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Goldfish: Inexpensive Pets or Worth Their Weight in Gold?

Here you are on the cusp of becoming a goldfish parent. Maybe you’ve just started college, moved out of your parents’ house, and are ready to bring a pet into your own space? Perhaps you’ve been doing your part to social distance and want to bring some life into, your home, the place you’ve been spending all your time?

goldfish hanging from ceiling
Photo by Sri Lanka from Unsplash

No matter your circumstances, I want to say congratulations and help you set realistic financial expectations! I’d like to think my goldfish are priceless, but ultimately they have a price tag, as well as a permanent slot on my monthly budget. All items priced below will be new and easily found on the web. You may be able to find acceptable second-hand items or deals at local pet stores, so I encourage you to look around! 


Bringing your fish home (One-time Expenses)


Let’s start with the fish themselves. Yes, that was plural. Goldfish are social and prefer to share their tank with other goldfish. To keep your new pets happy, expect to buy at least two. Prices vary by retailer, and the specialty aquatic stores that can guarantee the health and longevity of your fish will be pricier. 


Regular Goldfish: $3-10 Each 

Fancy Goldfish: $20+

orange and white fish
Photo by budi santoso from Unsplash

Where will your goldfish live? I’m sure you’ve imagined them in a tank, but what size? Goldfish under 1-inch need approximately 5 gallons each, while larger goldfish will need up to 20 each. Goldfish grow quickly so if you opt for 5 gallons each, expect to buy a larger tank as needed. A tank is also preferable to a bowl due to the increased surface area of the water exposed to the air. A bowl with a small opening will not allow the water to be oxygenated properly.


10 gal Tank (Two small goldfish)  $15

20 gal Tank (four small goldfish or two medium goldfish) $60

55 gal Tank (11 small goldfish, 5 medium goldfish, 3 large goldfish) $165


What goes in the tank? Goldfish need a bottom substrate. Sand or gravel will do, if you use gravel ensure it is large enough to prevent the goldfish from fitting it into its mouth. If using sand, make sure it is small enough to prevent them from choking. Goldfish are forages and prefer to forage in the sand


Sand (preferred) $5 per 10 gal

Gravel $6 per 5 gal 


Goldfish also need plants and other decorations to hide in when stressed and play throughout the day. If plastic plants are chosen, then make sure they don’t have sharp edges. Live plants yield the added benefit of filtering the tank for toxins that could kill your goldfish. All other decorations should be intended for aquarium use and don’t contain toxic materials. 

green leaf plant in a box
Photo by karl muscat from Unsplash

Live Plants (Preferred) $10-30

Silk Plants (Preferred Artificial) $10-25

Plastic Plants $3-15

Decorations! $3-30


Goldfish tanks also need a filter because they are relatively dirty. Choose a filter rated for a tank larger than yours, or use more than one filter to keep the tank livable between cleanings. Lights also help keep unwanted bacteria at bay and promote the growth of live plants. Goldfish have a sense of time and can become confused if light and darkness are not provided at regular intervals (day and night). 


Filter $15 for per10gal filter, $25 per 20gal

Tank light $18-55 (12-55 inch tank length)


How do you maintain their home? (Recurring expenses)

gold fish photo
Photo by Kyaw Tun from Unsplash


Goldfish will need some items continuously to upkeep their home and to keep them alive. You will need goldfish food (vary for best diet). Water conditioner/dechlorinator for making tap water safe to refill the tank after cleaning/evaporation along with water quality test strips to determine water change timings are a must! You have to know when to add supplemental tablets such as pH correctors, beneficial bacteria, and filter cartridge replacements! 


Goldfish flakes $9 every 6 months per fish  

Goldfish pellets $5 for every year per fish

Fresh Veggies Just a few bites from your regular grocery haul 

Frozen Invertebrates $10 per 6 months per fish

Water Conditioner/Dechlorinator $9 per every 5 years

Water Quality Test Strips $15 per year

Beneficial Bacteria $2 every 2 months 

pH corrector $3 for every 2 months 


Optional Expenses 

Photo by Hannah jones from Unsplash

You may not know it yet, but once you bring your goldfish home, I guarantee you’ll fall in love! While these items are not necessary, they will make your little pets so happy, and you’ll want more room in your budget to splurge!


Tank Mates such as ghost shrimp or dojo loaches, help keep the tank clean. Prices vary!


Treats! Get creative, there are treats for every budget.


Sand/gravel siphons can make tank cleaning so much easier and more effective. Prices range by complexity. 


Goldfish may be lower maintenance than puppies when it comes to quality time, but please be prepared to pick up more than a bowl and some fish flakes. The investment will be worth your while. Your new goldfish deserve it and can live a long happy life by your side!

Taylor Linke

Louisiana Tech '21

Taylor Linke is a Senior Forestry student at LA Tech with a concentration in Forest Management, and a contributing writer under the La Tech HC Chapter. She enjoys getting outdoors, being active, and painting.