While the option to create a $20,000 reef tank does exist, rest assured that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to enjoy this hobby. There are many unique and affordable ways that allow you to enjoy having a reef tank that both you and your wallet will love. These Top 10 Tips will help make your reef keeping experience affordable and all that much more enjoyable.

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1. Reefing Is Not A Competition

We know it is easy to get caught up in the hype around reef tanks we are fed via media outlets but it is important to remember that having a reef tank is not a competition. You're not winning any prizes for having the priciest equipment or most expensive corals. This is a hobby, for your own personal enjoyment and don't forget it.

Be happy with what is within your reach, take the time to learn how to build a functional and healthy aquarium and everything else will fall into place. Successful reef tanks are ALWAYS a product of dedication and the willingness to learn which are two things you just can't buy, no matter how much money you have.

2. Don’t Get A Huge Reef Tank

Smaller tanks are more affordable than larger tanks, it is a hard fact. Most any experienced reef tank owner will tell you, "Get the largest tank within your budget" which stems from larger tanks being less finicky and will provide the owner with a bigger canvas. That is most certainly true , but the budget part of that advice is the key here. With a smaller tank, not only will your initial investment in the tank itself and equipment be more affordable, the investment in necessary livestock to fill the tank to its brim will also cost less.

Since keeping a smaller tank gives you less room for error, it tends to mold dedicated reef tank owners that pay close attention to the details. You are forced to maintain a strict maintenance regiment to be successful and it is easy to observe every little detail of your aquatic pets. An added bonus, it doesn't take anywhere near as long for those booger-sized coral frags to blossom into relatively large coral colonies and fill out the aquascape.

3. Stick To The Basics

Only buy what you need, the essentials that will keep your tank thriving. Don't get lost in the sea of upgrades and automation devices. There really is a ton of "Extras" or equipment that is simply designed to make your life as an aquarium owner just a little bit easier but is in no way mandatory. This isn't an excuse to sacrifice the quality of your equipment for a better price, rather reduce the amount of reliable equipment you choose to use.

Upgrade equipment like controllers and fancy testing devices are designed to be added to your tank down the road, over time, as your budget allows.


4. RO/DI Water At Home

By the time you factor in the cost of driving to your local fish store to purchase filtered RO/DI water for your aquarium, buying a RO/DI Unit will pay for itself faster than you would think. Within the first 12 months for certain. Having a reverse osmosis system at home to filter your tap water makes it easier to perform maintenance too which means you're less likely to neglect it and you will always have water on-demand in case of tank emergencies.

5. Buy Bulk Dry Additives

Bulk dry additives are always the most affordable option to supplement your reef because your not paying for the cost of mixing and shipping a heavy liquid solution. Of course, mixing the solutions at home will require more effort and there is a small learning curve, but again reef tanks require that kind of dedication. If saving money is your ultimate goal, bulk dry additives such as BRS Bulk Pharma are the way to go.

6. Go DIY With Your Sump

Pre-fab sumps can be quite pricey, especially after factoring in the cost of shipping one. Thankfully, creating a DIY sump is one of the easiest do-it-yourself projects in reef-keeping. We sell some awesome sump baffle kits and drop in AIO conversion kits that allow you to convert standard aquariums into functioning filtration systems. You can take it a step further and scour the web for one of the many DIY sump tutorials in which you build the sump at home using parts you can typically find at any home improvement store.

Soft plumbing under an aquarium

7. Use Soft Plumbing

While hard plumbing may be more visually attractive than soft plumbing, you will find that soft plumbing is far less expensive. Soft plumbing is much easier to install and you won’t have to worry about gluing anything since you can just use barbed fittings and hose clamps to make a watertight seal. Soft plumbing does not require anywhere near as much time, skills or planning either, most tank owners can soft plumb a tank in a fraction of the time when compared to the time it takes to outfit your tank with rigid PVC. Perhaps the most convenient aspect of soft plumbing is the flexibility, nothing is permanent and changes can be made quickly and easily should you change your mind or something breaks.

8. Don’t Buy The Cheapest No-Name Gear

This advice is just one of those life lessons that many of us choose to learn the hard way. Do not use the cheapest, no-name, off-brand gear you can find for the sake of saving a few dollars. Instead, use the advice from your mentors, product reviews, and local fish store owners to find and purchase gear that will perform as you need it too throughout the life of your tank. Replacing equipment on a regular basis is almost always going to be more expensive in the long run than just buying the good stuff upfront.

That said, you don't need the most expensive or fancy gear either. There is always an option that provides the balance of affordability and dependability that you require. Sure, having the best gear is awesome, in fact, you might say it is the BEST way but it is most certainly not the only way.

Thriving soft corals in a reef tank

9. Stick To Common & Affordable Livestock

People constantly show off their expensive fish and corals and it is easy to get caught up in this hype. After all, the fascination with the beauty of our ocean's reefs is what inspires our beloved hobby. While drooling over these kinds of aquatic pets is fine, don't forget you can grow a thriving and impressive reef without all of those fancy, designer coral frags and rare fish.

Focus on readily available fish and corals and grow them into thriving specimens. Thoughtfully aquascape your reef and allow room for those soft corals, mushrooms, and zoanthids to thrive into bustling colonies that fill out the entire tank. Let your captive-bred clownfish host a propagated bubble tip anemone. There are plenty of options in this space and having thriving pets is always going to be more satisfying compared to a handful of small, brightly colored frags that take forever to grow and cost more than your mortgage. Save those special purchases for when you become more experienced and ready for the task at hand. Purchase your animals from reputable dealers and research ahead of time so you know what you're committing to.

10. There Is No Best Coral

Very much related to our previous tip, there is no such thing as a coral hierarchy. Some hobbyists tend to put certain corals on a pedestal and maybe even adopt a certain attitude towards a fellow hobbyist based on what they choose to keep in their reef, don't fall into this trap. Yes, some corals are harder to keep than others and you should be proud of your accomplishments as you learn to grow finicky SPS corals (that cost considerably more) but just don't get caught up in it.

Peer Pressure is a good way to describe it. Just choose corals that YOU like and are within your budget and skill set. Ultimately, you are building a reef tank for your own personal satisfaction, not to be constantly frustrated or as some sort of display of status.