Now for the first order of business, finding an aquarium that's right for you. When looking for an aquarium, there are a few major points to consider;
First, lets tackle the budget. Getting into the fish-keeping hobby isn't necessarily cheap by any means, but it can definitely be affordable if you know what you're doing. I'm going to divide this into three articles; $, $$, and $$$ ordered from cheapest to more expensive (but you knew that), these will be released over the next three days.
$ - In this category, we're going to shoot for the $150-$200 range. "What's this! This is not cheap!" everyone exclaims. I agree with all of you, but take it from me, doing it right the first time will only save your spirit and your wallet in the long run. Now the first part of any setup; *drum roll...* is the tank itself! Now some people may disagree with me, but I'm an avid fan of (some) aquarium starter kits as they help reduce some of the stress of having to remember all of the bits and pieces of an aquarium, they also offer fantastic deals! In this price range, we can aim for a tank anywhere from 5-20 gallons depending on current deals and events. Most aquarium kits in this range will cost around $100 or less, this accounts for a major part of our budget, but will also include most of the aquarium necessities. An aquarium should include a minimum of a filter, heater, and (depending on your case) a hood and light source. Here are some examples of price points you should expect on the budget side for aquariums, as well as kits I've used and enjoyed personally. Another thing to keep in mind is that aquariums of this size will not require a stand in most cases as they can be supported by most sturdy furniture.
The first aquarium on this list is the Aqueon LED MiniBow 5 gal Aquarium Starter Kit. This kit is great in terms of price but is very limited in terms of size. As a general rule of thumb, I would't purchase a tank below 5 gallons for any fish in order for a fish to live to its full potential. The type of fish that can be kept in various sizes will be discussed later, so please take this into account before you make a decision. The next aquarium on the budget list is the Aqueon 10 gal Aquarium Starter Kit, I believe this one to be a much better deal for the price as you're essentially doubling your volume for a slight increase in price. A 10 gallon aquarium will expand your options in terms of stock by quite a bit. The last aquarium on this list is the Aqueon 20 gal Aquarium Starter Kit, and best deal in this category in my opinion, in terms of value per gallon. The 20 gallon will expand the amount and types of fish you can keep dramatically, and I believe this is one of the best sizes for getting a feel for the hobby!
Next, you need to determine the type of fish you can keep as well as their environmental requirements. The options are nearly limitless theoretically, so I'll reduce this to my favorite picks for each.
2. In a 10 gallon aquarium, you're options are a bit more expansive. Still, my top pick for this size aquarium would be a betta, but with a twist. In a tank this size a betta can be kept with a few bottom-dwelling tank mates! A few suggestions I'd have for this would be one of the following; Ghost Shrimp - ghost shrimp are small crustaceans and incredibly efficient cleaners with translucent bodies, allowing you to observe their bodies as they process food! Red Cherry Shrimp - Also small crustaceans with a great talent for cleaning and a vibrant red complexion, these shrimp are dramatically smaller than their glassy cousins, but will reproduce faster dominating with numbers. Corydoras - Corys are small armored bottom-feeding catfish, you can keep two or three of these in a 10 gallon tank, they have great personalities and also belong to nature's cleanup crew!
3. A 20 gallon will grant you the most options for this price range! In this size aquarium you can keep a variety of fish including but not limited to livebearers such as mollies, platies, and guppies, a dwarf gourami, smaller loaches, as well as dwarf plecos and many more! Read to the end of the article to learn the stocking rule of thumb in order to create your own aquarium stock list!
You don't have much to worry about in terms of size for tanks up to 20 gallons, as these aquariums will have a much more manageable weight and smaller size. Just be sure to thoroughly test your desired surface to verify it can support the weight. Once you're confident that the aquarium can be supported, you're good to move on!
The last aspect to be considered is the environment your fish require! The fish listed above are considered tropical fish, so if you are following this guide in terms of stock, you will want your aquarium temperature to be set around 78 degrees Fahrenheit (74/75-80) and a pH of 5.5-7.5 being livable, but should be closer to 7. Keep the required pH level in mind as buying certain stones such as limestone can alter the pH of your aquarium. The first item that needs to be discussed is the substrate, in most cases any gravel will do. Although, if you are attempting to grow plants you may want to look into a mixture of soil and sand (1 inch non-fertilized potting soil, 1 inch aquarium sand on top). A good rule of thumb for determining the amount of substrate you will need to create a good 1-2 inch layer is to plan on buying 1.5 pounds of substrate per gallon in your aquarium. For these sizes of aquarium, you can expect to spend around $10-$25 on substrate. Now, consider whether you would like to add live plants to your aquarium or not, live plants will help detoxify your aquarium of nitrites, nitrates as well as ammonia allowing for a more stable aquatic environment, requiring less work from you. Each plant will be around $10, but be sure to check each plant thoroughly as some stores will sell non aquatic plants to you for aquarium use. If going with artificial plants, be careful to choose plants that have soft edges to avoid tearing your fish's fins. And for decoration, go wild! Be aware of the safety of the items you put into your aquarium (avoiding metals and sharp objects). Fish enjoy having a lot of hiding spaces, so keep this in mind when aquascaping!
Congratulations! You've made it to the finish line. I hope this article has helped you understand your options if you're looking to get into the hobby, but want to save your wallet at the same time, and be sure to come back tomorrow for a mid range setup article!
As promised, here are some great tips I wish I would've known as I was starting;
The inch per gallon rule; when planning out your aquarium stock your safest bet is to use the inch per gallon rule (in most cases). This means that for every gallon of water you have in your aquarium, you can have one inch of adult fish. Use this rule to prevent overcrowding your tank causing a collapse!
Live plants are much more difficult to grow in gravel! Gravel doesn't hold nutrients in it as other substrates such as sand and soil do, this makes it much harder for your plants to get the sustenance they need!
The plant problem; be very wary of plants from chain pet stores as more often than not they will sell you a non-aquatic plant for your aquarium without issue, this plant will later rot and wreak havoc on your water chemistry! Always be careful!