How Much Does It Really Cost to Keep Freshwater Fish?

If you’ve considered keeping freshwater fish – or your kids are bugging you to add a few Goldfish to the family, you’re in good company.   In fact, 10% of households throughout the US own freshwater fish; they rank as the third most popular pet that people keep.  There’s no doubt fishkeeping brings a lot of joy to their owners, but at what cost?

At first glance, fishkeeping looks like a very cheap hobby however you only need to speak to a group of advanced aquarists to see that this hobby can become very addictive and end up costing quite a lot!

Fortunately, the average person to costs can be quite reasonable.  This guide will outline the basic expenses and is split into two broad categories; the initial set up and the ongoing cost.

Cost to Keep Freshwater Fish

The Initial Set-Up

The initial set up is usually the most expensive part of keeping fish. A lot of beginners choose to buy a starter kit which includes a tank, filter, heater and sometimes some gravel and decorations. A starter kit costs around $100.

Alternatively, you might want to buy individual items which allows you to research each product and ensure they are what you’re looking for.

The size of the tank that you’ll need is dependent on the species of fish that you want to keep and how many. An ideal beginner tank size is 20 gallons, so we’ll focus these prices around a tank of that size.

According to the American Pet Products Association Survey 2017-2018, people spend an average of $80 on an aquarium.

Other costs you’ll have to consider for the initial set up include:

A Stand – $100
Lights – $25
A Filter – $20
A Heater – $25
Gravel /Sand- $15
Rocks/Driftwood/Stones – $50
Fish – $80
Plants – $60
Ammonia/Nitrites/Nitrates Testing Kit – $10
Net – $5
Thermometer – $8
Algae magnet – $7
Siphon – $15
10L Bucket – $10
Dechlorinator – $10

This brings the initial set up to $520. This cost can obviously be more or less depending on how large you want the aquarium to be, how many fish you want to keep, and whether you buy a new or used tank. A 50 gallon tank will cost you more, and a 10 gallon set up will cost you less.

Used tanks are a lot cheaper and you can easily pick one up on eBay or Craigslist.

Cost to Keep Freshwater Fish

Ongoing Costs

The ongoing costs of keeping fish are often not as much as the costs of keeping other pets such as cats and dogs. Most people choose not to take out insurance on their fish, but again this depends on the species of fish you’re keeping and how rare and expensive they are.


Like most of the other categories here, the cost of food really depends on what you want to feed your fish and how much you want to treat them.

You fish will be fine on a simple pellet or flake food, which can cost as little as $20 per year.

If you want to treat your fish to live on frozen foods such as shrimp, daphnia and bloodworms you can expect to spend in excess of $50 per year.


Freshwater fish are at risk of a few different common diseases such as Ich, fin rot and fungal infections. Most of these diseases are caused by poor tank conditions and the chances of them getting these diseases can be reduced by carrying out regular water changes and not overfeeding.

However, if your fish do get an illness, you’ll likely need to buy medication to help cure them, as well as get to the root of the problem and sort the tank conditions out.

Medication can cost around $15 per year depending on how many fish you need to treat and the severity of their disease.

Tank Maintenance

Other ongoing costs are related to any tank maintenance which needs to be carried out.

This includes taking care of the plants; they also require food which can cost around $15 per year.

The bulbs of the lights will also need to be replaced and will cost another $15 per year.

The cartridges in the filter will also need to be replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions this is usually around every 2 months and will cost $30 per year.

This brings the total ongoing annual cost to roughly $100 per year.  These costs are just a guideline, and if you take your hobby of keeping fish to the next level and start breeding fish, or keeping expensive species then these costs will obviously increase.

Cost to Keep Freshwater Fish


Fishkeeping can be a very rewarding hobby, but it’s important to make sure that you are fully aware of the time it takes to care for them, and the costs that you’ll incur.

You can expect to pay an initial outlay of around $500 when you first set your tank up, this can easily be doubled if you choose a larger tank or more expensive species of fish.

The ongoing costs are not extortionate, and can easily be reduced if you keep on top of the maintenance and ensure the fish stay stress and disease free.

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