Dogs and cats are great — they provide companionship, entertainment, and love, but not only can the cost of care seem like a burden, but many people don't have a lot of space or the day to day living arrangements for a larger, more expensive pet. If you're looking for a new best friend and aren't in the market for a dog — or even if you already have a dog and are considering a second pet — you might consider something less expensive that can save you money — animals such as hamsters, guinea pigs, fish, hermit crabs, or others. Our list of 14 pets that both won't devour the household budget while also remaining low-maintenance, cheap, and lifestyle-friendly includes animals such as insects, reptiles, fish, and even a crustacean. They're all relatively easy to care for, as most cheap pets are, but will provide years of affection and camaraderie. Consider adding one of these small creatures to your home as your family's new — and easiest — pet.
Stephen Johnson contributed to this story.
Goldfish: $3 to $15
A classic easy first pet, a goldfish is an animal that adds life and beauty to the room without requiring much attention, time or maintenance from its owners. Goldfish can live for more than 20 years, have a memory span of at least three months, and can be taught to perform tricks. Their vision is surprisingly sharp and allows them to distinguish between people — it will eventually learn who you are, so don't be surprised if a day comes when your fish swims over to ask for food when you're nearby (remind you of another beloved pet? read: dogs). This is a characteristic that children will love.
Unless won at the county fair, these animals cost between $3 and $15 for the standard variety but up to several hundred dollars for rarer breeds. Daily food fees are minimal, but fish need a proper tank and setup costs about $100. The traditionally small goldfish fishbowl doesn't provide enough oxygen and has been banned in several countries. Opt for a larger tank, ideally with a filtration system.
Leopard Geckos: $20 to $70
Leopard geckos make a great pet for reptile enthusiasts. They are enchanting, cheap, and low maintenance. The small, spotted creatures may be shy at first, but after some love and care they'll sweeten up to your touch, just like other pets. Leopard geckos are nocturnal — meaning they're less active during the day — and unlike other reptiles, don't require UV light bulbs, but do need an incandescent bulb and possibly a heat pad, depending on temperatures in your home or apartment. These animals also require a moist hideout to aid their shedding, a water bowl, and a second hideout for when they're feeling self-conscious.
The going price for leopard geckos ranges from $20 to $70; a beginning terrarium setup generally costs between $100 and $200. Geckos enjoy eating live crickets and worms, and weekly food expenses run from $3 to $7, depending on the size of your gecko.
Ants: $15 to $25
The cheapest pets to own are often small, demand little attention, and are the easiest to care for, and that's definitely true of ants. An ant farm may seem a little dull at first and often aren't a popular choice — this probably isn't the pet for someone who loves dogs, for example — but expense-wise, it will save you a lot of money over the long-term. Modern habitats such as the Antworks farm use a clear gel that doubles as food and allows you to watch the ants tunnel. Other ant farms are made from sand or dirt and require regular feeding and watering. These pets require little time, are cheap even by small pet standards, and can be a popular choice for small children.
Ant farms can be found for about $15 to $25, depending on the design. The ants (about $15, including shipping) and food (about $6 a year) are often sold separately.
Hermit Crabs: Less Than $10
Misleading name aside, hermit crabs actually enjoy company and will thank you if you provide them with a playmate. The animals themselves are inexpensive, and it's fun — for children and adults alike — to buy young ones and watch as they grow. Once they've outgrown one shell you'll need to buy their next, larger shell — a small cost. Hermit crabs sometimes move between shells at night so buy several shells and let them choose their daily outfit. (Painted shells are controversial — there's a risk of using a toxic material that will hurt the crab.) , And you'll need to remember that pet hermit crabs need water to drink, bathe, and replenish their shell water.
A hermit crab on its own goes for less than $10 but you should budget between $50 and $150 for a tank and decorations. Being small creatures, crabs have low day to day food costs.
Betta Fish: $2 to $10
A second small, popular, and inexpensive fish to consider, Bettas (also known as Siamese fighting fish) are aggressive by nature and need to be kept in isolation. Males and females are less picky than goldfish, and aside from a need to change the water in the bowl and daily feeding, these make for low maintenance pets that don't interfere with your time. Bettas often puff up and display their colors when startled or feeling frisky. They don't require much space, so a Betta tank in the five- to 10-gallon range is an appropriate size and can be decorated on the cheap with rocks and one good hiding place.
Betta fish usually sell for $2 to $10, although rare patterns can command as much as $50. A decorated tank setup costs $15 to $30 and yearly food costs can be as low as $20.
Guinea Pig: $20 to $40
Small, furry, adventurous, and cuddly, guinea pigs are an excellent match for preteens. Younger children may enjoy them, but the small creatures can be injured easily if play gets rough, so they're not the best choice for families with preschoolers or younger children. These guys live for four to five years and relish the companionship of a fellow cavy (another name for a guinea pig) in their space. These fuzzballs often whistle, purr, and squeal to express emotions, which makes them one of the best choices for people who like to know their pets are happy.
These rodents cost between $20 and $40, and a proper habitat adds about $60 to the initial cost. Monthly food, bedding, and hay can cost up to $30 a month, although the outlay can be minimized and made easy by feeding the animal leftover veggies from the dinner table. Occasional vet visits run about $45. More of a hamster person? That works, too, as their care, cost, and temperament are similar to guinea pigs.
Canary: $100 to $150
Thanks to their day-to-day ease of care and, among male canaries, their trademark singing, canaries have been one of the most popular types of pets for more than 500 years — not nearly as long as dogs, but 500 years is pretty impressive. These animals, among the easiest of their species to own, live for about eight to 15 years and are relatively inexpensive compared with other popular pet birds such as parrots. Pet stores will typically sell canaries for about $100 to $150; breeders often sell for less. Excluding the costs of a cage, toys (canaries can get bored and require entertainment), and unforeseen veterinary visits, you can expect to pay about $100 per year for food and miscellaneous supplies.
Degu: $20 to $100
Degus, which come from Chile and are a type of rodent similar to a guinea pig, make surprisingly easy pets when socialized from a young age. These animals are a pet that requires little maintenance and space. There's one catch: They do best in pairs because they're extremely social critters. Degus can be found for around $20 to $35 each from a shelter and around $80 to $100 each from a breeder. After buying a multilevel cage ($50 to $150) and some other supplies ($100), you can expect to pay between $60 and $120 yearly on food for each degu (guinea pig food works fine), depending on its appetite.
Butterflies: Less than $30
Butterflies are one of the few pets you can order from Amazon (well, in caterpillar form at least; and talk about low maintenance — you don't even have to leave the house to bring one home). Raising butterflies is fairly easy and requires little space and time, though most kits guarantee only that some of the few caterpillars they send will reach maturity, so you'll need to consider the cost of more than one. The best part about this pet is that most butterfly species feed on just a mixture of sugar and water. Expect to pay less than $30 to raise and keep your butterflies.
Sea Monkeys: $8 to $16
Marketed somewhat nonsensically as “the world’s only instant pets,” Sea-Monkeys is the brand name for a type of brine shrimp that is sold in novelty kits, usually to children. They make remarkably easy pets — probably one of the easiest in terms of maintenance. Just pour a packet containing salt, conditioner, and brine shrimp eggs into a tank of water, and wait a few days for the little crustaceans to hatch. After, all you'll need to do is change the water every once in a while and feed them the “growth food” that comes with most kits, which typically cost between $8 and $16.
Venus Fly Trap: $4 to $40
A plant qualifies as a pet if it hunts and eats animals, right? Venus fly traps are unique in that they have a special mechanism that's able to close rapidly on insects unlucky enough to land on their lobes. The plants aren't too difficult to raise, requiring minimal space, consistent sunlight, and a special type of soil (about $6 for a gallon), and are inexpensive when bought young. Both young and older children love them, they need virtually none of your time, and, unlike dogs, cats, and most of the other creatures on this list, don't require a pet-sitter when you leave town. The quintessential low-maintenance "pet" if ever there was one.
Praying Mantis: $6 to $25
The praying mantis is great for people who don't want to make a fuzzy, emotional connection with their new pet. Depending on the species they typically cost between $6 and $25 each, though you can purchase eggs and nymphs for much less. Rest assured, this insect, whose females kill and eat males after or during sex, won't provide that. Still, praying mantises are cool to look at, it's fun to watch them feed, and, on the list of easiest pets, they rank right up there. Speaking of which, food is the only catch with this strange pet: Praying mantises eat live insects, which can cost about $100 per year.
Scorpion: $20 to $50
With their two pincers and a venomous stinger, it doesn't take an ethologist to see that scorpions make for a look-but-don't-touch kind of pet for most — so also one of the best choices for pet owners who don't want a lot of affection or have time to give it. They're easy to care for — perhaps the most low-maintenance "pet" on this list — and need only a terrarium for living quarters, and a heating pad, totaling about $50. The catch? Like praying mantises, scorpions eat live insects, so plan on spending about $75 per year on crickets. They also don't require a lot of water but will need to have a bit of it around.
Rat: $10 to $20Choosing a rat as a pet might seem like a gamble. But many rat owners say the furry little animals are cuddly if handled often from a young age. An important thing to consider though is that while a single rat may be cheap, these intelligent and social animals absolutely need to have a same-sex buddy to avoid loneliness and depression. Supplies for having a pet rat can add up to $100 and more, depending on how thrifty and industrious you want to be. You will need to buy a spacious cage (wire, not aquarium), as well as plenty of toys, bedding, a box to nest and hide in, a water bottle, quality food, a carrier for safe transport to the vet, as well as budgeting for vaccinations and neutering. These clean and cuddly rodents also require at least an hour of daily exercise out of their cage, in a rat-proofed room (think removing plants that may be toxic), so this also has to be taken into account when making the approximately 2.5-year commitment, which is the usual lifespan of these animals.
Choosing a rat as a pet might seem like a gamble. But many rat owners say the furry little animals are cuddly if handled often from a young age. An alternative to hamsters and other rodents, rats are also low maintenance.
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