In this hobby, we're always looking for ways to optimize how far our dollar goes. We scour second-hand websites like Craigslist for aquariums, we wait for the elusive “dollar per gallon” sale at the pet store, we buy in bulk, trade with each other and above all, share tips! Here are 7 tips that you can use to save money on your aquarium.
- Filter floss runs pretty expensive, but a lot of us use it as the last level of mechanical filtration to polish the water as it removes any fine particles that may be left in the water. A good alternative is to use 100% polyester like Poly-fil Polyester Fiberfill or quilt batting. This stuff is amazing at polishing and a large bag will last you a long time! I can usually find it at Walmart for pretty cheap.
- Speaking of filtration, a great alternative to ceramic rings or bio balls are 3M Scotch-Brite Dobie Pot Scrubbers. These provide just as much, if not more, surface area for beneficial bacteria to gather and it also provides great mechanical filtration. They are pretty cheap, so you can keep some extra on hand or keep a few extra in the filter to move when you need to seed a hospital tank or a new setup.
- Substrate, we all know that colored gravel from the pet store is not the best look and it can leach colors into the water. But what are the alternatives? If you're looking for sand, the best sand is pool filter sand, which you can find at pinch-a-penny or any other pool store. If you're looking for gravel, hit up the hardware store or even Walmart's garden center and get yourself some pea gravel. My favorite look is the black sand look, which I achieve by using Black Diamond 20-40 Blasting Media. I can only find it at Tractor Supply down here, but you may be able to find it elsewhere. It's soft to the touch and won't scratch your fish up; I've kept clown loaches and sterbai corycats in it without any problems. It is inert and it also has a high CEC (cation exchange capacity) which means it will absorb nutrients and store them to be released later. Rinse this stuff and you're good to go!
- Worried your fry or shrimp might get sucked into your filter intake? A great alternative is punching a hole in AquaClear 30 Foam and placing it over the intake. Another cheap solution is to use some nylon stockings and a rubber band over your existing pre-filter!
- A background on a tank can make or break the entire look. While custom and 3-D backgrounds are awesome, some of us prefer a solid color. All you need is some spray paint, painter's tape and newspaper to make your own background. Just clean off the outside glass with alcohol, cover up everything you don't want to get paint on with the newspaper and define your edges with the tape. I prefer using a flat black, but you can use anything you want! Take a look at what you plan to stock and pick a color that will let your fish and plants pop. Don't worry about ruining the tank, it's fairly simple to remove the spray paint with a razor blade!
- If you're anything like me, you have a ton of razor blades around the fish room – algae scrapers, plant propagation, glass cleaning, hard water remover, the list goes on! I got myself a Stanley 50-Pack Heavy Duty Utility Blades that comes with a dispenser. You can really use any razor blade, but I like these utility blades because I need them for my utility knife and they are double-edged. The only drawback to this one is that if you buy this pack, there is some lubrication on the blades inside the dispenser that you will need to clean off before introducing it into the aquarium.
- This is more of a DIY solution than anything else, but it will save you time, money and fatigue from that bucket brigade you might still be using! I grabbed a couple Aqueon Water Flow Control Valve Assembly and picked up any extra adapters at the hardware store. You can also cut your own length hose for it at the hardware store, or if you're like me, just buy 100′ roll of Clear Vinyl Tubing and have multiple lengths for multiple situations. Since it's kind of hard to find, the hose size for this valve assembly is 3/4″ OD 5/8″ ID
These are just seven tips that I use on a regular basis, but there are a multitude of other ways you can cut your costs on equipment so you can get that livestock you want – let us know in the comments if you have any that we haven't addressed!