How Much Does a Pet Fish Cost?

Last Updated on February 27, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

Bringing a pet fish into your home can be an extremely fun, relaxing, and rewarding experience. Watching vibrant underwater creatures explore their aquatic world provides a sense of calm joy.

The playful antics and vibrant colors of pet fish bring life to any room. However, becoming a fish owner also carries major financial responsibilities that need careful planning.

How Much Does a Pet Fish Cost?

The first major consideration that affects cost is selecting which type of fish species best suits your budget and skill level. There are two main options: freshwater or saltwater fish. Expect to spend anywhere between $5 and $40 for a freshwater fish, and somewhere between $20 and $100+ for a saltwater one.

Freshwater Species are Most Cost Effective

Freshwater fish are better suited for beginner fishkeepers thanks to their lower price points and care requirements. Hardy freshwater species like bettas, goldfish, guppies, tetras, danios, gouramis, cory catfish, and livebearers can often be purchased for $5-20 per fish at local pet stores.

Male bettas in particular offer bright colors and flowing fins starting around $5-10 each. Small tetras and guppies usually cost just a few dollars.

Fancy varieties of these fish with unique color patterns, fin shapes, and breeding pedigree can cost a bit more in the $20-40 range. However, avoiding rare designer species keeps freshwater costs low overall.

Saltwater Fish Carry Higher Expenses

Marine saltwater fish and corals have more specialized care needs and therefore higher costs across the board. Common beginner saltwater fish like damselfish, clownfish, wrasses, and blennies are typically $20-60 per fish.

More exotic species like tangs, triggers, seahorses, and puffers can easily cost $100+ per fish. Rare ornamental shrimp run $30-50 each.

The bright colors and alien shapes of saltwater life are alluring, but limit choices to fit your budget. Save money by choosing smaller fish under 4 inches that need less space. Avoid picking advanced corals until mastering fish first. Seek out aquacultured or tank-raised species whenever possible to support sustainable practices.

CostHelper, for example, provides a range of prices for different types of fish:

  • Goldfish: $1-$5
  • Guppies: $3-$4
  • Betta fish: $4-$10
  • Fantails: about $5
  • Pearscale: around $9
  • Angel Fish: $5-$25
  • Clown Fish: $15-$25
  • Yellow Tang: $29-$50
  • Blue Tang: $25-$80
  • Dog Face Puffers: around $180
  • Striped Dogface Puffers: $23-$35
  • White Tip Shark: around $90
  • Damsels: $4-$6

Know Tank Sizing and Schooling Needs

When picking fish, it is also important to understand proper tank sizing and schooling requirements. Even small fish need adequate room to thrive. Overcrowding stresses fish and raises disease risk. A general rule is 1 inch of adult fish per 1 gallon of water. So 5 two-inch fish would need a minimum 10-gallon tank.

Many popular species are also schooling fish who feel safest and most content in groups of 6-10 of their own kind. Budget accordingly to buy groups instead of lone fish who may become stressed. Cory catfish, tetras, rasboras, danios, and barbs are common schoolers. Avoid impulse buys and have your tank set up and cycled before purchasing fish.

The Benefits of Pet Fish Ownership

There are many great reasons to add a pet fish to your family. Fish are mesmerizing to watch as they gracefully glide around the tank. The bright colors and flowing fins of fancy varieties like bettas and guppies are visual eye candy.

Fish tanks add a soothing ambiance to any living space with gentle bubbling filters and soft aquarium lighting.

Watching fish also reduces stress and anxiety according to studies. The hypnotic swimming patterns promote relaxation after a long day. Fishkeeping provides a calming new hobby to engage your mind and hands.

Seeing your fish thrive under your care elicits a great sense of accomplishment. Fish are also low-maintenance pets compared to dogs or cats, especially if you select hardy species.

Beyond the hobby benefits, fish make fairly affordable starter pets for kids and teens to teach aquatic care and responsibility. Their small size and lower space requirements are also advantages for city apartments.

Just be sure everyone understands proper fish handling. While fish may not be as interactive as a cat or dog, their graceful presence enhances any home.

Initial Aquarium Setup Costs

The essential equipment and components needed to house your fish represent a significant upfront investment. You’ll need to budget $200-800 for a fully functioning freshwater tank setup, with saltwater easily exceeding $1000+. Let’s break down the major startup costs:

The Aquarium Tank Itself

The tank purchase represents the biggest portion of initial costs. There are all sizes available, but it’s smart to start small as a beginner. Standard 10-20 gallon starter tanks range from $50-100. For freshwater, you could likely find a budget 5-10 gallon kit under $50. Beware of very cheap mini tanks under 3 gallons that lack filtration and space.

Larger tanks quickly jump in price:

  • 20-40 gallon tanks: $150-250
  • 50-75 gallon tanks: $300-600
  • 90-120 gallon tanks: $700-1200+

Rimless open-top modern tanks cost noticeably more but offer sleek aesthetics. Expect to pay $100-500+ more for rimless upgrades. Remember bigger is not necessarily better when starting out! Focus on quality over quantity with fish.

You might also like our articles about the cost of Garra Rufa fish, Catfish, or Puffer fish.

Filtration System Components

A strong biological filtration system is crucial for converting fish waste into less harmful compounds. You’ll need mechanical, chemical, and biological filter media to remove debris, odors, and nitrogenous toxins like ammonia and nitrites.

Standard hang-on-back power filters adequate for most freshwater tanks cost $30-100. Canister filters offer maximum filtering but run $100-300. Plan $50-100 for quality filter media like ceramic rings, activated carbon, and bio balls. Expect higher filtration costs for saltwater tanks with protein skimmers and sumps.

Heating and Lighting Essentials

Since fish are ectotherms, water temperature is critical to metabolism and immunity. Aquarium heaters are essential to maintain stable water between roughly 75-82°F depending on species.

Entry-level 50-100 watt submersible heaters for smaller tanks run $20-40. Larger tank heaters up to 300 watts cost $50-100. Two smaller heaters can be combined to prevent temperature swings if one fails.

Proper aquarium lighting is also vital for fish health and viewing. LED light sets adequate for fish needs run $40-100. More specialized reef lighting can quadruple costs. Include reflective material near light sources to maximize brightness. Automatic timers help maintain lighting schedules.

Additional Equipment and Plumbing Pieces

Other hardware like tubing, air pumps, powerheads, and testing equipment totals $50-150 for basic freshwater needs. PVC plumbing parts and stronger water circulation added in saltwater systems quickly raise costs further. Budget conservatively to avoid unexpected surprises!

Decorations, Substrate, and Plants

While not strictly essential, decorations, substrate, and plants help complete a naturalistic aquarium environment. This aquascaping phase brings the lifeless tank to life but also impacts budgeting.

Decorations Enhance Natural Appeal

Fish love exploring and hiding among objects like rocks, wood, caves, and tank ornaments. The decor creates visual interest and enrichment. However, many premium aquarium decorations cost $20-60 each. Budget $50-150+ for quality items to fill most freshwater tanks.

Some cost-effective options include:

  • Smooth river rocks
  • Mopani or spider wood
  • Terracotta pots
  • Slate or stacked flat rocks for caves
  • DIY caves from PVC pipe

Focus on simple, neutral earth-tone decor over brightly colored plastic objects. Ask local shops for discount overstock items too.

Substrate Options: Gravel, Sand, Bare

The aquarium substrate forms the base layer covering the tank bottom. Gravel and sands are most common. Basic smooth gravel runs $10-20 for a 20-gallon tank. Fancier mixtures with color variation cost slightly more. Sand offers a striking shimmery bed but may need pool filter sand to avoid compaction.

Bare bottom tanks are easier to clean and suitable for certain species like cory catfish who prefer smooth floors. This also eliminates any substrate costs. Check fish preferences before deciding on gravel, sand, or bare.

Live Plants Enhance Any Aquarium

Live plants instantly boost aesthetics while improving water quality and oxygenation. However, aquarium plants carry an upfront cost of $40-100 for a heavily planted tank.

Start with hardy, low-light species like anubias, java fern, hornwort, valisneria, and Amazon sword. More advanced red plants under high-intensity light quadruple in price.

Avoid impulse purchases of expensive rare plants. Start with affordable beginner species and add more diversity over time. Once established, plants will also propagate over time, recouping costs through trimming and replanting.

Ongoing Monthly and Yearly Maintenance Expenses

Caring for an aquarium is a long-term commitment that comes with regular maintenance costs. Maintaining excellent water quality through partial water changes, filtration upkeep, and water testing carries recurring monthly expenses. Annual costs like tank cleaning supplies and equipment replacement/repair are also unavoidable.

Water Changes Require Conditioners and Buckets

Evaporated water must be replaced weekly while 25-50% partial water changes are needed monthly to replenish minerals and reduce nitrate accumulation. This requires water conditioners to remove chlorine and heavy metals from new tap water before adding it to the tank.

A starter bottle of conditioner costs $10-15 and lasts around two months per average tank. Buckets, gravel vacuums, and siphon kits will also be needed monthly for water changes, adding another $15-20 to the budget. Saltwater systems require a pricier reef salt mix for water changes.

Testing Water Parameters is Crucial

Routine testing is essential to monitor water parameters like pH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, phosphates, and calcium. Basic freshwater liquid test kits cost in the $25-50 range while more complex saltwater reef kits run $80-150.

Test strips are another option, costing around $10-15 per 100 strips. These provide less accuracy, however. Plan $10-20 monthly for replacement test solutions and strips. Catching any water quality issues early prevents fish health emergencies.

Tank and Equipment Maintenance

Fish in TankOver time, buildup of algae, biofilm, and calcium deposits will necessitate thorough tank cleanings at least annually. Budget $20-30 annually for algae scrubbers, cleaners, towels, buckets, and water preservers when cleaning.

Pump impellers, hoses, and filtration accessories will also wear out over 1-2 years. Budget $50-100 annually for replacement parts and accessories. Equipment repairs or upgrades are also likely needed over time for optimal functioning. Factor in warranty timelines when purchasing.

Healthy Diet Essential for Fish Thriving

Providing a varied, nutritionally balanced diet is crucial for your fish’s health and colors. Flake, pellet, and freeze-dried foods cost $5-10 monthly per average tank. Gel foods for fry are also beneficial supplements a few times a week. Never skimp on quality foods!

Annual budgeting for rare live or frozen foods is also wise for added diversity to prevent fish boredom. Outbreaks of disease are far more costly than prevention through proper nutrition and clean water.

Unexpected and Emergency Expenses

Unfortunately, issues can sometimes arise even in the best-managed tanks. Having emergency funds available for veterinary care, hospital tanks, and replacement fish is important. Here are some potential unexpected costs to be aware of:

Medications and Hospital Tanks

Even with excellent prevention, fish can sporadically fall ill. From parasites to fungal infections, many maladies require quick medication and quarantine. Have $50-100 on hand for fish-safe antibiotics, antifungals, and anti-parasitic meds which are sold per treatment. A basic 5-10 gallon hospital tank kit costs $50-100 as a quarantine space during illness and recovery.

New Fish Quarantine Periods

When adding new fish, a 1-2 week quarantine ensures they are healthy before introducing them to your main tank. This prevents contagious diseases from entering the tank ecosystem. A basic 5-10 gallon quarantine tank with sponge filter costs around $50-75. This is a wise investment that saves headaches down the road.

Emergency Vet Visits

For severe cases not resolving with medications, exotic veterinarians specializing in fish are available for consultation in bigger cities. Appointments typically run $75-150 per sick fish. Some vets even do surgery on larger fish given the pricey special equipment involved. Know reputable vets in your area in case disaster strikes.

Replacing Deceased Fish

Despite best efforts, you may periodically lose a fish, especially sensitive species. Replacing fish carries the initial livestock purchase cost once again. For schools of fish, replacing fallen members is important for remaining fish social structure. Always have a plan in place if needing replacements.

Energy Costs: Heating, Lighting, and Pumps

The equipment that keeps aquarium water stable and healthy does carry electrical costs. For modest 10-30 gallon tanks, expect $5-15 monthly in increased electricity fees.

However, larger tanks with intense lighting, protein skimmers, and water pumps found in reef systems can add $50-100 in monthly energy costs or more.

Using energy-efficient LED lighting does help offset costs compared to fluorescent bulbs. And smart plugs or timers can reduce hours of peak energy use. But in general, bigger tanks will inflate your electrical bill noticeably, so budget wisely.

7 Budget-Friendly Fishkeeping Tips

Follow these key tips to maximize savings as an aquarium hobbyist without compromising your pet fish’s health and happiness:

1. Start Small with a Modest 10-20 Gallon Tank

Resist the temptation to buy the biggest tank you can fit or afford. Even experienced fishkeepers advise starting with a relatively modest 10 or 20-gallon tank before upgrading. You’ll gain experience and skills before expanding.

2. Select Hardy, Undemanding Fish First

Shop for coldwater freshwater fish with a reputation for hardiness and ease of care as you are learning. Bettas, platies, swordtails, guppies, zebra danios, and white cloud minnows tend to be resilient for beginners. Don’t rush into sensitive species.

3. Buy Secondhand When Possible

Check local ads, forums, and clubs to purchase used equipment from other hobbyists upgrading their tanks. You can often find filters, heaters, and decor for half retail price or less in good condition. Just thoroughly clean used items before installing.

4. Avoid Expensive Corals and Plants Initially

Fancy coral frag setups and lush aquascaped Dutch-style tanks you see online have expensive high-tech requirements. Stick with budget-friendly anubias, java ferns, mosses, and low-light plants at first. Hold off on coral until mastering fish husbandry.

5. Use Pool Filter Sand for Cheap Substrate

Skip costly colored gravels. Pool filter sand provides a bright clean look at a fraction of the price. Invest saved money into quality filters and nutrition instead for better fish health.

6. Buy Food in Bulk and Portion Properly

Purchasing fish food in larger containers and portioning into daily amounts saves significantly over small packs. Feeding no more than they can finish in a few minutes prevents waste.

7. Test Water to Prevent Issues

While testing supplies carry a cost, they allow early intervention before emergencies happen. Monitor ammonia and nitrites closely in new tanks, then watch for nitrate buildup. Address rising levels immediately through partial water changes before disease results.

Final Words

Bringing home beautiful pet fish requires serious forethought and budgeting. But the aquatic hobby can be enjoyed responsibly with modest initial tanks, hardy fish, and maintenance vigilance.

Do your homework researching setup options and species needs. Seek advice from local hobbyists already immersed in the pastime. Start slowly and focus on fundamentals rather than instant showpieces.

The joy of watching playful fish explore their world, a result of your careful husbandry, is simply priceless. Fishkeeping teaches volumes about aquatic ecosystems as well as patience and responsibility.

With smart shopping and dedication to daily care, fish make wonderfully relaxing, visually stunning companions for many years to come. Just be sure to treat them as living beings deserving the best possible life. If you budget wisely and spend wisely, fish can enrich any home within reasonable means. The aquatic hobby need not break the bank to bring lasting joy.

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