As a lot of you who follow "The Tint" know, I'm pretty opinionated and passionate on a variety of aquarium hobby topics.
One of the concepts that has always governed what I do in the hobby is a disdain for shortcuts and doing things the "cheap and easy" way. Not because I'm a jerk with a lot of money and a "greater than thou" attitude; rather, it's because because I have been in this hobby long enough to know when a short-term decision to do something a certain way, or to forgo a pricy piece of gear, will have long-term negative consequences in the long run.
there are ways to save some money, and not all of them involve waiting for the LFS to have a big sale. There are ways to do "DIY" things- and those are great. Over the years, hobbyists have been very good at being resourceful about how to make their hobby more affordable.
Yet, I still go back and forth with this stuff- I sometimes have mixed feelings about the idea of "saving money and doing stuff quickly." However, I continue to see a lot of articles, forum discussions, Reddit posts, and hear podcasts which spend a ton of time and bandwidth helping hobbyists find cheap alternatives to some typical hobby industry products and DIY-type, or "Amazon-generic-substitution-type" versions of things you'd purchase from hobby-related companies.
Before you accuse me of being some butt-hurt vendor calling out everyone that wants to make their hobby more affordable as "cheap", let me clarify: I think it's pretty cool that we are so resourceful as hobbyists, and I'm absolutely, 100% for keeping your hobby as affordable as possible. And sometimes, that does mean utilizing substitutes and alternative stuff for more expensive hobby equipment and such.
Who the hell am I to judge this?
I mean, for goodness sake, I sell twigs and leaves and some stuff that you can collect yourself from the empty lot down the street! In fact, on several occasions, I've recommended that you do so right here in this blog! So, even though the tone of this article might be bit slanted towards a slightly less sympathetic position, rest assured that I'm approaching this from a hobbyist position, not a vendor's point of view.
Looking for ways to save money on your hobby, particularly in financially challenging times, is never a bad thing. However, I think it's in the "how and why" part of this approach where I sometimes get wrankled. There is like a whole "subculture" in the hobby of people who will go out of their way to develop "hacks" to save money above almost all else.
How is that fun?
I'll come out and say it...Some-but not all, so-called "money-saving" ideas and approaches are just...stupid and cheap. And not sustainable. Examples? I've literally heard recommendations to utilize table salt instead of marine salt mix for brackish water tanks. Like, why in the hell would you do this?
To literally save a few dollars, you'll skip over a carefully formulated, batch-tested, aquarium-specific salt, designed to precisely replicate the composition of seawater, with its compliment of trace elements and minerals, in favor of something that you'd use in...cooking? Sorry, I think that is just short-sighted and well...stupid.
Like, how much money will you save using table salt over the long run, when you're essentially short-changing your fishes by not providing them with the levels of trace elements and buffers and such which are found in the marine salt mixes. Exchanging their health to take some half-witted "shortcut" goes against so much of what we in the hobby claim to value.
I hear the angry rebuttal:
"But yeah, Scott- that's all well and good, but not everyone can afford to pay $15 for a bag of marine salt mix when the table salt is more affordable, and makes the hobby more accessible to a wider range of hobbyists."
Again, I kind of call bullshit on that.
I dare say that the hobby IS kind of pricy. And quite frankly, if you can't afford to do it right- to create a system that provides for the basic health of your animals correctly- just don't do it.
Yeah, I mean it. Some stuff just doesn't make sense to compromise on.
Would you want your surgeon to use "okay quality" tools or stitches on you? Would you want the airline you fly on to use "good enough" parts on the airplane that you're flying on?
Didn't think so.
I've began setting up a new reef tank in my home- my first in quite a few years. And I've applied my philosophy to on virtually everything I have done, used, or added to this tank thus far. I made good decisions on setup and gear based on how I want manage the tank long term. About what it will be like to "live" with this tank.
NOT about getting the latest trendy gear...just because.
People in the hobby do that all the time.
Except, I made one notably bad decision.
I purchased a piece of gear which I kind of had a hunch wasn't the best brand on the block...A piece which fell into what is often called "a good value" item. Which to me, is shorthand for...cheap. A piece of equipment that, although not absolutely vital to the function of the tank, is something that is important and should be high quality and reliable in both the short and long term.
And..it wasn't. I had a feeling, and sure enough it didn't quite perform up to spec, and within about 3 days of compromised operation, it completely failed. And, rather than doing what a lot of hobbyists would do- and what I would encourage YOU to do...I literally took it out of the tank and tossed it into the trash. Mind you, this was a piece of gear that cost me a couple hundred dollars, so it wasn't what I'd call "disposable."
I've been around in the hobby and biz for a while, and I know when I've made a bad decision. I thought that this piece of gear would work, though.
I was wrong. Although, based on past experience, I know that sometimes, you can "work with" a piece of less-than-optimum gear for a while.
However, the piece of gear in question represented what I consider to be a "toxic" element to my otherwise well-thought-out, carefully-equipped tank. It simply didn't work, was, in reality, poorly made, highly overrated, and likely wouldn't have worked reliably long term. So yeah, I took the rather extraordinary move of eating the cash, literally "cutting my losses"- and just eliminating it from my system before it became a long-term liability.
That's extreme. Perhaps what some would call impulsive, wasteful, rash, and irresponsible.
However, I don't see it that way.
Yeah, I'm not made of money. It didn't feel good to eat a chunk of cash by tossing it. However, the decision was, IMHO, absolutely correct in the longer term. It would have been a continuous source of frustration, time-wasting, and a hit on the long term reliability of my system. The time and effort I would have spent trying to "fix" it and limp it along simply wouldn't have been worth it.
And lest you think I would have been better advised to work it out with the manufacturer- I squashed the idea right away. What would have been the point of trying to get a replacement or spare parts to limp along a piece of gear that was unreliable right out of the box? To get another one that would be essentially identical?
Nope. Not for me. The life forms I keep are too precious.
And sure, I could have given the piece of gear to another hobbyist, rather than toss the thing-with all of the caveats ("Hey,be careful with this thing, the pump and adjustments are unreliable and cheap...")- but NOPE! Why foist a subpar piece of gear onto another person? Why justify the continuing manufacture and sales of a crappy product?
That's literally how I see stuff.
Life is too short.
Taking shortcuts on good practices, or compromises on gear is never a great idea, IMHO.
Stay the course with "best practices." Ditch lousy gear.
Yeah, economics is not always favorable for doing that. However, compromising the long-term health of your animals, and the reliability and safety of your tank is far less favorable.
Sure, we have to make compromises sometimes. However, it's not a compromise to continue to work with a piece of junky gear. It's simply living with a proverbial "ticking time bomb"- trouble waiting to happen at a very inconvenient time.
Don't do it.
Life is too short to compromise long-term reliability and enjoyment for short-term convenience or comfort. This is a hobby- and it's supposed to be fun.
Keep it that way by NOT compromising this position!
Taking this attitude send a message to manufacturers that we won't accept sub-par gear. Sure, but all means, if you really like the product, work with the manufacturer to resolve your issue. However, if you objectively can see the thing not working out- cut your losses and move on.
Perhaps the piece of gear works for 80% of the people who buy it- just not for you. Or maybe you bought the one defective item. However, if you objectively evaluate it and determine it to be unsuitable for you needs...
Let it go.
Life is too short to compromise.
Stay resolute. Stay confident. Stay decisive. Stay patient. Stay disciplined...
And Stay Wet.