I know a lot of people get into this wonderful hobby after buying a betta and a tiny bowl, believing that that is all they need for a fish. Of course, when they find out that the truth is nothing like that, they don't always have the money to correct the situation immediately. Consequently, I thought it might be a good idea to have a thread about some budget-friendly options for those times when you want to give your little friend all you can, but just don't have the cash.
A heck of a lot of people get sold those awful tiny cubes, novelty tanks or bowls as a betta home. The general consensus on this forum is that anything under 1 US gallon, or 3.8 litres, is just not big enough. It's unsafe to heat and hard to keep the water clean. Some people push for a larger minimum, and that's fine too, but some bettas are perfectly content in a one gallon, especially as a short term. Anyway, I'm not here to quibble about tank size, I'm here to offer alternatives.
If you don't have the money for a larger tank, there are a couple of places to look before you give up. Try charity shops. They sometimes have fish tanks, or even decorative bowls or vases, that hold more than a gallon of water. They'll do.
If the charity shops fail you, try online classifieds, such as Craigslist in the US, or allclassifieds here in Australia. (Those in other countries, feel free to add handy sites from your locale!). You can frequently pick up absolute bargains, especially from those desperate to sell.
Another underrated shopping spot is the dump. Not all dumps do this, but some separate out sellable goods and store them. Now, I live in a city where fishtanks are expensive (think $80AUD minimum for a 5 gallon), but last time I checked, my local dump had at least 10 different tanks ranging from 5 gallons to 55, for as little as $10AUD. All they need is a bit of bleach and some extra love and they'll be good as new. :)
Suppose you can't find a tank? Look in dollar stores or even your own cupboards. Large bowls, vases, even plastic storage tubs (though do be careful that they are fish-safe!) and Rubbermaid containers; all of these can be fishtanks in a pinch. :)
So maybe you managed to find a tank somewhere and after a bit of bleach and silicone it holds water and is (almost) pretty. But you have no lid! Well, never fear. You can use a number of different things to replace a lid.
Option one is craft mesh, the type we use for dividers. It's not ideal, as it allows a lot of water to evaporate, but it's better than nothing, prevents the fish jumping and a fair number of keepers have it lying around, or can get it easily enough.
Option two is plastic cardboard, which is water resistant (yay!), easy to cut to size (yay!) and easy to get hold of (yay!). You can also customise how much aeration it has.
Option three is in almost every kitchen - clingfilm, saran wrap, call it what you will. It's not a permanent solution as it will lose it's tension as you lift it to feed your fish, but it's good for a couple of days. :)
The simple option here is, just don't use it. Bettas can cope just fine with a bare-bottomed tank for as long as you need. Plus, you can see the dirt to clean it more easily. :) We have kept our goldfish with a bare-bottomed tank for more than a year now. It makes cleaning time a bit faster. :)
So you can't afford the betta log or the little plastic castle, or live plants. Get creative with stuff you do have! Shot glass, sake glasses, mugs, small vases, flowerpots - these are all viable caves. If it can be dishwashed, it is tank safe. However, do try and get new ones if you can, to avoid nasty residue. Either way, you can bet a new mug is cheaper than overpriced decorations. Also, make sure that any flowerpots that have holes at the bottom have that hole well covered or sealed up, as bettas can get stuck in them.
Perhaps what you really wanted was a betta log? Steal a polystyrene cup from the next water cooler you come across. They float, you can cut the end out to make a tunnel or leave the cup intact to make a floating cave. Plenty of breeders cut them in half to make a place for the male to bubblenest.
Much like substrate, you can do without one for a while, sometimes even long term. Just make up for it with more water changes.
This isn't the best solution, but if you want to save on food, breed your own mosquitoes. Leave a bucket of water outside. Mosquitoes will lay their eggs, and within 3-5 days you'll have little wriggly larvae. However, chuck the water away every 5 days so that they don't hatch! Also, good luck trying to get your betta back onto pellets after this sumptuous diet.
I'd also advise against this in an area where chemical pesticides or insecticides are used, as you risk transmitting these to your fish. If your neighbours spray their roses, don't try this.
This one is pretty common knowledge - don't worry if you can't afford a siphon or it is too big for your tank. A turkey baster is great for small tanks, and a simple piece of thin tubing works just fine as a siphon once you get the suction going. :)
Where you should spend your money
This is just as important as where to save. With these things, you get what you pay for, and by putting down the money now, you will save in the long run.
- A good heater (adjustable if you can)
- A good thermometer (glass, inside the tank)
- Good food (means a healthy betta!)
- Water conditioner (seriously, what is more cost effective than Prime?)
- A good test kit (the members here recommend the API liquid master kit for good reason - 5 tests, all far more accurate than the strips!)
I hope this helps our budget-strained members out there. :) I'm a student in an expensive country, particularly for fish-keepers, so I know how attractive cutting corners can be! The thing to remember is, cut where you can, but spend where you must. :)