Save Money on Your Fish Aquarium

Your fish aquarium could be like everyone else's in appearance, effort and cost. With these simple suggestions, be unique, creative and thrifty. Save money, time and effort.

Here are simple and fun ways you can save a bundle on your aquarium.

Substrate/gravel

Most aquariums have gravel-lined bottoms. Consider using marbles, which you can purchase at a dollar store by the bagfuls. Use a variety of sizes and colors either by themselves or in conjunction with gravel or small rocks. Use a large flat rock to save coverage needed by gravel or marbles; use a series of smaller flat rocks to mark an underwater walkway.

Dirt and algae easily cling to rocks, especially coarse gravel; marbles and large rocks are far easier to clean.

Expect to pay $10 at least for gravel for a 10-gallon aquarium. Spend half on marbles.

Plastic plants

Go to the dollar store and fill a basket of plastic plants for a fraction of the cost of "aquarium" plants. If necessary, cut and connect the plastic plants to specifically fit your creative desire. Join pieces with bread ties or fishing line and anchor them to the bottom with fishing weights, which are especially effective and inexpensive.

You also can find plastic plants at floral shops and bakeries that cater to weddings. Ask if they have old plants they are willing to either give you or sell very cheaply.

Another benefit with inexpensive plants: If they become excessively worn or algae-ridden, you can simply pitch them rather than spending vast amounts of time, energy and cost by cleaning them.

Expect to pay $20 for "aquarium plants" or $5-10 the smart way.

Rocks

Considering there is a literal world of rocks, why would you buy them? Flat, sedimentary rocks can be layered into bridges, tunnels and arches and other interesting formations.

Metamorphic and igneous rocks come in an amazing array of textures, patterns and colors. Pieces of quartz and basalt can add incredible highlights.

Look for shells of any kind and mix them in with your gravel or marbles. If you're lucky enough to find large shells, use them as you would flat rocks.

Use old bricks, garden edgers and pavers - even concrete "H" blocks, if your tank is large enough. Be sure they are thoroughly clean and free of oil and any chemicals.

When you want to change the appearance of your aquarium, simply put the old rocks in your garden or another appropriate place. You can always use them later.

Expect to pay $5-20 for artificial rocks. Pay ZERO for real ones.

Backgrounds

Many stores carry rolls of colorful backgrounds and sell it by the foot. You can save money by perusing old magazines and calendars - especially wildlife, gardening and travel periodicals - and clip out appropriate photos and make your own collage.

Measure the size of the back aquarium pane and cut either a piece of cardboard or thin plywood to size. Glue or tape the images into a collage onto the cardboard or plywood. Mount the images on the plywood or cardboard, and hang the collage onto the top edge of the aquarium with coffee cup hooks.

You also can simply overlap the cut-out images and tape them together on the back, then secure the collage to the top and bottom of the aquarium with black electrical tape. If needed, use small pieces of clear tape to hold it to the sides.

By using these methods, you can change the background at no cost.

Expect to pay $5-20 for store-bought backgrounds, or virtually nothing for homemade.

Décor

Pre-formed decorations - such as caves, driftwoods and sunken ships and trunks - are pricey and delicate. What's more, they do nothing to make your aquarium unique. They'll make your aquarium look nice - and common.

Get creative. Use anything, including old cans, jars, vases, pipes and metal or plastic tubing. It is very easy to give an "industrial" or urban look to your set-up. Try Legos, plastic army men, nick-knacks, etc. What's more, these materials or either free or virtually free from the dollar store. Make sure the items are clean.

Fish

Tropical fish can be expensive, short-lived and particular about their living conditions and tank mates.

Head to the ponds and streams and find your own pets. Look for colorful sunfish and small catfish, which are widespread throughout the country. Research how large they grow beforehand. They are colorful and unique.

Especially when spawning, some minnows and darters equal the beauty of tropical fish. Crawdads are fantastic bottom feeders and come in an array of colors. Look for them especially under rocks in clear streams. Small ones work the best. They can be escape artists, so make sure the top of your tank is tight with gaps closed up.

Snails and mussels make excellent tank specimens as well. Mussels, though, need sand or fine gravel.

Be aware of state regulations regarding the taking of these animals and whether they can be released to the wild if they become too big. What's more, be aware of the needs of your aquatic critters. Some will eat only live food or require significant currents. Be aware that some may feed on the others.

At stores, the cost would be unlimited. By finding your own, the cost is virtually nothing - and far more fun.

Sure, you could set up an aquarium the old way - expensive and unoriginal. Or, you could put your own signature on it, and save bundles of money as well.