Is Marine or Fresh Water Fish Keeping An Expensive Hobby?

Fish keeping is something that has been practiced by mankind for thousands of years. Obviously, we all recognize it as a hobby and a passion. Aquarists across the globe like to rear fish in reef systems located in their homes, offices, schools, hospitals etc. for decoration. Fish keeping is also a form of agriculture, known as pisciculture. When kept for decorative and other personal reasons, rearing fish can get expensive, but you don’t need to remortgage the house to get started.

So, just how costly can it be?

Better yet, what makes it a cheap or expensive hobby? 

Is there any way of cutting down the costs?

All these are questions that many newbies ponder.

We had not thought about this until a few weeks ago when we helped a friend set up her first reef tank. She initially wanted to go with a 300-gallon tank, but when she listed down all the equipment needed and the amount of money it would require, she realized that the investment would almost the cost of a new car.

We recommended to start small and downsize to an 180-gallon fish tank. However, even so, the price of setting up was in the neighborhood of several thousand dollars. This certainly surprised us considering that we hadn’t set up a new aquarium in a long and didn’t realize how expensive things had become. A few years, putting up a 90-gallon tank cost less than $1000. Needless to say, this got me thinking about just how expensive a hobby fish keeping had become. And despite what many may think, I came to realize that this may be good news.

The high price of fish keeping is not all bad

Before you start exclaiming “What the…?” let me explain.

Of course, the higher cost is not okay, especially for those of us who are a hobbyist looking forward to buying their first fish tanks. Moreover, while I cannot speak for everyone, I don’t have thousands lying around in my account waiting around to set up a fish tank. Practical Fish Keeping got me started to think about reducing the cost of owning a reef system.

As such, I worry that the price of the hobby may run out of the realm of many aquarium enthusiasts. In spite of these concerns, the number of people who have fish tanks has gone up in the past few years, and this is evident through the increased attendance of reefing events. The reason is that more suppliers and collectors are now willing to do whatever it takes to make new, exotic fish as well as corals available.

Efforts to collect from places never previously collected from are now standard. The increased cost has helped foster this for the simple reason that higher price tag equals greater value.

Also, nature is getting a better treatment due to the high cost. Everyone wants to make sure that their reef system gets the best care. The higher cost is pushing everybody to be better at the hobby and in the process, making it more valuable. The increased success of fish keeping has increased the demand for corals and exotic fish. Moreover, as we all know, the law of demand and supply dictates that the prices increase with an increase in demand.

I also think that the increased cost of fish keeping has led to greater innovation. Consumers have shown their willingness to spend more on things that have value. As a result, companies are more willing than ever to unveil products that are innovative and at times, more expensive. It is no secret that anything we have today is an impressive improvement of what we had 15 years ago.

What contributes to the costly nature of fish keeping?

Many factors drive up the cost of fish keeping. For starters saltwater fish keeping costs significantly more than freshwater fish keeping. This is partly because the cost of purchasing and taking care of saltwater and brackish fish is high. Tanks can also prove costly, especially if you buy one that comes with a filter, heater, and other accessories integrated.

In any case, a 180-gallon tank will cost much less compared to a 3000-gallon tank. While they are not critical, stuff like rocks, plants, tank stands, lights and other decorations can drive up the coast of fish keeping, but this is all part of the fun.

Even if you find good bargains and purchase cheap equipment, you still have to sink a lot of money into the care of your aquarium. You have to make sure that everything is well taken care of and repair anything that goes bad. There is also the issue of feeding your fish, which is not always cheap or easy where some species like brine shrimp are involved.

The cost of setting up a marine aquarium from scratch can cost thousands of dollars, even with small models. This is before you take into the account the buying the stock. Compared to coldwater or tropical fish, marine fish are more involving in regard to financial cost as well as the commitment required.

The cost of fishkeeping depends on a lot of the available resources. For instance, someone who is good at DIY will find things cheaper if they can build their own fish tanks, hoods, cabinets, and filters. Someone who starts with an aquarium and accessories handed down by family or friends will invest less initially as compared to someone who buys new equipment. What I am driving at is that depending on your personal taste, you can make fish keeping a relatively cheap or expensive hobby.

I do not have $8000– can I make fish keeping cheaper?

Yes! While the high cost of keeping fish may deter some from the hobby, you will be glad to know that there are certain tricks you can implement to make it cheaper.

Buy used: While it may not sit well with many hobbyists, buying used equipment is the single most effective way of cutting down the cost of setting up. There are plenty of places you can get started for cheaper. Check online listings like Craigslist, Gumtree or scout round local neighborhood yard sales. Of course, you will have to make sure that you invest in things that are still in good condition.

Extras like air stones and fish food, as well as heaters and fish filters, can be bought at bargain prices. To avoid purchasing a damaged aquarium, ensure that you meet up with the seller to inspect it. Don’t just take their word for it. If possible, bring a friend who knows a thing or two about fish keeping with you. Enquire if you can test it first before paying for it.

Keep the temperature low: The heater can easily skyrocket your electricity bill. It is a necessity in all aquariums so you cannot get rid of it entirely. Instead, consider keeping a lower temperature to reduce the amount of energy used up by your aquarium heater. This also means choosing fish that thrive in environments with cooler temperatures. Choosing the temperature at the lower end of your stock also works great.

Adopt fish: This works the same way as buying used equipment. Rather than buying new fish, consider adopting some of the stock from someone who’s selling theirs. This is particularly relevant if you plan on keeping species like bettas and goldfish. There is always someone looking to re-home some or all of their fish so accomplishing this is easy.

Invest in quality equipment: Sometimes purchasing equipment with high initial costs can save you a lot of money in the long run. Getting a good quality tank, filter and heater can save you a lot of frustration on repairs and new purchases. Cheap equipment breaks down and replacing this may interfere with the aquariums cycle. This can also threaten the life of your fish.

LED lights: In spite of their high cost, LED lights can save you a lot of money in the long run. Compared to regular bulbs, LEDs last longer and they use less energy. This helps keep your electricity bill down. Small savings add up and can help make fish keeping a cheap and enjoyable hobby for you.


The cost of getting into this hobby is undeniably high, but starting small will get your feet wet without a large investment. Improvements in technology has made it possible for us to enjoy aquatic life from the comfort of our homes.

Knowing what we know now, it is safe to say that any hobby is as expensive as you make it and the same applies when keeping fish. Freshwater fish tanks are cheaper to get going, but salt water marine in our opinion provide the most joy simply because of all that’s involved and the beauty it provides. This in turn becomes more expensive, but so does the reward increase.

Over to you - How did you get started with fish keeping and was it a big investment? Let us know in the comments.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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