How Much It REALLY Costs To Set Up Your First Freshwater Fish Tank

In Aquariumsby PaulK


As a beginner, you’re probably wondering how much is going to cost me to set up and run an Aquarium? The cost can range quite a bit anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to a few thousand dollars depending on how sophisticated of a setup you want. Now as a beginner you probably want to start off small and move your way up.

The basic things you will need to start off with are the fish tank and stand, obviously, and the heater, a filtration system, some substrate, plants, probably an air pump and the actual fish or you can just get a nice kit that includes almost everything you need to get started.


10 Gallon Fish Tank $15 – $60 / Stand $50 – $100
20 Gallon Fish Tank $75 – $200 / Stand $75 – $150
50 Gallon Fish Tank $175 – $750 / Stand $150 – $1,000+

SeaClear 50 gal Acrylic Aquarium Combo Set, 36 by 15 by 20", Clear

SeaClear 50 gal Acrylic Aquarium Combo Set. Click the photo for latest price.

Let’s start with the fish tank itself. For a beginner, I recommend not getting anything under 20 gallons, so I would stay in the range of maybe 20 to 55 gallons. The reason I say this is that you may think it’s easier to manage small tank at first but it’s really not. The smaller the tank, the harder it is to keep your water parameters decent enough for your fish. Smaller tanks are more prone to ammonia and nitrite spikes which are toxic for tropical fish.

The next thing you might consider is a glass or acrylic fish tank. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, however, the glass fish tank will be probably a little cheaper for you. Glass fish tanks are much heavier than acrylic so that is another consideration. If you get a fairly large glass tank it’s going to be pretty heavy when filled up with water. Acrylic tanks come in many shapes and sizes and the nice thing is that they’re much lighter in weight, however, they tend to scratch easier than a glass tank and are more expensive.

Hang on the Back $25 – $75
Canister $50 – $300+

AquaClear 50 Power Filter - 110 V, UL Listed (Includes AquaClear 50 Carbon, AquaClear 50 Foam & AquaClear 50 BioMax

AquaClear 50 Power Filter. Click the photo for latest price.

Next thing you’ll want to consider is your filtration system. Here you can go with either hang in the back power filter which would run around $25 to $75 depending on the size of your tank or you can go with a canister filter. Those can around $55 – $300 and up again depending on the size of your tank. Now, most hang on the back filters will do the job. They are easier to clean, but if you want a more powerful system than go with a canister filter. they are a little harder to maintain but will cycle your water faster and more efficiently. I would say get a canister filter for any tank 50+ gallons. Anything under that, a hang on the back filter will do just fine.

Next, you will need filter media. You will need media for mechanical filtration, chemical filtration, and biofiltration. Most of these come with the kit you purchased, but you may want to upgrade if you have a larger tank especially in the bio media area. Here you can go with a ceramic porous material which will run you around $30 to $40. The advantage with a bio media upgrade is that it’s a more porous material that can hold a lot of beneficial bacteria to help filter the toxins from the water.

You can also set up a three-stage mechanical filter system. One coarse filter, one medium filter, and one fine filter. This helps filter out heavy particles right away so you aren’t having to clean the mechanical and other filters so often. For now, you may just want to go with the filter that comes with the filter system. Things like filter socks will maybe run you around nine $10 or so. As far as the chemical filtration that’s usually going to be a carbon filter which will do just fine. Mostly you won’t need this type of filtration unless you’re giving medication to your fish or you are adding chemicals to the water.

$15 – $75

Your fish tank will also need a heater to keep the water nice and warm for your fish. I wouldn’t scrimp here and get a cheap one. I would get a fairly nice 75 watt to a hundred-watt heater and maybe a backup as well. The cheap ones tend to break down and can be dangerous for you and your fish. We’re talking electrocution or house fires in rare cases. A good quality fish tank heater may run you around $35 to $55 for a 75-watt heater. This Aqueon is shatterproof and virtually indestructible. Doubling up on that would run you anywhere from $70 to $100. it’s always nice to have a backup up and running in case your main heater fails, and they will at some point.

$15 – $100

You’re going to need aquarium lights to help your plants grow if you have live plants. Also to create a good fish environment and bring out the color in your fish. The two main options here are fluorescent and LED. Get a programmable lighting system or timer that shuts off the light automatically because if you run your lights too much you’ll start to grow algae in the tank. You only want to run your lights about 8 to 10 hours a day.

Most people new to the hobby are getting LED programmable lights because they’re so easy to install and program and they have a lot of options. There are also powerful enough now to enhance plant growth. LED lights will range from anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars you don’t need anything too fancy here. You can stay under $100 and be just fine. Make sure and get the right size for your tank and that it has the right light spectrum for proper plant growth if you have live plants. This high-quality Nicrew is one of the best lights for under $100 and it fits most any tank.

CaribSea Eco-Complete 20-Pound Planted Aquarium, Black

CaribSea Eco Complete. Click the photo for latest price.

$15 – $25

A substrate is going to be minimal cost. here I would go with pea gravel or you can go with sand but I recommend a nice easy gravel to start off with. Gravel is easier to keep clean. You can upgrade a little bit on the gravel and get some nutrient-rich substrate will run you a few more dollars but generally, it’s going to be around $25 to fill a nice 50-gallon tank. Make sure you thoroughly wash the gravel first before you put in a tank otherwise you will have a pretty cloudy tank when you first start off. You need to get all the dirt and sand that’s accumulated on it through storage.

$10 – $15

I always recommend getting live plants as it helps to keep your water stable and absorb some of the nitrites and nitrates that will build over time. You can get some nice easy beginner plants. You don’t have to get too many and overcrowd the tank, but again, here it’s going to be pretty minimal cost maybe $10 to $15.


You don’t need decorations if you don’t want to, but they’re just nice to have in your tank to make it look a little better, and it’s also nice to have a place for the fish to hide out. They are also minimal cost at around $5 – $7 a piece.


API FRESHWATER MASTER TEST KIT 800-Test Freshwater Aquarium Water Master Test Kit

API Freshwater Master Test Kit. Click the photo for latest price.

Having a water test kit is almost a must-have especially if you’re starting off with a new tank and your cycling the tank. You will want to test the water frequently to make sure that is safe for your fish. Here I recommend a test kit such as the API Master Test Kit that tests for ammonia, nitrites and nitrates, and pH level. Here’s my article on how to test your water. This kit will run you around $15.

JZMYXA Aquarium Fish Tank Clean Set, Aquarium Cleaning Kit for Fish Tank Long Handle Fish Tank Brush Functional Six Cleaning Tools for Aquarium Telescopic Cleaning 6-in-1

JZMYXA Aquarium Fish Tank Clean Set. Click the photo for latest price.

Scraper, Brushes & Fish Net $15
Substrate Vacuum $10 – $30

Having a cleaning kit is almost a must-have as well. You need something to scrape the sides of the tank from algae, a vacuum kit to clean your substrate periodically, and also a net to catch your fish if you need to. You’ll want to clean your substrate at least twice a month so that food and other waste don’t build up and create toxic chemicals in your tank. You’ll also want some brushes to help clean your equipment like the filters where you’ll need to clean the gunk out once in a while. To get everything you need you’re probably looking at $35 or so on Amazon.

Air Pump $5 – $35
Air Stones $2 – $20

Tetra Whisper Easy to Use Air Pump for Aquariums (Non-UL)

Tetra Whisper Air Pump. Click the photo for latest price.

Air pumps and air stones are optional but I would recommend to him in order to pump some Oxygen bubbles into your tank. This will help Aerator tank and keep enough oxygen in there for the fish to breathe. The more surface agitation, the more oxygen exchange with the air above the water.

$25 – $100 (to start with)

Typically beginner tropical fish like a Tetra or danios or goldfish we’ll run you about $5 to $10 a piece at your local pet store. You can certainly buy them by the school for a discount. You won’t need too many fish start off with so maybe three to five fish would be good. You may also want to get some snails to put in there to help with the algae and other waste because that’s what they eat.

Most of these things are included in your average starter kit, except of course the fish, if you choose to go that route.

The following is a list of all the equipment that I purchased on Amazon when I started my first fish tank. You can use that as a guide.

Cost of Aquarium Equipment

Glass Aquarium on sale at PetSmart$50
Tank Stand (already had one)$0
AquaClear 70 HOB Filter$47.55
API Master Water Test Kit$17.59
Eheim Jager Heater 200 Watts$31.00
Coodia LED Lights$38.99
Tropical Fish$55.00
Cleaning Kit$15.99

So all in all, to set up a 50-gallon fish tank properly you are looking at around $500 – $600 or so. You can certainly go more or less depending on the size of the tank and type of equipment you buy. You also have the option to get a kit that includes most everything and is the easier option for most beginners but keep in mind the cheaper the kit, the cheaper the equipment parts so read the reviews carefully.

Tetra Aquarium 20 Gallon Fish Tank Kit, Includes LED Lighting and Decor

Tetra 20 Gallon Fish Tank Kit, Includes LED Lighting and Decor. Click the photo for latest price. is a participant in the Amazon Affiliate Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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