the plants either. The safest bet is to go with plants for retailers.

The plants will grow too and you will be able to sell plants for a small amount to others, thus lower your monthly cost slightly.

While it is not necessary for these plants that I have listed, some plants need fertilizer. Those plants are more advanced to handle. You could put fertilizer to every plant and if you are making a planted aquarium it probably is necessary for you to have some kind of fertilizer.

If you go for fertilizer it will cost you $17.55. The specific fertilizer I chose for this example is a 16 oz (4.7 dl) bottle and should be dosed with 0.17 oz/10 gallon weekly (5 ml/38 L). Since our tank is 55 gallons the weekly dose of the fertilizer should be 0.85 oz (25 ml) and that makes one bottle last 4.7 months. This will be a continuous cost of $3.73/month.

The price of fertilizer is rather high and most plants get sufficient nutrition from the fish in the tank. Would not recommend but is optional for more green and thriving plants.

Fish and Their Food

And now for the main attraction in most aquariums, the star of the show. Fish!

There are a lot of different species of fish to put in a fish tank. And, just as for plants, there is a big difference in price between different fish. It depends mainly on the rarity. Some fishes are easier to take care of than others. Some want to be alone, like bettas, and others need to be in a school like tetras.

While choosing fish, be sure the different species are possible to keep with each other. Some species are mean to others and could beat your other fish to death, while others are completely fine with sharing the same space with others.

Also, be sure that the fish you decide to put in the tank needs the same parameters as pH, temperature, and the hardness of the water.

When I say fish for a fish tank, most people will probably think of guppies, neon tetra, and ancistrus. These are easy to take care of and are all viable for a fish tank with easy maintenance. I would recommend beginning with easy fish that are not too expensive.

That is because if you do a mistake and the fish dies, it will not hurt as much replacing the fish. We all do mistakes in the beginning.

If you go for a betta, it is the only fish you should have (and only 1 of) because otherwise, the betta will probably beat your other fishes to death. The betta is a popular choice and is easy to maintain, also, they are beautiful to look at.

A betta goes for $3.29 to a lot for the most uncommon types of bettas.

To get your fish tank a little more lively I would recommend having more fish in such a large fish tank as 55 gallons. You should probably get a type of fish that needs to be in schools such as neon tetra and guppies. Guppies go for $2.99 per fish and you need to get a school of them. At least 5 but preferably more. 5 guppies add up to $14.95.

I started with gourami and neon tetra in the beginning. I also had otocinclus which are a little harder to keep but not too hard. I recommend you having gourami and neon tetras since they are fine to have in the same fish tank.

Blue gourami is selling for $2.79 but do not buy more than 2 since they could be mean to each other. 2 blue gouramis are costing you $5.58. Neon tetra is going for $1.99 each and you should get a school of 10. They will then cost you $19.90.

If you go for my recommendation the fish will initially cost you $22.69. How long you fish will live is hard to tell. There are factors as if they get sick and die from sickness, if you get a spike in temperature one summer which makes them die (it happened me one summer) and similar situations.

If nothing spectacular happens your fish should be able to live about 3 years. Gourami usually lives for 3-5 years and neon tetra lives for 2-3 years. They are not expensive to replace since the monthly cost for these fish $0.83/month during the lifespan of the fish tank.

Your fish needs food, just as much as you do.

Food is another expense while keeping fish. What food to keep is a whole topic for itself. Luckily for you, I have made a complete guide on how to choose the right food for your fish.

Most likely you will go get some flakes from the pet store. It is food but maybe not the best food for your fish. I will use this in the example and then the fish food will cost you $20.36 and last about a year before you have to refill it. How long the food is lasting depends on how much you feed your fish and how many fish you have.

If you have herbivores or bottom dwellers like Ancistrus you need something going down to the bottom of the fish tank not containing any meat such as shrimp. This type of food is usually wafers and I recommend the Hikari brand and their wafers will go for $10.75 and you should feed your fish with them once a week. This type is optional if you don’t have any bottom dwellers.

The food is a continuous cost and the flakes will cost you $1.70 per month while the wafers will cost $3.58 per month counting that one bag is lasting about 3 months. This also depends on how much you feed and how many fish you have.

Other Living Creatures

You could have more than just fish and plants in your fish tank. Other creatures you could have in your fish tank and might be beneficial for you are snails and shrimps.

They are not necessary but I would actually recommend you have snails in your fish tank since they break down the rest of the food and other stuff that gets accumulated at the bottom and not getting eaten by the fish. This stuff is a potential death trap for your fish and the snails are helping with cleaning this up.

You could get snails from the plants you put in the fish tank. Snails put their eggs everywhere and one favorite place to put them on is the bottom of the leaves. The problem is that you might get snails that you don’t want and they could be hard to get rid of since they are multiplying very quickly.

Some shrimps also cleans the fish tank but the main reason is to have something colorful in the fish tank.

The cost span of snails and shrimps is also big, just like the other things you put in your fish tank. The most common snail in a fish tank is the Inca snail, also called the Mystery snail. If you buy them I would recommend you buy 3 but you will probably get away with fewer. The snails will last you the entire life of the fish tank and are only an initial cost of $10.47 and $0.02/month for 40 years.

The most common shrimp is the Sherry shrimp to look at and Amano shrimp as a cleaner. They both costs $3.49 each but you have to get more of them then you need with snails since they does not reproduce as easily in a freshwater aquarium. I would say at least 5 is the amount you need.

5 shrimps will cost $17.45 initially. The shrimps will only live about 1-2 years before you have to replace them. That leads to a continuous cost of $0.73/month and the monthly cost for 40 years with the initial cost included is $0.77/month.

You don’t need any additional food for the shrimps and snails.

The Cost of Other Material

Most of the material we need is included in the kit we choose for the fish tank. The material you need to have are as follows:

  • Bucket
  • Net to pick up fish
  • Siphon
  • Thermometer
  • Filter (and pump)
  • Heater
  • Conditioner and bacteria
  • Test strips
  • Medicine (and activated coal)

A bucket is something you probably already have, otherwise, you will find one for $10. Be sure that you only have the bucket for your fish tank to change the water. The bucket should not be too big or too small. A 2 gallon (7 liters) bucket should be sufficient without you breaking your back while lifting the bucket full of water.

A bucket will last at least 10 years. A bucket, if you need one, is setting you back $0.08/month.

A siphon is needed to do the water changes. A siphon is sucking the water out from the fish tank into your bucket without you having to scoop the water out yourself.

A siphon costs $12.99 and is the initial cost. The siphon should last at least 10 years. If anything breaks it is probably the tube and it is cheap to replace. The tube does not have to be so long so the cost is negligible. The siphon costs $0.12 per month.

A water conditioner is used to make the tap water safe for the fish while doing water changes and bacteria is used to start up the fish tank and maintaining the bacteria.

These are necessities that you need to have in your arsenal. Tetra is one of the biggest brands within fish keeping and their conditioner is $30.23 for a 33 oz bottle (1 liter). You should change about 10 gallons (30 liters) of water each week.

For each water change, you should add 0.5 oz (5ml) per gallon conditioner. That bottle of conditioner will then do 66 water changes and with one water change a week the monthly cost of the conditioner is $1.83.

You should add bacteria when you start your fish tank and once every month (while changing the cartridge for the filter). A bag of bacteria (where you put the whole package in) is costing $7.98 and you use one every month which gives the same monthly cost of $7.98.

You need test strips to test if the water parameters are okay. Here you just need to get a basic test and nothing advanced. By regularly testing the water you can find unhealthy parameters quickly and fix them at an early stage and thus saving your fish.

The strips should test for pH, NO2 and KH.

Test strips cost $24.79 for 100 tests. use them once a week to keep track of the parameters. That will make the monthly cost $0.99/month for testing water.

Medicine is something that you need to have in your cabinet. It’s not the same medicine as you need. it’s special fish-medicine. Yes, that’s a thing because your fish could get sick and then you need to treat them as soon as possible. If the sickness is taking over it could kill all your fish, and that’s very quickly!

The best type of medicine is the one specified for a specific type of sickness. Since it’s hard to predict which sickness your fish will get, it’s best to get medicine for a lot of different sicknesses. One multipurpose medicine is the one from API.

It cost $13.99 and will, hopefully, just sit in your cabinet. It’s hard to predict how often your fish will get sick and that makes the monthly cost vary from just a few cents to a lot of dollars per month. With the medicine just sitting there, it will cost you $0.03/month.

If you use medicine you need to neutralize it when you are done. That’s a job for activated carbon! It’s absolutely worth having and only cost you $13.89. It will last a long time and just sit there being ready when you really need it! When you need it you could read my guide on how to use activated carbon.

Power and Water

The cost of electricity and water are easy to miss. As you will see it’s not a big part of the total cost but it is something to take into account. Especially if you live in a place where water and electricity are scarce. That should raise the cost considerably if that’s the case.

For water, you first have to fill up your fish tank with 55 gallons of water. Then you need to do weekly water changes of 10 gallons which will be a continuous cost.

The starting cost to fill up the fish tank is $0.08. The price of water is, on average in USA, $1.50/1000 gallons of water. The continuous cost of the water will be $0.06/month with the 10 gallons of water changes per week (40 gallons of water per month).

In a 40 year period the cost per month for water will be $0.06/month.

Electricity is a continuous cost for the fish tank. What is using electricity you may ask? Well, three parts are using electricity. It’s the pump in the filter, the heater, and the light.

The average cost of electricity in the united states is 13.19 cents/kWh at the time of writing but it will differ from place to place and from season to season.

The heater that we have included in this kit is 200 W. How much your heater needs to be on are depending on how hot the ambient temperature is, your altitude, and a lot of other factors. A normal temperature for tropical fish is 75 F (24 C).

In the beginning, your heater needs to heat all the water to the right temperature. 55 gallons of water is a lot and needs probably 24 hours to be heated. While doing the water changes the temperature will drop a little bit too and the heater needs to turn on to heat it a little bit.

For the first 24 hours of heating the water, the heater is consuming 4800 Wh (=4.8kWh). I will also count on the heater turning on 3 hours a month to keep the temperature in the fish tank total. That is an additional 600 Wh every month. Total for a year the continuous power consumption for the heater will be 7.2 kWh.

With the averege cost the initial cost for the heater will be $0.63 and the continuous cost will be $0.08/month.

The next thing using power is the pump which should be on 24/7. This pump we are using is 8 W and therefore 64.5 kWh/year and that is $8.51/year = $0.71/month.

The light is the part consuming mot power. It’s also the part that differs the most in power usage. Some lights are very energy efficient and some lights are not so efficient and very powerful.

The light we have uses 21 W. It’s recommended to have the lights on for 10 hours a day to lower the risk of algae. So, this light uses 70.56 kWh/year which translates to $0.78/month.

A fish tank light could be as strong as 160 W (it’s used for planted tanks) and then the price per month will be $5.91/month!

So total energy consumption for the fish tank should be around 142.26 kWh/year and that will be $18.76/year and $1.56/month.

The Cost of Other Expenses

You could add more things to the fish tank to infinity. Just to name a few, you could add scissors for cutting plants, a multi-box to put things on it, and also to acclimatize fish before putting them into the tank. The more you add, the higher the cost.

One thing that I would say is crucial is a timer for your lamp. You can find one for $9.99 and it should last 10 years. That will make the cost during the lifetime of the tank $0.08/month. With a timer, you don’t have to turn the light on and off yourself. The timer will do it for you!

A plant kit including scissors and tweezers are costing $12.99 and will last you a lifetime. The monthly cost of a lifetime is then $0.03.

I have a multi-box on my recommended list and it costs $25.99. Very practical for water changes to hold your tweezers and scissors and also to put stuff on. It should last you 40 years and will cost you $0.05/month.

Conclusion

There is a lot to take into consideration while counting on the cost of a fish tank. Some are obvious as the fish tank itself and fish. But other costs are easy to miss as the price of electricity.

Not all costs are necessary but I tried to get every single cost that is necessary but also comes with some tips on things that are good to have and the cost of them.

While counting every cost necessary (to the cent) it all adds up to $474.82 as an initial cost. The monthly cost would be $25.1/month.

While counting the optional cost it would add up to $760.94 as an initial cost and monthly $35.98. You should be aware that these prices could vary a lot depending on where you live.

Depending on which products you choose, the price could be much higher too. But these calculations are giving you something to grasp on to while counting the cost of your fish tank.

Related Questions

Is it possible to buy fish on the internet? – It’s possible but not recommended. The fish will get stressed and that could be a cause of diseases in the fish tank while implementing them. Be sure to choose a delivery that is licensed to transport living fish if you order fish.

What is the cost of a saltwater fish tank? – A saltwater tank costs $500-1,000 a year. The extra cost compared to a freshwater fish tank is the maintenance cost and the fish and corals needed in a saltwater tank.

Andreas

I have been a fish keeper a big part of my life. During the years I have gathered and searched a lot of information about fish keeping and here, on the website, is where I share that information to help you with your fish keeping. I want to provide the information that I didn't get when I had a question about my fish tank.

Recent Posts