Ultimate Money Saving Guide For Saltwater Tank Owners

This is the ultimate money-saving guide for saltwater tank owners.

I think we can all agree that keeping saltwater aquariums can be very pricey. Although not everything in the hobby is expensive, it is difficult to keep a successful saltwater tank without spending some money on it.

If you are looking to keep a smaller nano-size tank, you can definitely save some money. I mentioned in the article 20 gallon saltwater tank build how you can set up a complete tank for under $200.

Many saltwater tank owners will start with a smaller tank and then eventually upgrade. I don’t even know how many times I spent money on a complete saltwater tank set up only to realize that I should have started with a bigger tank.

Keeping saltwater tanks is addictive and it’s completely normal to want to upgrade your tank or equipment.

With proper planning and decision making, you can save money on your saltwater tank.



Factors that determine the cost of a saltwater tank


There are many factors that can affect the cost of your saltwater tank. The main ones being:

  • Tank size
  • Livestock
  • Equipment

Tank size


For the most part, larger aquariums cost more than smaller ones. Setting up the tank and maintaining it can cost more as well. It’s not always the case as there are too many variables, but generally speaking larger saltwater tanks are going to cost more. So you can save some money by choosing a smaller tank size.

Standard glass aquariums will also cost less than Starfire glass tanks or acrylic tanks. So once you decide on the right tank size, you can save a considerable amount of money choosing glass over acrylic.

For example, a standard 90-gallon glass tank with the dimensions of 48″ x 18″ x 24″ might cost you around $300. That same tank with Starfire glass can cost around $700 and acrylic could be well over $1000.


Buy used


Buying a used aquarium can really save you some cash. There are many places to look for a used tank. Your local buy and sell markets, Craigslist, garage sales, flea markets, and even your local aquarium store might sell used aquariums.

If you decide to buy used, it’s important to find out how old the tank is and check the silicone seals to find out if they need replacing. If you like the DIY aspect of keeping aquariums, resealing a glass tank is not difficult and can really save you some money versus buying new.

This video shows how you can buy a used tank for $50 and easily reseal it to save money.







Any livestock that you add to the tank is going to cost money. Whether it’s saltwater fish, invertebrates, or corals, know that most livestock for saltwater tanks are somewhat expensive. But there are a few ways that you can save money with livestock purchases.

Buy, sell, trade with other hobbyists


This is one part of the hobby that I truly enjoy. There are many online forums where people will get together and buy, sell, and trade livestock. It can save you a lot of money if you deal with friends in the hobby that perhaps has a specific fish or coral you are looking for. You can buy from them or even trade for something that they are looking for.


Fish compatibility


Buying fish without doing your research on compatibility with other tankmates can be a costly mistake. If you buy a fish and didn’t realize that it will not get along with other tank mates in your tank, you are just throwing your money away. You can refer to this chart to help determine fish compatibility.





Watch the fish eat before purchasing


This is something that not many people do but is very important. Fish that won’t eat is one of the main signs of fish illness or stress. Before buying your fish in the store, ask them to feed the fish to make sure it looks healthy and eats the food right away. A healthy fish won’t turn away a fresh meal, they love to eat.

I recommend that you don’t purchase a fish that won’t eat in the store. It can save you money. You may not realize that the fish has some sort of illness that will leave you dealing it with it once you get it home. treating sick fish can get very expensive.

Start with coral frags




When you first start to keep corals in your tank, it is a really good idea to buy frags instead of full colonies. This is a good idea for a variety of reasons but it will also save you money. Coral frags are going to be cheaper than buying a full colony. Frags will grow over time and will become colonies if your tank is healthy and maintains the proper water parameters.

A great money-saving tip is to start with coral frags and as they grow, you can frag them again and sell them to friends. It’s a really good way to make back some money and keep the costs down. Coral fragging is a huge part of the hobby and many people actually use coral frags to pay for the hobby. Fragging is a lot of fun and it’s a great way to retrieve some of the money you spent to set up your tank.


Buy livestock online


I will always suggest that you support your local fish stores whenever possible. But sometimes there are some great deals online for buying livestock and you can really save some money by buying online. Also if your local store doesn’t have something that you are looking for in stock and can’t get it, you may want to look online.

A great place to buy online is liveaquaria.com 





It’s no secret that buying equipment for your saltwater tank is not cheap. From lighting, filters, heater, wavemakers, sumps, skimmers, and many other pieces of equipment, you can really spend a small fortune if you’re not careful. Fortunately, there are ways to keep the cost of equipment down and you can save some money by following these tips.

Buy used


Buying used equipment can really save you some money versus buying brand new. But it’s really important to do your research on the item and make sure it works properly before buying it. I have found some real gems for used gear on places like Craigslist and forums.

Sometimes you will find someone who is leaving the hobby and is selling a complete setup or pieces of equipment that are like new for a fraction of the price. There are certain pieces of equipment that I will never buy used. One is an aquarium heater, and another is live rock. I know rock is not considered equipment but I will only buy live rock from a reputable source that I know can guarantee that the rock is pest free and not full of chemicals.

I have been burned in the past (not literally) but ripped off by purchasing a used heater. I don’t trust them. Most heaters are not an expensive piece of equipment so I will buy new just for piece of mind.

Speaking of heaters, I recommend you purchase a heater controller. They are not expensive and can save you a lot of money in the event of a heater failure. I have mentioned in previous articles how a heater failure cost me thousands of dollars. Something that a $30 controller would have prevented. This is a mistake I will never make again.

The controller that I recommend is the Inkbird which is available on Amazon.

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Another piece of equipment that can save you money is a battery backup. In the event of a power outage, your tank components (wavemakers, filters, heaters etc) won’t operate and it doesn’t take long before fish and corals begin to die off. This can be a costly mistake.

Having a battery backup will allow your equipment to keep operating if the power goes out. It’s an upfront expense that will pay for itself many times over and save you money in the long run.

I recommend using the Ecotech Marine battery backup available at Marine Depot online here.


ecotech battery backup



Use energy-efficient equipment – led’s





If you are looking to save a few extra dollars on your saltwater tank, you should consider using equipment that is more energy-efficient than others. This will directly affect your power consumption and therefore save you money on your power bill.

Aquarium equipment is becoming more energy efficient all the time. Some are better than others. For example, the newer LED lighting systems on the market today are very energy efficient.

LED’s and T5 lighting are very popular sources to light a reef tank. Both are great. But LED’s have a huge advantage over T5’s with respect to the operating costs.

Let’s look at the operating costs of both to compare.

Not all lighting units are the same with respect to power use. But on average you can expect T5 lighting to use 2X the power of LED’s. An average multi bulb T5 light will use .4KW and LED will use .2KW.

Let’s assume you run the light for 10 hours a day.

T5: 10 hours x .4kW = 4kWh/day
LED: 10 hours x .2kW = 2kWh/day

The national average power cost is $0.12/kWh, so looking at a per-day cost:

T5 is $0.48 per day
LED is $0.24 per day

Also replacing T5 bulbs will get expensive. Expect to pay $10 each and need to be replaced twice a year. So if you have a 4 bulb fixture, you will pay $80 per year. The cost of the bulbs is then $0.22/day.

Now we can total it:
T5 – $21/month
LED – $7/month


Marine Depot Aquarium Supplies



One of the best ways to save money with a saltwater tank is to DIY some of the projects and equipment. If you are handy and love do it yourself projects, there are many things with saltwater tanks that you can do to save some cash.

One of my favorite DIY projects is building a custom stand for my tank. You can really save money by building a stand yourself instead of buying a new one from the store. If you have a saw and drill, pick up some wood screws and 2×4’s and you will be set to build a stand. Of course depending on how fancy you want to get with it, the cost will vary but a basic DIY stand build will save you hundreds of dollars.



Another great money-saving DIY project is to build a homemade sump. If you have a bare tank, you can easily turn this into a sump with some simple partitions to divide the tank into sections. The nice thing about a DIY sump is you can make each section the size you choose. You may want a larger refugium section and a smaller return section. You can make it any size you wish.

Those are just a couple of examples but you can really save a lot of cash with DIY in the saltwater aquarium hobby.



How much does it cost to start a saltwater aquarium?


Starting a saltwater tank can be as cheap or expensive as you would like it to be. It’s not a good idea to buy cheap and unreliable equipment to start, but you don’t need the most expensive either. For example, you can set up a new 20-gallon aquarium for under $200 and have good quality equipment.

Saltwater tanks are an investment and everyone takes great pride in their aquariums. As far as a startup cost goes, you should plan for a minimum of $200 and up to about $1500 for a complete saltwater set up.




There are so many variables involved in starting a new saltwater tank. The cost can really vary. But there are some really effective ways that you can cut costs and set up a new tank without breaking the bank. If you follow a few of the mentioned tips in this article, you are well on your way to saving some cash while you enjoy your tank!