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8 Tips to Set Up a Beautiful Aquarium on a Budget

Let's talk shop: Here are a few ideas on how to set up a new tank... on a budget!

These are some great tips that will help you get started right away, and will perhaps help guide you to the type of aquarium that gives you 'A lotta juice, for little squeeze'.

First: Choose the Right Size

Bigger isn't always better, especially when it comes to your wallet.

You know that thing people always say about a house? The more space you have, the more you'll want to fill it.

Opt for a smaller tank, which will not only save you money in all the decor, substrate, and plants you won't buy, but will also limit your need to buy more and more fish 'to fill it out'.

A 10-gallon tank is a perfect size for beginners and budget-conscious fishkeepers-- they can usually be found for cheap at under $15 at big-box retailers.

Secondly, Go for a Simple Setup

When setting up your aquarium, keep it simple. You don't need all the fancy equipment and accessories to make your tank look stunning.

Thought about a Walstad-style low-tech tank? All you really need is a decent light and a boatload of plants. That's it.

For a more conventional setup, most people only need a filter of some kind (we prefer sponge filters. They are crazy cheap and difficult to break), some nice substrate, a nice light, and maybe a heater if you have fish that like it warmer such as a Betta.

Thirdly, Add Live Plants

Not only do live plants add to the aesthetic of your aquarium, but they also provide a natural environment for your fish and improve water quality.

--Thus lowering your time commitment, maintenance, and reliance on chemicals (that quickly add up!).

Pick cheaper, low maintenance types such as Java fern, Amazon swords, Anubias, Java moss, and Crypts. These are super popular for a reason!

When you start with simpler, easy-to-please plants from the outset, you won't feel the need to save your unhappy plants with things like extra fertilizers, chemical dosing, or co2 systems!


Next, Provide Hiding Spots

Many fish need to have hiding spots in their aquarium. This can be achieved with decorations like caves or driftwood.

Happier, relaxed fish with their own spaces are less prone to disease and injury!

Plus, natural botanicals such as leaf litter, pods, cholla, and driftwood all naturally release tannins over time, which help modulate your PH, and contribute to fish well- being!


Number 5: Invest In A Good Filter

A good filter will keep the water clean and clear, which is essential for the health of your fish. 

Once and done! Read your reviews, so you don't keep buying these over and over again!

There's a reason experienced fish keepers always use Sponge filters. They are nice and cheap, and never break! No dinky cartridges to replace or dumb impellers getting loud, stuck, or broken.



Consider Your Substrate

We mentioned Walstad aquariums earlier. 

There's a lot of buzz around 'dirted' tanks-- and for good reason!

Not only is the standard 1/4 inch of soil capped by 2 inches of sand DIRT cheap, but it does wonders for that boatload of plants you bought earlier. 

Try other substrates too: There's blasting sand, pool sand, River rock, Lava rock.. all in big bags at large home- improvement chains.

Last I checked, a 20 lb bag of Play sand ran me about $6. That's a whole lot of substrate!



Consider Second-Hand Equipment

Second-hand doesn't necessarily mean bad quality. Search for used equipment such as filters, heaters and even tanks online or in thrift stores for a great bargain.

Facebook Marketplace is a great source, Craigslist can be a hit or miss, but by far the best value I have found is at garage sales or out on the curb on trash day. 

Always check any tanks you find for cracks or leaks!

Be sure to sanitize everything thoroughly, and check any submerged/ immersed equipment for stray current.


Lastly, Be Careful Where You Shop

Smaller, locally owned places have a reputation for having actual hobbyists on staff.

This will allow you to ask decent questions and get thoughtful answers back, not just someone trying to sell you something they really know nothing about.

Check out our friend Mike's articles on the Red Flags of Fish Shops, and then his follow up 'Green Flags When Going Fish Shopping' for some guidance!

Getting help from someone knowledgeable from the outset will help you save costly mistakes down the line.


Don't let your budget hold you back from creating a stunning aquarium.

If it can be done, it probably has been. Every new tank is an experiment, so don't worry about being unconventional. If it works, it ain't stupid!

Give these a try and let us know how it goes - we can't wait to see your creations!

Happy Planting!

-Cassandra 🐠🐟💦

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