two common questions about starting a saltwater aquarium

Two common questions about starting a saltwater aquarium

The two most common questions I get about starting a saltwater aquarium are:

  1. Isn’t it a lot of work?
  2. Aren’t they really expensive?

I tend to get these questions when someone first sees my tank–or finds out I’m a big fish nerd.

Do you get the same questions? What do you say? I usually say, it depends.

I know, that’s a totally frustrating answer, but it does depend.

Isn’t it a lot of work?

My work is a lot of work. My kids are a lot of work. My house is a lot of work. Dogs are a lot of work. Keeping a saltwater aquarium (and a website about them) is certainly work—but it’s something I love to do. Starting a saltwater aquarium is supposed to be fun!

In response to these questions, given the time, I try to find out a little more about the things they like to do, specifically about pets. Is a saltwater aquarium a lot more work than keeping a dog? You can’t skip a feeding or water change with a dog—in fact—you can’t even leave the house for too long, in some situations.

This tank is not a lot of work.

soft corals


This tank is more work…but is it more work than any other major pet?

saltwater aquarium a lot of work

What type of work is required? Here is a basic maintenance schedule.

Aren’t they expensive?

Well, that depends—on the size of your tank, on where you get your livestock (retail vs. frags), live rocks and how densely you stock your tank, on what type of tank you are keeping. A high octane SPS dominated tank is certainly on the high-end of the expense spectrum, but your first saltwater aquarium doesn’t have to be.

Here are a few tips to save some money.

From my perspective, the expenses got real when I became obsessed with the hobby. I started out with a relatively simple tank that didn’t cost that much. And I fell in love. Then it got expensive, but that was okay because I already knew that I was in love with the hobby.

Starting a new saltwater aquarium doesn’t have to be expensive. If you start out small and keep it simple. Then, I advocate, grow with it, if you find that you really like it.

Whether or not a new saltwater aquarium is expensive or a lot of work depends a lot on your own personality/disposition. If you’re the type of person that believes in going big or going home if you’re the type of person who is always tinkering, or if buying and trying out new equipment is what gets you going, then yes, starting a saltwater aquarium could require an endless pile of cash. But it doesn’t have to.

Starting a saltwater aquarium is certainly a luxury hobby. If you are scrounging to save some dough, this is not the best hobby for that. However, if you have some money to spend on a fun hobby, you can keep the costs reasonably under control, if you have discipline.


One last thought here. The thing I try to emphasize when I get those two questions—is that starting a saltwater aquarium is a commitment. There doesn’t have to be a lot of work, but you do have to commit to doing the work routinely.

Just like you wouldn’t expect a good outcome if you ignored another pet for a week, you can’t expect to set up and ignore your new saltwater aquarium.

Most of all, I encourage you to try it and see if you like it. At some point, the work either becomes too much or you realize it doesn’t feel like work at all.

two common questions about starting a saltwater aquarium

Do you ever get these questions? What do you say?


  1. I started my salt water tank a couple months ago and it does not have to be expensive if you look on craigslist for equipment. I was able to pick up a tank for $25, reused some of my FW equipment and my real cost was sand, some dry rock and fish. I was up and running for less than $200. I have since got some upgrades such as a protein skimmer and pump so i could reused a 20 gallon tank as sump but this planning ahead once I am comfortable with SW so I can use my 75 gallon tank that currently has a bunch of different varieties of FW fish.

  2. It is fair to say that the saltwater is more expensive than a freshwater. There is different equipment, saltwater requires a little more attention, and the fish typically are more expensive—and more beautiful. The biggest recommendation from me is patience. I didn’t try to buy all my equipment at once. I got the tank on Black Friday (PetSmart has all tanks/stands 50% off). I then read different books and bought equipment over several months so I didn’t go broke. Let me add that I have a fish only aquarium, so that is a plus in saltwater savings. So, if people plan accordingly, it shouldn’t be too bad. I did have to get over the price of fish, but I usually plan those purchases as well. I never buy out of spontaneity. The most I have paid for a fish it about $80. I probably will not go over $100 (that is about the price of a nice hand bag).

    1. Author

      Angelann, thanks for the comment and good point. Getting a tank on black Friday is a great way to save. Often stores will run a $1 per 1-gallon sale (or better…). Adding the equipment as you go helps save money up front and also ensures you’re buying it ONLY when you’re totally jazzed about your tank, which is a win/win. Also good advice on not buying out of spontaneity. That’s a recipe for a mess sometimes.

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