10 Step Guide to Small Budget Aquariums

People love to keep pet fish but fish keeping is super expensive hobby. I’ve been in the industry for decades and know the tricks to setup a small tank at low cost. It’s actually really easy to setup a tank for cheap. I’ve split up the tricks into 10 segments.


1. Buy a used fish tank


Most aquarium equipment is generally not that expensive. The price on a used aquarium is around 30% of the original cost. OR AT LEAST that’s what I shoot for on a good price. Around 80% of people quit this hobby within the same year of purchasing their aquarium. Crazy right?! Not really.. (Read #2 to find out why most fail).




Used tanks are such a BETTER DEAL. What usually happens is the tank and equipment might be a little dirty or have dried water stains but that stuff cleans up with a little elbow grease. There are tricks to cleaning it (using white vinegar, etc). Craigslist is a good place to search and facebook groups where they sell items for sale are good too.


2. Beneficial Bacteria


The number one fail that beginners make is setting up a brand new tank and tossing some fish in there. Even a small tank needs this. This is hands down the most important factor to a successful aquarium.


If your setting up a brand new tank, then you NEED TO obtain some filter paper from a different “established” aquarium. What you do is take a chunk of their filter paper and put it in your brand new filter. This jump starts what is known as the “cycle” of establishing a fish tank.


You need to be constantly running that filter with that used filter paper in it. Your tank will start to grow its own bacteria and you will then have an established setup. It is crucial to always have this beneficial bacteria because it makes the water safer for your fish.


3. Bigger is Better


I know most beginners want a small tank but guess what… larger tanks are ten times easier to care for. A 55 gallon tank is perfect because they make so many on them and they are super popular. I know some of you are only wanting a small tank for decoration in your living room or office but.. remember that you will be limited to fish selection.


I’m going to keep blabbing about buying a bigger tank because they are so so so much easier to care for than smaller sized tanks. Think of it this way, a fish is going to dilute the water with its waste load far less with more water. And once you let a larger body of water establish itself with bacteria… it really just takes care of itself.


4. Goldfish NEED Big Tanks


They hand out goldfish at the fair and people love the idea of keeping them as a pet. Just go buy a $2 goldfish bowl and your good to go right? WRONG. These fish are super messy and need 30 gallons of water per fish. The reason why is because the common goldfish grows to around 12 inches long! Crazy right?!


5. Water Changes


The water you put in your fish tank has oxygen in it. The fish use that oxygen to live. Because the fish also poops in the water.. that raises ammonia levels which also kills oxygen. So the water runs out of oxygen and your fish suffers without new oxygen. This is where adding new water comes in.


This is one of the most FAILS that beginners do. They remove all the water and just add all new water. The problem with that is that your fish was used to that old water and adding all new water puts extreme stress on their organs (Move to #6 for more Info).


6. Removing Water


With small tank I always see people changing the water wrong. With smaller Betta fish tanks and goldfish bowls what people usually do is just carry the bowl over to the sink and tip it in its side and pour out the water. BAD BAD BAD.


When you pour the entire tank on its side, the debris in the gravel gets everywhere and it stirs up everything in the water. This is not ideal and it puts tons of stress on the fish. It’s the equivalent of a human being in an earthquake or something  similar.. maybe like a car accident or something.


You need to use a small hose to siphon the water out. Learn to utilize gravity because it makes water changes so much easier. And only remove 60% of the water at a time. This is because the fish is use to that old water and mixing new water with it is a lot easier on their organs than completely new water would be. Hopefully I explained that properly.


7. Gravel Helps


When deciding if your smaller tank should have gravel or not… I would urge you to use it. It really helps make your water easier to care for. The reason being, gravel grows a good bacteria known as “beneficial bacteria” that also grows in filters too and the bacteria helps keep your water clean.


Without getting too scientific, your fish tank needs this beneficial bacteria to do well and gravel is a breeding ground for it. This bacteria will also grow on plants and decorations but gravel will host it easier.


*Side Note: With having gravel you will also need a gravel vacuum to clean it. Don’t fear it because they are super easy to use and very efficient for aquariums.


8. Surface Movement


This is one of those things that no one tells you but makes a world of difference. By the way, surface movement most commonly is created by an air stone (aka bubbler) or a filter. Most think it just “adds oxygen” to the tank but there are lots of great things that come from surface movement.


9. Overfeeding Fish


Giving our fish some food is really the only interaction we have with our fish so it’s easy to want to do it a lot. Most of us don’t understand how much food to give to our fish. When you over feed your fish it’s TERRIBLE on your water because the food just sits on the bottom and has to break down. It raises ammonia levels very fast which in turn steals oxygen from the water.


Not to mention it’s bad for your fish. I know some species like the Betta that have issues with bloating and for all the time from over feeding. A general rule of thumb is to look at the fish’s eyeball and think of it in comparison to the size of their stomach. How much food would fill that stomach?


10. Procrastination


Having a pet fish is super cool for like 3 months and then the excitement starts to fade. That’s when you start putting off things like cleaning the tank and doing water changes. Even though your setup isn’t new and shiny… that fish is still relying on you to make it’s living parameters suitable.