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9 Cheapest Pets to Own

By Sarah Li Cain · May 31, 2023 · 8 minute read

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9 Cheapest Pets to Own

Pets can bring love, companionship, and fun into your life. But they can also bring a lot of added expenses. In fact, the lifetime cost of owning a dog can run anywhere from $19,893 to $55,132, while owning a cat for its full natural life can range between $4,250 to $31,200.

If you’re yearning for a furry companion, but the high cost of owning a pet gives you worry, you don’t necessarily have to give up on the idea. There are actually a number of cheap pet options out there, and many are also low maintenance and adapt quickly to their new homes.

From small birds to bunny rabbits, here are nine cheap, easy-to-care-for pets you may want to consider adding to the family.

Guinea Pigs

If you’re looking for something cuddly that’s easier on the wallet than a puppy, you may want to consider a guinea pig. These entertaining creatures live about five to seven years, so they also typically require less of a time commitment than a cat or a dog.

A guinea pig can cost anywhere from $10 to $70. If you go for an exotic guinea pig from a local breeder, you can pay up to $120. In addition to the guinea pig, you’ll need to have a cage that has enough room for it to move around and some bedding that will get changed fairly often.

Guinea pig food is relatively cheap — around $15 for a five-pound bag. But these affordable pets can also live off leftover vegetable and fruit scraps.

Guinea pigs thrive as social creatures, so you may want to purchase more than one guinea pig or ensure you’re spending ample time with your furry companion.

Recommended: Ways to Pay for Unexpected Vet Visits

Hermit Crabs

While hermit crabs aren’t cuddly, they can make great pets if you’re looking for a low-key companion that doesn’t require much supervision.

The cost of owning a hermit crab is pretty low (a crab runs around $3 to $25 through a breeder or at a pet store). You’ll also need to get a tank with a vented lid, drinking and humidity sponges, a water dish, climbing wood, and a humidity gauge. Once crabs have outgrown one shell, you’ll need to buy their next, larger shell, which is a small cost.

Hermit crabs need humidity levels between 70% and 80%, which means you’ll need to mist them and their tanks at least once a day to keep these creatures happy and healthy. It’s also important to clean their quarters and change their water often.

Being small creatures, crabs don’t cost much to feed. You can feed these cheap pets vegetable scraps, fruit, or pellet food.

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Sea Monkeys

Sea Monkeys are a novelty pet marketed as “instant pets.” They’re actually a type of brine shrimp sold in kits, usually targeted to children.

Developed in a lab in the 1950s, sea monkeys are sold as packets of eggs that hatch when you add water. These small pets will hatch in a few days and stay alive for about two years. They also reproduce, so you could have a steady supply for some time.

Sea monkey kits, which include the eggs, an aquarium, and growth food, only run around $16. To keep your Sea Monkeys alive, all you need to do is to top up water levels occasionally and feed them once a week.

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Dwarf Frogs

African dwarf frogs are small, completely aquatic, and among the easiest types of frogs to keep as pets. This species can be a good beginner frog for owners who are content to look-only — handling them is not a good idea.

Dwarf frogs grow to around 1½” and live up to five years with good care. They can live in an aquarium alongside docile fish like tetras if you want to own a few creatures.

Besides the frog, which typically only costs around $5, owners of these low-cost pets will need to purchase a tank with a tight-fitting lid (which you may be able to find second-hand), gravel or sand for the bottom, and some decorative hiding spots, such as live or silk plants and small terra cotta plant pots placed on their sides.

Keeping dwarf frogs healthy is really just a matter of making sure that their aquarium water is clean and offering them a proper dwarf frog diet — they like to munch on frozen mysis shrimp, bloodworms, food pellets, and brine shrimp.

💡 Quick Tip: If you’re creating a budget, try the 50/30/20 budget rule. Allocate 50% of your after-tax income to the “needs” of life, like living expenses and debt. Spend 30% on wants, and then save the remaining 20% towards saving for your long-term goals.

Goldfish

Goldfish can add interest to any room, are fun to watch, and pretty low maintenance. The fish themselves usually only run between 20 cents and $5, depending on the type of goldfish.

While you may picture this fish living in a classic goldfish bowl, these days many experts recommend investing in a filtered tank in order to keep their habitat clean. Aquariums with filters and decor aren’t super cheap, but the only additional cost after that is the food. Purchasing a container of fish pellets or flakes will set you back about $5.

To save some money, you may want to search for used equipment at yard sales and thrift stores or through online marketplaces. Once you’ve invested in a tank and decor, these items will last indefinitely and can be re-used for future fish.

Leopard Geckos

These tiny lizards are friendly and fun to have around, and don’t require a lot of upkeep. As with goldfish, the biggest cost is likely to be a habitat. You may be able to save here by buying one second-hand from an online marketplace.

In addition to the cost of the leopard gecko (normal breeds run around $20 to $40) and tank, you’ll also need to get some type of lighting (with an incandescent bulb), a hide-out, and possibly a heat pad, depending on temperatures in your home.

Other than that, you’ll need to regularly feed them a diet of insects, including crickets and waxworms, as well as fresh vegetables and clean water.

Ants

If you’re looking for one of the cheapest pets, that is also low-maintenance, an ant farm may fit the bill. While ants don’t provide bonding or cuddling opportunities, it can be fun and fascinating to watch an ant farm grow, particularly for kids.

Depending on the kit, ant farms will set you back anywhere from $14 to $34 and some include ants (you can also purchase live ants online or at your local pet store).

While kits have traditionally been made from sand, modern ant farms are now often made with a clear, edible gel that lets you watch your ants tunnel much more closely.

After you get the farm and the ants, there isn’t much to do other than making sure you provide water and the occasional bits of food.

Recommended: Dog-Friendly Vacation Ideas — Plus Tips for Traveling with Pets

Canaries

Canaries can be great pets that offer companionship and melodies, and can even learn to do little tricks like playing with a ball or stepping onto your hand. These types of birds live around 10 years and aren’t as expensive as more exotic breeds.

Costs include a cage, small toys, food, and the occasional veterinary visit (if they’re sick). You can purchase canaries from pet stores or breeders — the latter may offer more options depending on where you live.

You could pay around $300 for a bird, so it’s not necessarily the cheapest pet on the list. However, it’s still considered a low-cost pet compared to a dog or cat.

Recommended: How Much Is Pet Insurance?

💡 Quick Tip: When you feel the urge to buy something that isn’t in your budget, try the 30-day rule. Make a note of the item in your calendar for 30 days into the future. When the date rolls around, there’s a good chance the “gotta have it” feeling will have subsided.

Rabbit

While rabbits are as large as some cat and dog breeds, they qualify as a cheap, low-maintenance pet. If you buy a rabbit from a breezer, you can expect to pay around $50 for a non-pedigreed rabbit. However, you may be able to adopt a rescue through the Humane Society or ASPCA for considerably less.

Rabbits also need both hay and veggies, which can run about $40 per month. These fluffy companions will also need a rabbit hutch, but you may be able to find one cheaply through a second-hand marketplace. Or, you can build one yourself.

Rabbits are happy to live outside or in (they can actually be potty trained). If you opt for indoors, you may want to keep in mind that they can chew on wires and furniture legs if allowed to roam free. Some breeds, such as angora rabbits, also require grooming.

These furry friends live about seven to 10 years.

Recommended: 15 Tips to Cut Costs When Traveling with Pets

The Takeaway

Whether furry, feathered, or reptilian, owning a pet doesn’t need to cost a small fortune. As you can see from the list here, there are plenty of cheap pets that are easy to care for and waiting for you to take them home.

Before you make a commitment to a pet, however, you may want to make sure your little companion will fit into your lifestyle and that you have time to take care of it.

And since even an inexpensive pet will add to your household expenses, you may want to start putting some money aside in some type of savings account to cover your start-up and ongoing pet expenses.

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