1. Goldfish or Betta fish
Of course, it’s a given to see "fish" on a list of inexpensive pets. But not all fish are created equal when it comes to being kept in captivity. For instance, saltwater fish are more expensive and complicated to care for. (They also tend to be pricier to acquire!) The best "starter fish" are bettas (males have the long flowing tail, and females are shorter and less colorful) or goldfish.
- Betta fish: Expect to spend from $5-$15 for the fish depending on breed, plus $1-$2 for a regular bowl. You can use a roomy flower vase or any glass container. You should only keep one betta per bowl—and don't put a male and female in together unless you want betta babies!
- Goldfish: You can put multiple goldfish in one tank safely. Expect to spend $3-$15 per fish, plus up to $100 for the tank setup (you’ll need an aeration system, and, of course, a larger tank will cost more).
2. Hermit Crabs
Hermit crabs are available nationwide from major chains like PetSmart. They’re sociable and easy to care for, and it’s easy to set up their living quarters. You can expect to spend around $6-$10 for a crab, and you’ll want at least two because they do better with a companion. In addition to the crabs, be sure you have several shells of varying sizes for them to grow into. The tank should have some sand, a small bowl with drinking water, a damp sponge (to disperse humidity) and toys (including plastic plants, rocks to climb over and driftwood).
Whether box or water, turtles make easy, fun, sociable animal companions. Most pet stores sell both water and land turtles, and many organizations offer rescue turtles for a small donation. You can set up an aquarium (water) or terrarium (land) turtle with rocks, water, sand or organic bedding, some toys, and foliage. Land turtles eat fruits and veggies and can also eat pellets. Water turtles typically eat commercial pellets. You may also need to buy a heat lamp to help regulate seasonal temperature—all in all, expect to spend around $100 to set up a habitat for either type of turtle.
- Water turtle: You can expect to spend around $20-$30 for a red eared slider (the most popular water turtle sold in stores) or painted turtle.
- Land turtle: Land turtles tend to be pricier at $90-$140 depending on breed.
4. Rats or Mice
It may not be to the adults' liking to have a rat or mouse in the house, but kids tend to love them, and they’re smart, sociable animals that fit in well in most households. They require little space, are cheap to feed and house, are quiet and don't need a lot of maintenance (i.e. no running home twice a day to let them out). Expect to spend around $5-$10 per animal for either a rat or a mouse, and you should buy at least two because they are community animals. You can expect to spend around $100 to get them set up with a habitat, food and bedding.
If you have a young (or mature) reptile lover in the house, geckos are about the most sociable reptiles you can get, and they’re relatively cheap to own and maintain. The gecko will cost you between $20 and $75 depending on the breed, and you can house them and buy an initial supply of food and bedding for around $100 total.
6. Parakeets or Finches
The smaller birds are the best choice for beginning pet owners who love birds. They’re not just cheaper, but they’re more sociable and easy to care for. With a starter cage, food and a few toys, expect to spend no more than $100 even if you buy everything new (often you can find great gently used cages at local animal shelters, online, or even at pet stores).
- Finches: You can get a pair of finches for $20-$40 (two is better because they do best with a companion).
- Parakeets: Parakeets are small, sociable and inexpensive—regular colors (not exotics) will only run you $15-$20 per bird.
Note: You may also want to check with local rescues to see if you can find pets and supplies for the price of a small donation. Many rescues are grateful for the chance to place animals in good homes.