14 Cheap Pets That Are Easy to Take Care Of

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girl holding guinea pig
Photo credit: andresr/istockphoto


If you're looking for a new best friend for the summer and aren't in the market for a dog, consider a cheap pet. A pet provides companionship, entertainment, and love. And while the expected cost of care may seem like a burden, some pets that are cheap to own are sure to delight children.

Cheapism's 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.


Goldfish | $3 - $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 and eventually learn who you are; don't be surprised if, after a while, they swim over to ask for food when you're nearby.

Tip for proper care: 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.

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. A proper tank and setup costs about $100 and daily food fees are minimal.


Leopard Geckos | $20 - $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 they don't require UV light bulbs. They do, however, need an incandescent bulb and possibly a heat pad, depending on the temperature in your home. They also require a moist hideout to aid their shedding, a water bowl, and a second hideout for times 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 - $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 like 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 | < $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 (and decorate!) their next, larger shell. Hermit crabs sometimes move between shells at night so buy several shells and let them choose their daily outfit.

A hermit crab on its own goes for less than $10 but you should budget between $50 and $150 for the tank and decorations. Being small creatures, daily food costs are low.


Betta Fish | $2 - $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, they 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 ten 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 - $40

Small, furry, adventurous, and cuddly, guinea pigs aren't, strictly speaking, the cheapest pet to own but are an excellent match for pre-teens. Younger children may enjoy them, but the small creatures can be easily injured if the 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 their 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 - $150

Canaries have been one of the most popular types of pet bird for more than 500 years, thanks both to their ease of care and, among male canaries, their trademark singing. Canaries live for about 8 to 15 years and they’re relatively inexpensive compared to other pet birds like parrots. Pet stores will typically sell canaries for about $100 to $150, though breeders will often sell them for cheaper. 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 

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. After buying a multi-level cage ($50 to $150) and some other supplies ($100), you can expect to pay between $60 and $120 per year on food for each degu (guinea pig food works fine), depending on its appetite.


Butterflies | < $30

Butterflies are one of the few pets you can order from Amazon right now (well, in caterpillar form at least). Raising butterflies is fairly easy, though most kits only guarantee that several of the five or so caterpillars they send you will reach maturity. The best part about this pet is that most butterfly species don’t eat: You can simply feed them a mixture of sugar and water. Expect to pay less than $30 to raise and keep your butterflies. 


Sea Monkeys 

Marketed 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. 


Venus Fly Trap

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 purchased young. 


Praying Mantis

The praying mantis is great for people who don’t want a fuzzy, emotional connection with their pet. Rest assured, this insect, whose females kill and eat males after 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

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. They’re easy to care for and only need a terrarium and a heating pad, totaling about $50. The one catch? Like praying mantises, scorpions eat live insects, so plan on spending about $75 per year on crickets. 


Rat

Choosing a rat as a pet might seem like a gamble. But many rat owners say that the furry little rodents are actually cuddly if they’re 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 ($30+), some bedding and toys, and food, which will cost you about $40 per year. 

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