I think a lot of people don’t realize that starting up a reef tank will most likely cost about $35 per gallon. Who would think you could even put $350 into a 10 gallon tank! That kind of money adds up quickly, not to mention the time it takes to do maintenance and “figure it out.”
It seems like most stores try to sell you the tank, maybe some lights, then explain to you that you have to add salt to the water, lol. The rest is figured on through what feels like frustration and hearsay. You then have to buy a stand, rock, sand, skimmer, RO/DI unit, holding tank(s), testing equipment (pH, alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, nitrates, phosphates, etc), additives (alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, etc), pumps (water movement and mixing salt), heaters, lights (because the ones you got upfront were cheap and didn’t grow the corals you wanted to), additive dosers (optional), controller (optional), Auto Top Off (ATO) for evaporation (optional), chiller (optional), battery backup or UPS (optional), ultraviolet sterilizer (optional), filter pads/media, salt, etc. Granted a lot of the things mentioned above are optional but they save you time, money and give peace of mind for the long-term. I believe all of that “optional” stuff is pretty much a necessity if you plan on having a reef system (past the average 2.5 years) and having a LIFE. It’s nice to be able to leave for the weekend, or longer, and know that most things are automated and if there is a problem you can be notified by text or email from your controller.
Fortunately there are a lot of online forums (Reef Frontiers, Reefland, Reef Central, etc.) and resources (ex. Wet Web Media) to help newbies figure out and ask themselves a lot of the questions that should have been asked before buying a tank/system and occupants. I’ve been in the hobby for around 8 years and am still using these resources to learn new tips and tricks.
I truly believe that if most people knew the costs and resources involved upfront they would probably not get into the hobby, or they would prepare themselves a bit better.
I’ve met some great people and made great friends while enjoying this hobby but I’ve also seen many people get really upset, toss their money down the drain and kill some very neat creatures. So, the moral of the story is to do your research before starting up a tank. And I mean pick the brain of someone who is not going to be receiving monetary gain from you setting up a system and who has already earned a degree, or two, from Bend Over University. 😉