Can I Afford the time and expense of an aquarium?

People start keeping aquariums for various reasons. Some are motivated by the beauty of a well managed tank with the motion of various colored pretty fish, after seeing one in either a pet store, or on display at a friend’s house, simply as a pretty picture. The main first motivator for 99% of all hobbyists is a visual one. Some folks are less concerned with the aesthetic aspect, and are simply fascinated by aquatic life. Whatever the reason for getting started, there are basic ‘rules’ that need to followed, if one is to keep an aquarium successfully, with minimal effort and expense.(and, of course to ensure that we end up giving the animals proper care they deserve).

Aquariums come in many different shapes and sizes, from the new ‘pico’ sized systems (one gallon or less), to tanks of multiple thousands of gallons. The types of setups and habitats one can create are about as varied and limitless as the range of sizes and types of fish, and the extent/levels to which one can get involved in the hobby are also as varied-some folks just want that pretty picture, and some develop a lifelong interest and passion with these fascinating creatures that come from a completely different environment than our own.

All animals require some minimal care to ensure good health. Just as not walking a house dog will lead to a pile of poop on your floor or carpet that makes both you and your dog take notice, the same will occur to your fish if their waste products are not removed from their environments in a timely manner. Ninety percent of the work involved in aquarium keeping is keeping the water clean and as waste free as possible. Although there isn’t much actual work to be done (most aquariums can be excellently maintained with as little as ½ hour of maintenance a week, and if your aquarium requires much more than that, you’re doing something the wrong way), the little that does, REALLY needs to get done.

Cost of aquariums is a function of their size, the support equipment needed for the particular type of aquarium you decide to keep, the livestock, and the daily operating expenses (electricity, etc.).There are pre-packaged tank systems that come nearly complete from the built in hood lighting to the filtration systems, and there’s the option of acquiring everything individually (the standard route when purchasing a ‘regular stock’ glass or acrylic tank).One can calculate exactly what the running expenses will be simply by figuring out how many kilowatt hrs they have in electrical devices. (a 500 watt load is one half a kilowatt hour, while running). Just multiply the fraction of the kilowatt you end up with for all of the electrical equipment by the cost charged for one kilowatt hour as listed on one’s electric bill.

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A nice desktop freshwater tank can cost about 200.00 to 250.00 complete with livestock and all of the support equipment required. Many stores offer full packages on 10 gallon tanks than can get a hobbyist started for less than 100.00. The monthly expense involved is about equal to a cable TV bill, for large (100 gallons plus) tank systems, while smaller tanks can go as low as a few dollars a week, for the electricity required. Replacements, testing equipment, additives and supplements can run from $20.00 and up.

Reef tank setups can cost up to fifty dollars per gallon during the first year, and this drops by anywhere from one half to one quarter of that initial figure during successive years.(the first year figure includes everything from the tank to the livestock).

There are also options for hiring service companies/individuals for tank maintenance. It’s highly advisable to select a maintenance company after asking for references from current clients, if at all possible. Local aquarium clubs are one excellent source of information for this, and chances are that at least one if not some, of the ‘regulars’ also do this, as well. Of course, for some folks, the hobby becomes so enjoyable that they develop both their knowledge base, and aquarium base extensively, leading to a full blown ‘obsession’ that can provide hours of enjoyment and time occupation, sometimes leading to a supplementary ‘second income’ from what they propagate, further mitigating the expense.

The bottom line is that anyone can become an aquarium hobbyist at some level for the equivalent price of a few trips to the movie theatre every month.

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