puppy - affordable pets for the holidayWant to give a living, breathing gift for Christmas?

Here are a few low-cost pets to ponder for the holidays. Unlike dogs or cats, which can run up big bills and require care your family might not be ready to provide, the following critters won't take a big bite out of your budget or lifestyle, according to our experts.Hermit Crabs
They hide, they change homes the way real estate flippers did in 2007, and "they're cute and inexpensive," Barbara Librowski, co-owner of Animal Fare pet supplies in Brooklyn, told WalletPop.

hermit crabs - pets for the holidaysYou'll shell out between $50 and $75 to cover everything, including the crab, its aquarium crabitat, sand, a bigger shell when it molts, plus food. The hermit crab sheds its exoskeleton fairly often when young, so have a bigger shell on standby for it to call home. The shell (about $3 store-bought) should be at least a third bigger than the crab's previous dwelling. If you find a shell of your own at the seashore, be sure to sterilize it. Some sites recommend against manufactured hermit food, but Animal Fare carries what it calls the Rolls Royce of the stuff for $2.99.

Betta Fish
Betta Fish - pets for the holidaysAn initial purchase of between $5 and $10 for the actual fish and $2 for a few months' supply of food pellets are probably your biggest outlay if you have a half-gallon container on hand. Bettas don't need a filter, decorations or playmates (in fact the males can't have 'em -- they're fighting fish).

"For a first-time pet for a family interested in an aquatic hobby, it's a good way to go," Devon Thompson, the animal care program manager for Petco, tells WalletPop. "The important thing about bettas is you have to keep them alone. As long you keep the water clean and you feed them, they'll be happy." This WalletPopper learned the hard lesson of not changing the water properly (just a little at a time), sending my children's beautiful betta to the Elysian Flush in five days. Don't make the same mistake. Helen Pabst, the other owner of Animal Fare, said total upkeep for a year can run less than $50.

Leopard Geckos
Leopard Gecko - pets for the holidaysThey range in price from $20 to $75; they look different than the car commercial lizard; and there's no exotic care required for this exotic reptile. A sweater box on hand with playground sand purchased from a hardware store can house them. Rocks and logs will transform your makeshift terrarium into a true home. Give 'em meal worms for a penny a feeding. Throw in a regular light bulb to keep the temp at a cozy 80 degrees, and you're looking at about $250 in the first year, according to Pabst, and perhaps $75 a year afterward. "It's one of the reptiles that tolerates more direct interaction," Petco's Thompson said. "It's easier for the beginner reptile enthusiast to set up."

Parakeets
Parakeet - pets for the holidaysThe original tweeters. About $15 apiece. Charlotte Reed, founder and owner of a pet care business called Two Dogs and a Goat, adores them. They won't shatter your nest egg -- about $350 in total care for the first year, she estimates. That includes $60 for a "decent-sized cage," bird seed at $1 a pound, newspaper (the dying print publishing industry will love you), a beak sharpener, millet sprigs, toys, mirrors, and vitamins. The payout reduces to about $150 annually afterward.

"They are interactive, they sing, and they can be taught to talk," Reed said. Buying a more modest cage can cut the cost a smidge, Pabst pointed out. Some cages are as low as $15.99 and they'll fit two. "They don't need a condo," Pabst said.

Rats
Rat - pets for the holidaysLibrowski might love 'em more than Willard does. She gives a big thumbs-up to the cost efficiency and fun of having these supersmart rodents. Rats generally run between $2 and $10 when not purchased from a breeder.

Here's the rest of breakdown, according to Librowski: $35 or less for a cage, $16 a month for food, $16 a month for bedding chips. That comes to $419 for the first year. That doesn't include toys or rat companionship, so adjust accordingly. Still pretty cheap, though, for a very interactive pet. You will work for it, however: Domestic rats, contrary to how their subway-trolling cousins appear, like their living space clean. They shove all their chips into the corner and sulk until you change the bedding, Librowski said.

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