The science is in – owning a pet makes you happier.
That may not be groundbreaking insight, but in the midst of a mental health epidemic, many Americans are looking to furry friends for help. A pet can provide companionship, stimulation and routine – all things that mental health professionals recommend to combat depression and anxiety.
Still, many would-be pet owners balk at the high costs associated with caring for the most popular pets. Especially if you’re new to pet ownership, dropping hundreds on a cat or dog can seem outrageous, and for many people it’s just not a financially viable option.
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the cheapest pets – so you can get a new friend without getting a second job.
They may not the cuddliest option on the list, but hermit crabs can make for great pets if you’re looking for an inexpensive, low-maintenance and laid-back companion. Costs of owning a hermit crab include a tank with a vented lid, drinking and humidity sponges, food, water and dishes to put it in, climbing wood and a humidity gauge.
Consistency is key for these tiny crustaceans, so they’re not a great option for owners who won’t be around a lot. Humidity is their lifeblood, and responsible hermit crab owners will need to water and mist their little friend at least once a day to keep them happy and healthy. They also need a clean environment, which means cleaning the cage once a week and changing out the sand monthly.
There’s a reason why these tiny freshwater fish have been a mainstay in American households since their introduction to the continent in 1850. They’re inexpensive, interesting to watch and incredibly low maintenance. If you keep them fed and regularly clean their environment, a goldfish can live as long as twenty years.
While a classic goldfish bowl is the image most associated with housing these fish, most experts these days recommend a filtered tank to keep the environment clean. While the initial cost of that tank can get a little pricey, the only additional expense is food. Goldfish themselves are incredibly cheap, usually costing no more than a few bucks each. Also, the tank can be reused indefinitely if you continue to own fish.
Budgie for short, this mini-parakeet is perfect for someone looking to really bond with their pet. They’re incredibly social animals, so prospective owners will need to hang out with them for at least an hour a day – or get them a birdie companion. Like parakeets, they’ll perch on your finger or shoulder and mimic words.
Besides a birdcage, costs of owning a budgie boil down to the basics – food, water and maybe an eye patch when you dress them up as a pirate for Halloween. You can realistically walk out of the pet store with a budgie and all the necessary accoutrements for under $100.
For reptile-lovers, the best bet is the leopard gecko. Unlike many lizards, these little dinosaurs and friendly and sociable once they get to know you.
Much like a fish, the most substantial cost is going to be a habitat, likely ranging from $100-200. Besides that, you’ll need some lighting, a moist shelter for shedding that can easily be constructed at home and heat pads or tape depending on the temperature of your house.
Leopard geckos eat live insects and worms, which should run less than $10 a week.
When it comes to classic household pets, you can’t do better than the guinea pig. They’re cuddly, entertaining and a short time commitment at a five year lifespan. While not the cheapest pet on this list, they’re much more affordable than just about every other kind of mammal.
Besides an appropriately-sized cage, guinea pigs will need bedding and hay that gets changed regularly. Guinea food is relatively cheap, but they can also thrive on leftover vegetable scraps. If you can’t regularly spend time with your critter, they’ll probably need a companion to remain happy.
If you’re looking for low-cost, low-maintenance companions, look no further than an ant farm. They may not provide the bonding opportunities you’d find with some of the other pets on our list, but watching an ant farm grow and develop can be incredibly stimulating for the right kind of person.
Modern ant farms are often made with a clear, edible gel that allows you to watch your ants tunnel. A traditional sand or dirt farm will require regular feeding and watering, but no additional responsibilities. The ants and farms will often be sold separately, but even the more expensive setups won’t end up costing much more than $50.
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.