Bettas: The Surprisingly Frugal Fish

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I was walking through a discount store one day and saw a display with jewel-toned fish with gorgeous fins, sitting in tiny cups.  The sign read, “Betta fish: $2.99.”  One fish in particular had the most gorgeous hues of blue, purple, and black.  But he looked so sad in that tiny little cup.  I just had to rescue him.  And, the price was so low!  I couldn’t refuse.

Many of us have been in the same situation.  We see a pet at a low, low price.  When we’re through buying all the things we need, our wallets are flatter than we’d like.  The cost of the pet is the cheapest part!  That’s an experience I’d like to avoid.

On the other hand, there are all kinds of DIY pet supplies that can be unsuitable, even harmful for our new friends.  Luckily there are ways to reduce your costs of keeping a pet without spending a fortune.  So you’ll be prepared the next time a small voice (or perhaps your own) demands that pretty fish in the tiny cup.

Warning: Having male and female Bettas in the same tank can lead to fighting, injury, or even death. Two male Bettas cannot live in the same tank because they’ll fight to the death. Honestly these fish are better as singletons. Females can live together if it isn’t too crowded.

Here’s why Bettas are a good frugal option

For Frugalites, I personally think a Betta fish is a pretty good choice.  They do well in smaller spaces, they don’t always require expensive heating setups, and they don’t need expensive food or special water.  I kept one for years in a gallon jar, and he grew to be a ripe old age.  He blew bubble nests at the top of the water and he would swim around to follow me when I was near.  I was quite surprised at how interactive he was.  At times, he’d come up to the surface and clap his gills at me!  By the way, he was that oh-so-pretty yet unplanned purchase from the discount store.

Whenever you are trying to save money on something, the more knowledge you have about it, the better.  That way you can know where you can skimp and where you cannot.   So here’s a little information on them to get you started.  Betta fish are also called “Siamese Fighting Fish.”  They are very territorial and do best in a smaller area.  They love having places to hide, they need fresh water rather than salt, and they do best in water that is around 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit. 

However, I have found that generally they are okay in normal room temperature.  Colder temperatures make them somewhat sluggish so you wouldn’t want to drop down below the 70s for long.  To help avoid temperature extremes, keep them away from drafts and bright sunlight.

There are all kinds of Betta fish accessories out there. Here are the ones you really need.

Suitable containers for Bettas

Generally, glass is best.  It can be cleaned thoroughly and doesn’t absorb anything.  Though I wouldn’t advise a container smaller than this, a one gallon glass jar can work.  Another lived for quite a while in a novelty gallon sized wine glass.  An ideal container would be 1 to 5 gallons in size, with smooth insides for easy cleaning.

Betta bedding

Rock, glass stones, or marbles make good and cheap flooring for Bettas.  Though you can also use aquarium gravel, I especially like smooth marbles because they are easy to clean.  If you use natural rocks, make sure they are hard and non-porous and give them a thorough cleaning before use.

Basic supplies for your new frugal fish

Here are the basic items you must have to care for your fish.

  • Net: Small, non-marring nets are only a couple dollars and are needed for when you take the fish out of the tank for cleaning.
  • Food: Make sure you only buy food meant for Bettas.  A container of it can last a really long time. 
  • Water Container:  Can just be a small bucket or jar, again, thoroughly cleaned.  You’ll need it for ageing water in, or temporary housing for your fish when cleaning the tank. 

Here are some optional supplies that you may want.

  • Plants – silk plants can be used, or plastic ones if they are pet safe, or even a live plant if you have enough space in the jar or tank.  These are optional but not expensive if you decide to get one.  Bettas like plants with flat leaves so they have something to hide beneath.  Amazon Swords and Marimo moss balls are popular choices for Betta tanks.
  • Water Conditioner – costs only a few dollars and may be needed if you have bad tap water. 
  • Tank decorations – rocks, plastic hollow logs, and many other things can be good for a fish.  I can imagine that a small ceramic cup would make a fine cave!  Lots of things can be repurposed, but make sure you avoid anything that could be toxic, will rust, or will damage fins or other sensitive surfaces.  Sea shells or beach sand can alter the pH of the tank water so is best avoided.
  • Toys – Bettas can be quite playful and there are toys available for them.  A truly cheap Betta toy is a plain, clean Ping Pong ball!  Some of them will also chase laser pointers.  Other cheap toys like smaller balls or rings can be fun for them, just make sure the surface is hard so it can be properly cleaned.  Small mirrors can also give them exercise and stimulation, but only use them for a few minutes at a time to avoid stress.
  • Treats – Frozen brine shrimp and blood worms are enjoyed and can give variety to the diet.  You won’t need much so one purchase can last you quite a long time.
  • Filter and Water Heater – if yo decide to get these, shop around before buying from the pet store.  There may be much better options online.  This also helps avoid impulse purchasing things that are overpriced or not really needed.  

Tips for a happy, thrifty Betta

Here are a few things to know about living frugally ever after with your Betta.

  • Only feed small amounts and once or twice a day, so you avoid overfeeding the fish and clouding the water.
  • If you keep your Betta in tap water, make sure you set it out for a day so any chlorine can dissipate.
  • Speaking of water, change it once a week especially if you don’t have a filter.  You don’t want waste and toxins to build up.  If you scrub the tank or jar, ensure there are no traces of soap left in it.
  • Read up on your fish.  It’s interesting, and will help you understand their needs better.  This guide is not comprehensive, and is only a starting point. 
  • Periodically move any decorations in your Betta’s tank, or cycle them in and out, to help keep him entertained.  

Bettas just might be the perfect frugal pet!

As you can see, you don’t have to empty your wallet to find a fun, interactive pet who can live for years!  Betta fish can be interesting and relaxing to watch.  Not only that, but if you really just don’t feel right in your life without a pet, they may “scratch the itch” well enough so you can avoid getting something more expensive to keep.  I encourage anyone who wants to get a Betta fish to research a bit more since this information is meant as a starting point.

Happy fish keeping!

Have you ever kept a Betta?

Did you find a Betta to be a rewarding pet? Did you spend a lot of money? Do you have any tips for folks who want to get one? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

About Rohvannyn

Rohvannyn Shaw lives in suburbia but still values old-fashioned skills and techniques. When she’s not preventing her sourdough starter from taking over the world, she’s baking, grilling, reading, writing, illustrating stories, gaming, or keeping up with her cats. She maintains a website dedicated to creativity at, as well as an art portfolio at

Bettas: The Surprisingly Frugal Fish

4 thoughts on “Bettas: The Surprisingly Frugal Fish”

  1. I had a Betta in college. His name was Snaps. He was cool. Unfortunately he developed Ich (pronounced ick). We tried to treat it, the medicine was only a few bucks, but poor Snaps didn’t make it.

  2. I love Bettas and have had them for years. I think I overdid the heaters, etc. with the last couple. They were never very active and didn’t live all that long. It’s hard to keep their water warm enough when you heat with wood, however, as the house gets cold at night.

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