A pet provides companionship, entertainment, and love, but the cost of care may seem like a burden. If you're looking for a new best friend and aren't in the market for a dog, consider something less expensive — our list of 14 pets that won't devour the household budget includes insects, reptiles, fish, and even a crustacean. They're all relatively low maintenance, as most cheap pets are, but will provide years of affection and camaraderie.
Stephen Johnson contributed to this story.
Goldfish | $3 to $15
A classic first pet, a goldfish adds life and beauty to the room without requiring much attention 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 after a while a fish swims over to ask for food when you're nearby.
Unless won at the county fair, goldfish cost between $3 and $15 for the standard variety but up to several hundred dollars for rarer breeds. Daily food fees are minimal, but 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 are enchanting, cheap pets for reptile enthusiasts. The small, spotted creatures may be shy at first, but after some love and care they'll sweeten up to your touch. Leopard geckos are nocturnal, 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. They 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 and demand little attention, and that's definitely true of ants. An ant farm may seem a little dull at first, but modern ones 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.
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 crabs themselves are inexpensive, and it's fun to buy young ones and watch as they grow. Once they've outgrown one shell you'll need to buy their next, larger shell. 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.)
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 daily food costs.
Betta Fish | $2 to $10
A second small and inexpensive fish, Bettas (also known as Siamese fighting fish) are aggressive by nature and should be kept in isolation. Males and females are less picky than goldfish, and aside from changing the water in the bowl and daily feeding, don't interfere with your schedule. Bettas often puff up and display their colors when startled or feeling frisky. A Betta tank in the five- to 10-gallon range is an appropriate size and can be decorated 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. Guinea pigs live for four to five years and relish the companionship of a fellow cavy (another name for a guinea pig). These fuzzballs often whistle, purr, and squeal to express emotions.
A guinea pig costs 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 by feeding the animal leftover veggies from the dinner table. Occasional vet visits run about $45.
Canary | $100 to $150
Canaries have been one of the most popular types of pet bird for more than 500 years, thanks to their ease of care and, among male canaries, their trademark singing. Canaries live for about eight to 15 years and are relatively inexpensive compared with 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 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. 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). Raising butterflies is fairly easy, though most kits guarantee only that some of the few caterpillars they send will reach maturity. 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 are sold in novelty kits, usually to children. They make remarkably easy pets: 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 and 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 consistent sunlight and a special type of soil (about $6 for a gallon), and are inexpensive when bought young.
Praying Mantis | $6 to $25
The praying mantis is great for people who don’t want a fuzzy, emotional connection with their 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 and it’s fun to watch them feed. 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 are a look-but-don’t-touch kind of pet for most. They’re easy to care for and need only a terrarium 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.
Rat | $10 to $20
Choosing a rat as a pet might seem like a gamble. But many rat owners say the furry little rodents are cuddly if handled often from a young age. Rats are also low-maintenance. All you’ll need to buy is a 20-gallon aquarium or a similarly sized wire cage (expect to oat $35 or more), some bedding and toys, and food, which will cost you about $40 per year.